Monday, July 07, 2008

A Very Special Discovery

You'd think I'd had enough of good luck with Little Yellow Suitcase eventually tiring of its travels and returning home, but I had another smile from the goddess a few days ago, and this time involving something very very special indeed to me. In fact I'd given up hope of it ever happening.



But let's get the housework out of the way first. It's been utterly wretched weather here (in sympathy with friends across the Atlantic I imagine, since yours hasn't exactly been great either). I'm sorry for our visitors who are faced with day after day of windy, rainy, cloudy greyness.






This is the typical view through the windscreen as you drive over the Cork-Kerry border towards Killarney, - swathes of drifting grey clouds encircling the mountain tops. Of course the tradition is that when the Good People are on their travels, out for a Wild Hunt perhaps, or on their way to a party at another rath, they bring down the clouds so that human eyes will not see them. Well if that's the case, they're having one heck of a summer up there, the little folk, with parties going on all day and night, if the mist is anything to judge by.






Here;s another view, this time on the road to Killorglin, where Puck Fair is held every August. Hope it clears up for that. Hope it clears up for the McMurtrie clan visiting West Cork from the States next week - Deb and family, I'll look up my book of spells and see what I can do, promise!



Of course there is always a good side to gloomy weather, like actually getting some knitting done.






Here are the alpaca/silks, demonstrating that yes, it is indeed possible to make a very pleasant pair of average adult sized socks with just one skein of c. 280 yds. As alpaca always bulks out a bit, especially when washed, I used a slightly larger needle and a 48-st round; in retrospect, I think perhaps four or six more stitches would have given it a more relaxed feel, but there was plenty, as you see, to make a decent cuff length. Do not adjust your monitor, I dip-dyed them after completion. Might give them another bath in violet.



By the way, I found that all the circulars I thought were US size 1 were in fact US size 2, or else I've got mixed up in my conversions from metric to whatever-it-is-you-use-in-the-States (which wouldn't be surprising). Size 0 is 2mm, right? Then 1 seems to be 2.5mm. Is there a 2.25mm? Why am I asking this? What was the original query? What day of the week is it? Does it matter? Should I only knit on days of the week that have an 'r' in them? Or is that oysters?





Anyway, these bamboo/cotton socks also got finished. This is yarn from Guichard Laines in Landevant, nabbed during the Brittany trip last year. I think it's Katia. I thought that two balls would be insufficient for a pair of socks, so got three balls of each colour for safety, but in fact these again came out just fine with two balls. Used the same baby cable pattern as on the alpaca/silk, because bamboo/cotton doesn't have much bounce and you need a fair bit of strong texture to stop them becoming unintended slouch socks.



OK, I can't put it off any longer. Curiously reluctant to start posting about this, because, perhaps, it matters so much personally and you might think it's a lot of fuss about nothing.



It's the story of a very old and rather small machine. A sock knitting machine. I have childhood memories of long winter evenings in the huge cosy kitchen, with the range glowing warmly and my mother bending over this machine, which was sturdily clamped to the table, constantly adjusting a needle here, the tension of the yarn there. I remember the steady sound of the wheel being cranked as she turned out socks and stockings for all five of us. Of course as a very small child I was most unthankful for warm knitted stockings. I wanted trendy nylon kneesocks like other girls wore to school on the coldest wettest days. And I didn't want knitted ankle socks either, especially not in the dreary school colours of green and fawn. We're like that as kids, aren't we?



The machine was old when she got it, from a maiden aunt who by then had arthritis and could no longer use it (although this aunt, my great-aunt, still made the most exquisite crochet up to the day she died). I haven't been able to find out yet where this relative originally got the machine, or indeed why. It was not the easiest of things to master, and my mother had never seen one before, but she persevered, poring over the manual of instructions night after night and experimenting until she finally got it to work. Then she went out hunting for coned yarns. Fifty or more years ago, it was a lot easier to source these from friendly mills - we had Blarney, Dripsey, Kerry and more all quite willing to part with a few to a friendly lady with a sweet smile. My mother had a pretty respectable (for 'respectable', read 'frightening' if you're not a knitter) yarn stash way back before anyone even coined the term. My earliest memories are of playing with unsortable tangles of pink wool on the floor of her knitting room, and later of winding little balls of it from between the knots, and starting my own experiments with needle or hook.


