Discovering Knitting Machines (take 2!)

striped heels


    When I was six, I begged my mother to teach me how to knit. She had knit  for each of her children an amazing Christmas stocking, with our names emblazoned across the top, and Santas, Christmas trees, teddy bears, candy canes, twinkling with beads and sequins. Seeing these lined up on the chimney on Christmas morning, bulging with mysterious booty, was the number one exciting moment of the year. We liked Making Things, and I was fascinated by the clickety clack of her needles, and her graph paper, and the little colored bobbins of yarn. I wanted some of that action too! My first clumsy, enchanting project was a 3″x3″ white dolly blanket, and I interrupted Mom a hundred times to recuperate lost stitches, and to tell me again through what side of the stitch you poke the needle on the purl side. She sang me a tongue-in-cheek chant from her college days, “Knit one, purl two, Harvard, Yoo Hoo!”

     Gaining speed and confidence, I moved on to mittens, scarves, and even a sweater, clickety-clacking in the back seat of the family station wagon during the long cross-country drive each summer.

     Many years later, with small children of my own, I found a turn-of-the-century Quebec sock knitting machine at a garage sale. I was charmed by the Victorian illustrations in its instruction manual,  and brought the machine home with no very clear idea what to expect from it. After an honest (if brief!) attempt to knit a “pulse warmer”, I abandoned keeping track of stitches and rows, and gave over to cranking out meters of colorful knitted tubes, crocheting the strips together into larger surfaces. I laid in a huge stock of cones of leftover yarns from a knitting mill, and holed up happily for the winter in my basement studio.


    Here is the sort of blanket I made that winter….

blanket from sock machine

     By the time spring arrived, I had a big pile of knitted blankets, and the Visual Arts Center had walls that needed filling for their ceramics exhibition. Opportunity was knocking! It was my first show–a thrilling and scary event….

Visual Arts Center show

    I took the sock machine to the nursery school for Show and Tell, and Naomi (see below),  a natural designer, took to it immediately.  Before long her mother had gotten into the act, locating and buying up all the remaining sock machines in Quebec. She knows how to count rows!–to this day she is still turning out quirky and colorful socks, and rescuing a friend in a rusted-out needle crisis.


   Here is Remi, another great child designer, with the color chart he made for his sweater….

child designer-Remi

    I became curious about what had changed in the field since 1902, and bought myself a modern Singer flatbed home knitting machine. Looking back, it probably could do TOO much–jacquard with punched cards, lace, “weaving”, complex stitches, pattern charts that advanced row by row. Limits can be useful! How does a person choose what to explore, and stay there long enough to get anywhere interesting? I spent about a year struggling with the technology, and flirting with this and that, settling for a productive time on the sculptural potential of heels, and pushing part knitting beyond its usual limits. Here are some of the resulting pieces….



pinwheel blanket





    The crowning moment of this Knitting Period was receiving my issue of Fiberarts, and finding my own work on the cover!–more “heels”, this time disguised as spring shoots…

Moment of glory!--knitted planter boxes make the cover of Fiber Arts!


2 Responses to “Discovering Knitting Machines (take 2!)”

  1. Betsy Lahaussois Says:

    My apologies to those of you who left comments on “take one”–trying to edit the disappearing images, I did something wrong and lost the whole post. Sorry…here we go again!

  2. Well, I still love the ‘electric’ blanket 😉


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