Sunday, March 17, 2013

Knitting Machines in 1955

A friend and machine-knitter forwarded me a fascinating PDF. It was part of a free supplement with Popular Handicrafts in February 1955, and it was chock full of adverts for vintage knitting machines, plus there was a very interesting article about how to choose a machine from the brands currently available. Most of the brands have disappeared into the mists of time, but some the modern machine knitter will recognise.

As I'm not entirely sure about copyright rules in this area, I'll aim to write a summary of the article and give the reader an interesting walk down memory lane. My comments in italics.

At this point in time, there were two types of knitting machines - direct knitting machines, and preformed weft machines. Direct knitting machines are what we use today ie they are a bed of latch or latchet needles that knit stocking stitch when reciprocated back and forth using a carriage or lock. 

Preformed weft machines use a fixed bank of latch needles or headed pins, and the knitting itself is done with a secondary movement which knits all the stitches simultaneously. Headed pin machines can produce stocking stitch and garter stitch with the aid of combs. The only machine I've personally seen of this type is the Record and it looks like a mechanised peg loom to the casual observer. It's a long green metal strip of a machine, with a black knob and a white knob. 

Only one or two of the highest price machines ribbed automatically - most modern machines now come with optional ribbing attachments or are of the fixed double-bed type. Hand tools are recommended to produce real rib, and mock rib is recommended as an alternative. 

Very high knitting speeds can be achieved with direct knitting machines and at this point in time, automatic wool feeding was optional. The article does recommend that the would-be buyer sees as many machines as possible before buying - an option that is sadly somewhat limited in these days when only one manufacturer is still in the business of producing new knitting machines. This is still good advice though!

Direct knitting machines:

161 stitches, automatic row counter, weights and combs not required. 12 tension settings. Automatic wool feeder supplied, can be removed for shaping and patterning. £29, W J Foster Ltd, Preston, Lancashire

Foster hand flat
Double-bed knitting machine available in 4.5, 7 and 10 gauge and several sizes. Automatic ribbing and strip. This machine looks like a semi-industrial machine as it has a metal frame and a large operating lever connected to the right foot of the stand. From £79, W J Foster Ltd, Preston, Lancashire

161 stitches. Wool feeder provided. Uses a patented silent device that presses down each stitch and claims to produce a hand-knitted look. No weights or combs required. Thirty times faster than hand-knitting. £28 15s, Yorkshire Products Ltd, Bradford

Two models currently available - the 3500 (135 needles) and 4500 (169 needles). No weights required as the machine uses a stitch-sinker mechanism which holds down each newly-formed stitch. No clamps required to fix it to the table. Ten tension settings available, equivalent to 6 to 14 gauge in hand needles. Five distributors in the UK at this point, in London, Bradford, Birmingham, Harrogate and Belfast. British-made. 
Model 3500 £18 17s 6d, Model 4500 £22 17s 6d, Knitmaster Ltd, London (where demonstrations are regularly given)

Passap M201 mk II
This machine uses the latch needle system. Single dial for control of tension. 201 needles allow a total width of 31" of knitting. £25 19s 6d
Passap Handknitters, London

All-steel body and die cast aluminium end caps and needle bar. 157 needles. Wool is fed via a clear plastic holder. Built-in row counter included in price. The manufacturers claim it will knit elastic yarn into waistbands and string into shopping bags. Free instruction and free knitting advisory service via post or personal call. £29 10s. British made, Rapide Knitting Machines, Uxbridge, Middlesex.


The Rapidex 160 is a single bed machine, and the Rapidex 320 is a double bed machine. It is possible to buy two 160s to make a double machine, or to separate the needle beds of the 320 to make it into a full length single bed machine. This produces fabric up to 60" wide. With the addition of some extra parts it is possible to work the double machine as two separate single machines. The types of stitch produced on the 160 are more limited.
Rapidex 160 £27 10s, Rapidex 320 £53 10s to include 3 or 6 hours tuition. The Rapidex Knitting Centre, London

An all-metal machine with an automatic wool feed, 161 needles. The Trico-fix 54 incorporates an automatic ribbing device.
Trico-fix standard £28, 
Trico-fix Model 54 £47 7s. Industrial and Home Knitting Machines Ltd, London.