Time went by, we all left home. My mother died. Far too soon, far before she should have, but isn't that the case for everyone? It's never the right time to lose someone unutterably dear. I shut a cast-iron door on that part of my life and resolutely refused to open it again. You do that if the pain goes too deep. You blot out the memories of a magical garden, a large warm home, a front door always open, most of all of a stone-flagged kitchen with a glowing range and a dear person waiting with open arms.



But last year, wandering through one of those cheap everything-shops, I came across this, if you remember.





I stared, perplexed at its odd familiarity. Then all at once a curtain was lifted and I remembered that machine from so long ago. I bought this, told you all about it in delight, intended to try experiments on it. I recalled for you some memories of the old sock machine from my childhood. Enough years had passed for it to be safe to remember crafting details if the personal were still kept well under control.



It was Angeluna who emailed me instantly, telling me that these were collectors' items and I had to find that old machine NOW. As in THIS MINUTE. All of a sudden it became vitally urgent to locate it, get in touch with the past. You didn't exactly unlock the door, dear Angeluna - in your wonderful style you wrenched it open, shoved me through with a determined 'GO!'


But the machine could not be found. My brother, who still lives in the somewhat battered family home, trying to keep it upright against the ravages of time, searched but said it had probably been given away. I was heartbroken. Didn't expect to be, but was. Now that I'd remembered it, and especially now that blogging and Ravelry make such a family of us all, I wanted to bring this into the new world and share it with everyone. Well, if it was gone, it was gone, and that was an end to it. I tucked the new little plastic thingy on a shelf and didn't do anything with it. Didn't feel like it.



But it wasn't the end of it. Do you ever have those situations where you simply can't accept that something has happened? Where you just don't want to believe it, keep on hoping that somehow all will come right?





When my brother phoned a few days ago and said, 'You'll never guess what I've found', my throat dried and I was afraid to answer him. I was afraid he'd say, 'Oh no, not that, that's well gone.' But he didn't. It was true. The old sock machine had been found wedged behind the door in a small room full of rubbish. It was there, it was intact, it was dry.


It was eleven o'clock at night but I was ready to leave that instant. However, my brother wanted to have it to himself for a few hours, 'to see it's running smoothly, oil it a bit for you,' as he put it. I think he had a few ghosts to face up to as well, so I left it. Until the earliest possible moment next morning, that was, when I was pounding on the gates with my heart thumping. And he put it into my hands.




It doesn't look too bad after lying hidden for more than thirty years, does it? Dust, a bit of surface rust, no more. A few chips in the enamelwork probably occurred during its busy working career.


Here is the faded gold lettering from which I was able to establish that it's an AutoKnitter.


- and here, miraculously, is the instruction book, discovered a day later by my wonderful brother.



It's going to take a lot of loving attention to get this little survivor up and working again, but happily the Net and Ravelry are going to be of immense help. I've already ordered needles for it from Angora Valley - can you believe that these are still being made? You Americans are wonderful!

I hesitated before posting this last picture. But I think you will want to see it.





The Last Sock.


That little sock machine had been lying there for so many years, hidden and forgotten, the last sock still on its needles, waiting to be finished. It must have wondered if anyone was ever coming back to take it out, clamp it to the table once more, turn its handle, praise it for making such beautiful work. And at last, one day, someone did.

To get back a part of the past, something that you thought had gone for ever, is no small thing. And it matters more than can be expressed in words. I'm no technical whiz, and part of my heart fails me at the thought of trying to get to grips with working this little machine. But with everyone's help, I will. I can feel an encouraging hand on my shoulder as I type this, a hand I thought I would not feel in this life again. And yes, the first pair for my brother.






