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A Brief History of Machine Knitting in the UK.

A very early knitting machine was created in 1589 by an English clergyman called William Lee for knitting socks/stockings in the 16th century.  However, Queen Elizabeth did not want to put hand knitters out of work and so William went to France who supported the idea and slowly the sock machine spread and developed throughout Europe.  This type of sock machine is a circular type of machine not the flat-bed home knitting machine we recognise today.

Vintage Sock Machine

Knitting was encouraged during the two world wars in the 20th century and knitted garments became fashionable during the 1950s and 1960s when a range of simple home knitting machines and synthetic yarns was created that were affordable.  Girls were taught to knit at school and knitting was seen as a useful skill not just a hobby.  Machine Knitting continued to develop and expand a range of punchcard and then electronic machines appeared manufactured by Japanese (Brother, Empisal Knitmaster/Silver Reed and Toyota) and European (Singer/Superba and Passap) companies.  

Unfortunately, knitting became unpopular in the late 1980s as knitwear was being mass produced at cheaper prices. These garments could be made cheaper abroad and the UK garment industry suffered decline. Knitting machine manufacturers, yarn makers and magazines struggled to survive.

Unfortunately, knitting became unpopular in the late 1980s as knitwear was being mass produced at cheaper prices. These garments could be made cheaper abroad and the UK garment industry suffered decline. Knitting machine manufacturers, yarn makers and magazines struggled to survive.

Today knitting has seen a resurgence coinciding with the growth of the internet and the general interest in DIY crafts.  Natural fibres have become easier and less expensive to collect and produce.  People are sharing their knowledge and patterns on the Internet and KALs or Knit-A-Longs have become popular and have helped to spread techniques amongst a wider audience.

Machine Knitters are still a minority within the community of knitters, however, a lot of younger people are getting interested in learning this skill. Unfortunately, there is now a limited choice in new machines with only Silver Reed left from the main suppliers of home knitting machines in the UK. 

Silver Viscount Reed SK280 punchcard

Most machines that can be bought on the Internet are now very old.  The very old, and the very rate are difficult to service and maintain as there are fewer spare parts.  However, there are still places that service and sell many of the old machines in good condition and these can be found on the Internet.  More knitting yarns and patterns are now becoming available for knitting machines.  It seems that 2019 is a good year to start learning.  Especially as entrepreneurs in China are now starting to manufacture and sell spare parts and accessories for Brother and Silver Reed machines.

Further information about the history of knitting machines can be found at these links:-

If you are still interested in machine knitting then my posts on what is a knitting machine? and which knitting machine shall I get? will be useful to read.

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1 thought on “A Brief History of Machine Knitting in the UK.”

  1. Ssh… you must get like key to amend the century.
    The 1900s are in the twentieth century.

    Good post – and for me, timely. A few months ago I bought an old Brother KH840 with a KH830 ribbed, plus other heads. Jammed as the sponge bar was nought but dust.
    Luckily I’ve found a chap within an hour’s drive with spares and tech skills.

    Like

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