Preformed weft machines:

Minitex de Luxe and Zip Major
The Zip Major is an open needle machine, using the same comb for stocking and garter stitch. 157 pins, producing a fabric approximately 8 stitches per inch that is suitable for garments up to a 40" bust. 
Minitex de Luxe incorporates the latch needle system with 159 needles, width suitable for outsize garments. 
Zip Major £12 12s, Minitex de Luxe £39 18s. Minitex, Bradford

Passap D
The Passap D uses the open needle system and is a wooden machine. Ribbing can be knitted row by row with the pattern comb. Two separate controls for the adjustment of stitch size and tension. £37 10s
Passap Handknitters, London

The Record is an open needle machine. Separate combs provided for stocking and garter stitch. Stocking stitch can be knitted quickly without having to lift the knitting over the pins. The two stitch types can be knitted on one comb thus you do not have to transfer the knitting from one comb to another. No weights, clamps or brushes required. All-metal, totally enclosed mechanism. 140 pins. £24. Continuous daily demonstrations are given at the London and Glasgow showrooms. Record Hand Knitting Machines, London.

Regina II
This is an open needle machine. Both garter and stocking stitch are worked from the same comb. Maximum width produced is 28", giving a total of 142 stitches. Eight tension settings. £23. Automatic row counter 30s extra. Princeps (London) Ltd.

Tricomatic 132
This machine operates on the open needle principle, 132 needles. £25
Le Soie Ltd, London.

Circular knitting machines:

Sun and Sun Dulex
These are circular knitting machines (aka CSMs) available in 3.75", 4", 4.25" and 4.5" diameters. The Sun Dulex is supplied with two interchangeable cylinders of 4.25" and 3.5" diameters. This means that it is possible to knit a sock suitable for a child aged 7 upwards on the smaller cylinder, or an adult garment on the larger cylinder. On the cheaper Sun machine all cylinders are of the same diameter. 7000 stitches per minute on the 84 needle cylinder. Price varies with the amount of needles.
48 x 24 model £24 7s 6d or £30 5s with ribbing attachment.
84 x 42 Sun Duplex £45 10s
The Harris Knitting and Textile Machinery Co Ltd, Manchester

Victoria automatic sock knitter
This is a circular machine with interchangeable cylinders. It will also knit full Argyll hosiery  including overcheck. Supplied with or without stand, it is 4.5" diameter and is available in gauges 60, 64, 72, 84, 96, 108, 120, 132 and 148 needles, and 3.75" diameter in 72 needles only. The latter machine is suitable for children's hosiery and up to small men's size. Fancy tops including hoop tops can be knitted on golf socks or socks with turnover tops. The price for one cylinder and dial up to and including 84 needle/4.5" diameter, or the 72 needle, 3.75" diameter is £42. Finer gauges are more expensive.
W J Foster, Preston, Lancashire

Some interesting photographs and adverts here


Blonde said...

I have an old wood Passap D.
I don't knit with it (it's a bit of a hassle) but I just love how it looks! :-)

Knit sum More said...

I have a Record with it's original invoice from 1954, and it still works like a dream. I've just recently knitted a garter stitch cowl on it. Check it in action here.

Heather said...

This is a fascinating article. Thank you for sharing it. Do you happen to have a photo of the Foster knitting machine? My mother had a knitting business in the 1940s and 50s and she had a big black Foster knitting machine which I thought may have been semi-industrial. I'd love to see a photo if you have one.

Many thanks

Heather Minol

steel breeze said...

Sorry, I only have the information here, it was an article that was forwarded to me.

RĂ©mi Bastien said...

I recently bought a Familia knitting machine (NOT the Deluxe). Knowing that the machine is over 60 years old and still in its original box is quite something... Haven't had time to clean and test it yet.

wally said...

I have a 1861 Foster knitting machine that makes socks and other garments and i am trying to find out what it is worth?

steel breeze said...

Probably very little, unless you find a museum that would like to own it, alas.

Alison poole said...

Hi. I have a cute knitmaster instant GB-1, i brought off ebay...
I love oldie worldie stuff.. Plus it reminds of the one my mom had when i was a child..
I'm looking for replacement needles for it could anyone point in the right direction please.. I'd love to get it up n running..

steel breeze said...

You could try asking on one of the vintage knitting machine groups on Facebook, or perhaps look and see if more modern needles would fit from the list here:

Good luck!

Unknown said...

My mother has a flat bed Foster and it was lovely to see it in the vintage photos. She has been knitting on it since the 1950s until a few a few years ago, much to her disappointment, as she would like to.

Anonymous said...

In 1955 I startet a 3 year Apprenticeship as a Machine - Knitter and endet up having to undergo an Examen before a Committee of the Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg Germany
A few years later it was computerized! My 3years of Apprenticeship was worse nothing !

steel breeze said...

Argh, I bet that was frustrating! Talk about bad timing...

Maggi Bloice said...

First time I have come across this very interesting history, I have a few of the machines with pics and descriptions on my website, I must give credit to the website as they have been invaluable for sourcing instruction manuals.