53 comments:

Jean said...

The socks look so cozy.(I guess you need that with your weather) California is so dry right now, we won't have any rain for months now and the wild fires are raging, wish you could send some of that weather our way. I have just started a sock using Schaefer's Anne, it really is such lovely yarn to knit with.

Dawn in NL said...

Jo,

What a lovely story, I have a mysterious moisture in my eyes.

I will look forward to hearing of your adventures with the Autoknitter.

Good luck,
Dawn

ambermoggie said...

Oh Jo how wonderful:)) Can't wait to see your adventures with sock machine:)
A lovely way to open up old memories and keep your mothers craft going

Luise said...

As I wipe my wet cheeks, I thank you for sharing this important glimpse of your life with us. There's a lot to ask and talk about; perhaps one day I can do it in person. (Come to Boston!)

Brenda said...

JO,
Another great www get-together.
Not too far from where I live is a blogger who makes socks on a sock machine. Check out his blog at http://soxophoneplayer.blogspot.com
there might be info that can help you

Knitters Knook said...

Such a lovely story! I always enjoy reading of your adventures, and feel that you have a beautiful life. Can't wait to see your progress on the machine.

We do have a 2.25 mm which we call a size 1. The 2.5 mm we usually call a size 1 1/2.

Liz (aka inky) said...

The last picture did me in, with the caption.

My mother's been gone 18 years, and after your story, she's right here next to me.

Sara said...

Oh wow, Im so glad that you found the sock machine and its a happy ending, you brought an eyeful of tears to me talking about your memories of your mum that way!
I'll be very curious to see how you get on with it. Good luck!

Rosie said...

What an heirloom and what a moving story; I've gone all goosebumpy and the hair on my arms is standing on end (and that started before I saw the picture of the last sock). How extraordinary that you could track dwon replacement needles, too.

Kelli said...

I was teary by the end of your story. It's so nice that you were able to find it. And the last sock is just heartbreaking.

Lynda the Guppy said...

Oh! What a sad, happy, wonderful, heartbreaking story.

I went through something very similar recently. My home was robbed in October and one of the things they stole was a piece of jewelry my grandmother had given me when she was alive. It was the only piece from her "collection" that she gave me while she was still with us, and it was with all the other jewelry they stole.

Well, here it is July, and I've had water damage to my home, and while cleaning...I found it. It had been dropped by those ratbastardthieves and kicked under the sofa at some point. I sat down and cried with relief.

What are you going to do with The Last Sock? You might want to think about having it professionally framed and writing out this story and pasting it to the back of the picture. It's a wonderful tale y and something that should be passed on to future generations (can you tell I'm the daughter/niece of two amateur geneaologists?)

Jennifer said...

Oh Jo! That's just fantastic. It is often through our craft that I connect most with my own ancestors. I'm so glad you were able to get your hands on this legacy, because that's exactly what it is. Your history. And I know you'll think of your wonderful mother everytime you touch it.

Cheers!

Lynda the Guppy said...

OH! I almost forgot (you distracted me with your machine!)...

The circulars...were they Addis by any chance? if so, even though the packaging says one size, they're actually another. I just can't remember if its the 1 that's really a 1 1/2 or a 2 that's a 1 1/2. Either way, go with your needle gauge and not the package.

Ruth said...

Ohm, Jo,

What a wonderful story. Clearly the sock machine and you were meant to be together.

Your mom must be smiling somewhere. How lovely!

~Donna~ said...

What a wonderful story...can't wait to see it unfold even further...

Charity said...

Love the finished socks! And that machine - wow! Amazing, really! :0)

Lisa W said...

Such a touching story, and what a wonderful treasure for you. Jo, with all of your travels, beautiful photos, and truly delightful stories, I keep thinking there is a book that is waiting to be written...

sprite said...

::sniffle::

Anonymous said...

Jo, Having read your lovely blog for sometime now, I've never commented. But like many of the others, I found the tears welling and thought it was time (overdue, really), to say hello. The past has a way of circling about doesn't it and not only did she open that door for you, but gifted you as well!

