HomeThe Wright Collection

The start of a 30 year collection of British Circular Sock Knitting Machines

I first saw a circular sock machine when visiting a craft fair with my wife over 30 years ago, when we saw a man knitting snoods. I was fascinated by the rise and fall of the needles. My wife had two Brother flat beds which I helped with, but was not as impressed with them as I was with the CSM.

A few months later we went to the ‘National Exhibition Centre’ in Birmingham where there was a very big craft fair on. The Ruddington Framework Knitting Museum had a stand there, with a demonstration of a Victorian Frame Knitting Machine and a CSM. I was asked if I would like to have a go at cranking the CSM and I sure did! I asked where I could buy just such a machine, and was assured that, as they were so old, it would be impossible for me to buy one. This was like a red rag to a bull and set me a challenge. So I started to look in antique shops and 90% of them had never even heard of such a thing. A year later, whilst we were on a touring holiday in Northumberland, we visited an antique/junk shop and  my quest was over, as there, in a plastic box, was the same type of machine that I had had a go on at the craft fair.  It was an Imperia!

ImperiaThe machine was in poor condition, but as a mechanical engineer I was able to put the machine into working order. Then I had to go to Ruddington to be shown the various settings by Miller the engineer, before it would actually knit a sock.  As a result of that, we both went to Ruddington once a week for several months, to see Helen the CSM section tutor, for tuition on how to knit socks.

Picture: The Imperia is a machine which was sold to the domestic market on a credit arrangement. After a small down payment one would receive the machine and a quantity of yarn from which you knitted socks to the specification of the Imperia Company. You then posted them to Imperia at your expense. They then checked them to ensure that your work was perfect and the socks that were approved were credited to your account to pay for the machine. Should any part of your work be imperfect, the knitted items were returned to you along with hanks of yarn to same weight of the socks that had been accepted and up to standard. Only yarn supplied by Imperia was acceptable so should you need more yarn it was charged to your account as was the postage. Imperia then sold the socks on to the retail/trade market. As you can see this is a win, win situation for Imperia but for new machine operators it was a loss, loss situation. The situation concluded when Imperia's yarn supplier took over the Imperia company & wrote to all the knitters that they may pay off any balance due on their account by monthly payments but they were not taking socks as payment.

At a junior school open day, where my wife Freda was a teacher, we put on a small display of CSM knitting, which attracted considerable interest from the parents. We were then asked if we could join a craft and hobbies fund-raising event at the local church.

Freda at the church
Picture: The Imperia is shown being operated by Freda who had only recently learned how to use the machine. The wooden homemade table can be seen as the main display area in front of the church pews and next to an original cast iron table made by Griswold with one of their machines mounted on it.

During the event, a man came and told us that he had a CSM that an old lady had given him some years ago, and he had not done anything with it, so if I wanted it, I could have it. It was a Harrison ‘SUN’ which we willingly accepted. The event was reported by the local Ashbourne news paper, which in turn caused the Derby newspaper to contact me and consequently print an article on the revival of the old CSMs! Then all as a result of the church fundraising event, the Derby radio station asked me to go to the studio to be interviewed about the circular sock knitting machine and its origin in Britain. This was a big step forward, and I had several phone calls from owners of CSMs, mostly wanting advice or machine parts.

the school open day

Picture: The school open day, showing the socks with the Imperial in the foreground plus several other CSMS & Harrison 'V' bed 80 needle cast iron knitting machine,  which was known as a Hatters machine at the other end of the display

 As a result of the publicity, we were asked to give a talk to the members of the Derby branch of The Knitting & Crochet Guild (of which my wife was a member). We took the CSMs and demonstrated how they worked; this display was reported in the local guild newsletter. This mention resulted in our being asked to take Imperia & Harrison CSMs to the national K & C Guild meeting in Bristol. As a result of the local guild meeting and the local radio interview, I had acquired three more CSMs by the time of the Bristol meeting, so was able to put on a display of five machines.

On the morning of the first day at the show, a lady came and asked if I could look at a CSM she had brought with her. I did look and it was an Imperia that needed the usual service, so I said that if she could come back the next day, I would have it working and show her how to use it. The next day she came back and had the demonstration on her own machine, she was so pleased. She then told me that she was the reporter for a major knitting machine magazine and took pictures of the display for publication in the next issue of the magazine. It was a full page display in the magazine.

That publication brought other machines into my growing collection. About two months later, the same reporter lady rang me and asked if we were able to attend a major national craft fair at the NEC in Birmingham for one of the biggest promoters of craft fairs in Great Britain. Picture: the stand at the NEC

NEC

WE SAID YES!

We were just exhibiting and demonstrating knitting socks, not selling anything and were very popular with the traders. Some actually knew of people who had CSMs and put us in contact with them. We also had visitors to the show who had machines they had no use for, so we were able to acquire them later. The more shows we did, the bigger the collection became, until at one stage it was over 200 hand cranked CSMs, though several of these do have a belt drive pulley, all of British makes.

I hope I have not wasted your time reading my early adventures into the world of CSMs and thankyou for reading!

Dennis Wright