(Mis)Adventures with the Circular Sock Machine

Following on from my last post, I’ve been up to my elbows in the Circular Sock Machine (CSM) and have had much more success with it this time around, thanks to my “coach” Wendy, and to an amazing woman called Karen Ramel who has a website called CSMlove.com. Karen has videos on pretty much every aspect of using a CSM and she generously shares them on her website, as well as being active on Facebook and Instagram. In the meantime though, I thought I’d have a go at making a pair, or two, using the instructions from the manual that came with the machine.

My first pair of socks were for Mark and were made with black sock wool. Black, as every maker knows, is a difficult colour, and I found making black socks no different – horrible. I dropped so many stitches and kept frogging and starting again and then I read in the instruction manual that it’s possible to leave the dropped stitches and fix them later, so I did this and picked them up after the event, and it worked ok. My next problem was grafting the toe. I realised that I only know how to do this from knitting needles, so I picked up the live stitches and did the Kitchener stitch.

I was treating the toe like all the toes I usually knit, so did a beautiful job of grafting the toe and then had a look. I thought you might enjoy what greeted me! I wasn’t pleased but in retrospect it does make me laugh.

I got there in the end, and Mark was very pleased with his sock.

The problem with socks is that two are required to be useful, so I repeated the entire process, including the dropped stitches, although I did get the grafting right first time.

I decided I wanted to block them properly but have never invested in a pair of sock blockers, so decided to see if I could make a pair. I found some instructions and a template at Cyberseams, and looked about the house for some firm foam to make them. I might have mentioned what I was doing to Mark and the next thing I know is he’s found some firm packing foam, he’s taken the template, made the modifications I wanted and is cutting out the blockers with an electric knife. They work pretty well.

I have been gathering sock wool and instead of doing a swatch each time I decided to just use the wraps per inch method. I love the little tool I’ve got for this; I bought it in Vancouver years ago.

In retrospect I think that finding sock wool I like and then knitting all socks from the same wool is the way to go. I shall use my other wool for hand knitted socks on long journeys.

I made Mark a second pair of socks from red wool (also dodgy), and then embarked on a pair for me. This time I decided to make a pair of mock rib, shortie socks from csmlove, following along with Karen’s video. As you can see, I’m squished into a corner of my sewing room and having to use the ironing board as a table. It’s working fine though.

The yellow thing inside the CSM is a soft weight. I filled some old ready to wear socks (which I had to darn first) with lead shot. I weighed the amount of shot I needed to make small, medium and large weights. I use a ring made from a piece of acrylic inside the cylinder and put one of the weights inside a bag and dropped it in. I feel a bit as though desperate times call for desperate measures – I need to stop dropping stitches!

To be honest, although the soft weights are useful, I need some better heel weights. Working on that.

I used some nice sock yarn that I had bought on one of my holidays and which was left over from a pair I knitted for Mark. I still dropped stitches, but not as many. I was round the back of the machine trying to pick up a dropped stitch when this happened.

I’m not sure how I got in this predicament, but I was home alone and quite stuck for a couple of minutes. I took a photo to calm myself down and keep myself amused. You’ll be pleased to know that no blood was spilled!

Modelling the sock whilst watching Karen’s method of grafting which doesn’t require knitting needles. As you can see I made a pair, so was very pleased with myself. You can also see that dropped stitches were still a fact of life.

Wendy the coach came for a visit and helped me make another sock. She identified a couple of problems with my machine – the cylinder was a bit dry, in spite of having oiled it so much that it dripped everywhere, and also that I was using some of the original needles, which are more than a hundred years old. I also have newer, shiny needles, so I have now cleaned and oiled all my needles, and am just using the shiny ones, keeping the originals as backups.

This is the sock that Wendy made as a demo for me. You can tell that she’s a professional.

Wool should be wound on a cone winder, not a ball winder. I have the original cone winder that came with the machine but it isn’t working too well. I have Archie working on it. In the meantime Wendy brought me a cone of wool from an Australian woollen mill and we used that. It’s white, meaning that I will be able to naturally dye it. This excites me a bit.

We used a slightly different shorty sock pattern and it has a tab at the back, so a bit like a tennis sock. Wendy showed me how to graft without putting the sock onto needles. She did some and left the rest to me.

I’m pleased that I managed it, but my tension was a bit off for a while. I did get there in the end, though.

Now I have to make a second one. Luckily I took copious notes. The sock is a bit baggy on my ankle (everything is baggy on my ankle!), but Wendy assures me that it will shrink to shape when I wash them and during the dyeing process.

So, my first month with the sock machine has been quite a lot of fun. I have sore fingers from where the needles have stabbed me, a sore toe from where a weight dropped on me, and a fizzing brain from trying to absorb all the information. Between this and the smocking pleater, given to me by Jenny, I am definitely hoping to keep the dementia at bay!


14 thoughts on “(Mis)Adventures with the Circular Sock Machine

  1. That’s some fast progress, Sue! Isn’t it fun learning a new skill? I’m curious if someone who doesn’t know how to knit could use one of these machines. As always, I greatly enjoy these glimpses into life in your household.❤️

    1. Thank you Kristen. I definitely think you could use one of these without knowing how to knit, although knowing how to pick up dropped stitches helps! It’s a fun thing to do, but the machines cost a bit. Life in my household is slightly chaotic!

  2. Very interesting! So these knitting machines are not as user friendly as they seem and manoeuvering them can be a bit hazardous at times. You’ve been very brave, my friend!

    BTW, I’ve seen some small ones from Prym at my yarn shop. The lady told they’re rather popular right now. I didn’t say a word, but they looked a bit cheap to me.

    1. They are not simple to learn to use, although those 1940s housewives made socks on them for the war effort, so they must have mastered them. Wendy can make a sock in 45 minutes, so clearly practice brings expertise. The Prym ones remind me of a knitting Nancy (do you have them?) with a handle. Designed for children I always think. They won’t still be here in 100 years like this one!

      1. Yes! Knitting Nancys are called “tricotins” in French. My sister and I had one each when we were young and we used to make bracelets and cords with them.

  3. I like hand knitting socks, especially using an easy toe up pattern I found – I think on Ravelry. It’s very therapeutic and I like the mottled colours ones. I have to say that yours look a lot more professional than mine, though maybe after a wash they all look pretty similar? Only problem is that my source of good and cheaper sock wool has dried up, and I’m now left looking at Regia wools which are more expensive. Getting fine enough wool can be a problem. The sock machine looks like a marvellous machine, but I prefer knitting and sitting 😄

    1. I love to knit socks on long journeys. I do cuff down and I know the pattern off by heart. Knitting by hand is nice to do in front of the tv, but I am rather intrigued by the machine and am determined to master it!

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