Details about Swizzle Socks

The design of the hand-cranked knitting machine we use to make Swizzle Socks dates back centuries

Swizzle Socks - A little bit of history

Swizzle Socks are all produced on a hand-cranked sock knitting machine, or to be more precise, an Erlbacher Gearhart Knitting Machine, which is a reproduction of the 1924 Gearhart Circular Sock Knitting Machine (CSM).

Made in the United States of America, The man behind it is David ‘Peewee’ Erlbacher, who has been a machinist all his working life.

The history of the machine we use only dates back to 2009 when Mr Erlbacher decided to take on the challenge to reproduce the machine. Although recreating the machine involved rising up a steep learning curve and working with the advice of many others, his company produced the CSM we use today, but its history goes a lot further back than that.

Swizzle Socks are finished by hand

Hand-knitting socks is a very time-consuming occupation so way back in the 16th century, thoughts were turning to mechanisation and, according to a piece by the Knitting History Forum, William Lee invented a loom to make the process easier, but it was not until the early 19th century that CSMs started to come to the fore, with Pierre Jeandeau and Marc Brunel (father of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel), both thinking of ways to develop the idea.

But it was Matthew Leo Townsend who came up with the idea for the latch needle, which solved many of the problems encountered by its predecessors, as the latch does much of the work  and so it was then possible to mount it vertically.

The machines became popular in the USA and during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the quartermaster general of the Northern army decided the quality was much better than that provided by loom-woven socks.

Later in the 19th century Henry Josiah Griswold refined the machines further by adding a ribber to add some elasticity to the finished product.

Latches on the needles do much of the work

The machines gained greater popularity during World War One, when it was realised that hand knitters could not keep pace with demand and novice knitters were encouraged to use the machines and were able to produce a pair of socks in around 40 minutes.

After the conflict ended, popularity waned and during World War Two, many machines were melted down for scrap in the UK, as the authorities sought recycled metal as part of the war effort.

And what we do today...

So that is the history that brings us today when we are creating a pair of socks in around two to three hours.

And why does it take that long?

Swizzle Socks are made on a hand-cranked knitting machine

Well, first we need to make sure the wool can feed onto the CSM easily. In some case we buy it already on a suitable cone but with so much wool available and the plans to source it from local sheep, we also need to ensure we can prepare it ourselves.

At present, this involves transferring the wool from its ball to a cone, via a winding mechanism.

After some trial an error, we can convert the wound wool into the sock ‘tubes’ in around two hours but after this, hand-sewing is needed to seal off the toe end of the sock and add the label to give them the mark of Swizzle Socks.

There are many ways in which we can make the socks suitable for you. We already use tighter tension in the heels and toes to help make the socks last longer, but we can also make other adjustments. We can account for wide or narrow feet, allow for a high instep or even wider calves by using a looser tension in the leg. Just let us know your requirements and we will see what we can do.

It is a labour-intensive process, but the finished product is a good quality product, it allows us to have a regular tension and finish, but still being able to have all the quirks of a hand-knitted sock. Each sock is completed with care and allows customers to embrace their uniqueness.

To view what we have available with Swizzle Socks, click here.