We'll all be waiting to hear how it goes. Good luck!

Melody

skepweaver said...

It was that last sock that did it. Now, if you will pardon me, I'll clear my throat and wipe my eyes. Just realized how 10 years have flown since my mother closed her eyes.

Skep

pamudom said...

Hi Jo, what a wonderful find! I just started my own CSM journey (though it doesn't have any family history behind it), and I look forward to seeing you get it running again!

Mauri said...

Wonderful! I always love when the instructions turn up with the old metal creatures.

Linda said...

How wonderful! I look forward to following your journey with the machine. Just the other day I was telling my mom all the knitting stuff that I used on a regular basis that was *her* mom's, who passed away when I was 10. It's a wonderful connection my nana, who I never got to knit with.

And Addi US1's are 2.5mm rather than 2.25mm.

Lynn said...

Dear Jo -- I am so happy for you!

luneray said...

The Last Sock is one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. I was reading your post on my blackberry on the busride to work and I started to get all sniffly. I'll let my fellow commuters think I was just suffering from allergies...

Knit Picks sells two sizes of "size 1" (2.25 and 2.5 mm) and two sizes of "size 2" needles (2.75 and 3.00mm), as dpns as well as circular needles. They are comparable to the Addi Turbo, except the metal needle feels a bit less substantial. I do like the cords on the circular needles better than the turbos. More flexible.

Angeluna said...

Dearest Jo, what a joy to read this post. I only asked the simple question, "What happened to your mother's sock machine?" and that set off a click in your mind that it might still be found in the years of accumulations in the old house. Your brother did the rest, bless him. And can you believe he also found the manual?

And like many others, the photo of the shards and shreds of the last sock brought tears to my eyes. Indeed your mother is smiling.

As for those size 1s, Addi calls 2.5mm a 1. Knitpicks sells both 2.25 and 2.50 as size 1's. Crystal Palace calls 2.50 a 1 1/2. So you really have to pay attention to which brand you are using, or simply ignore the American sizing and go for the mm size, much more logical by the way.

barbara-kay said...

Just last week I saw a u-tube clip on such a machine, a link from a blog. So when you described your Mum fiddling with the settings, I could imagine it.

How wonderful to have the manual, and that needles are still being made. You are meant to be able to use this!

DPUTiger said...

Wow, that's so exciting. You are so very fortunate to have found that machine, particularly since it has so much sentimental value!

As far as the needle sizes go, You're much better off sticking with mm, as it makes a lot more sense. A US 0=2.0mm, US 1 is either 2.25 or 2.5 mm and a US 2 is either 2.75 or 3.0mm. One mm per US size resumes at US 3/3.25mm. Some manufactures will list the larger of the sizes as US 1.5 or 2.5, but not all. It's quite annoying.

Sheri Brethel said...

Jo - Thank you for that story - it's been 5 years since my mom passed. I agree, you should frame the last sock!

DeAnn said...

What a cherished experience. Enjoy the memories that the turning of the crank will bring to the surface. They will be little bits of treasure. I would put the last sock in a frame...it would bring loving memories of a time past. There is nothing wrong with the tears that may follow...for they cleanse the spirit.
BTW...great looking socks! Love the green ones.

Alynxia said...

OMG Jo!!!! Blessings abound, don't they? You must find a shadow box to put the sock and old needles in along with a photo of your Mom and Aunt.

I was lucky enough to rescue my great-grandmother's Singer Treadle machine and some of her wonderful crocheted doilies when my Dad was clearing out my Nana's house. Certain things are treasures beyond value.

Ronni said...

What a wonderful story. There's a gal in my weaving guild who can probably give you some pointers on the antique sock machine front. She's been teaching classes in it lately and has worked with several kinds/brands I think. Let me know if you'd like her web address and I'll dig it up.

Kathy said...

I have been reading and enjoying your posts for a year, but I just had to respond to this one. Several of my spinning friends have circular sock machines and they love them! There are more and more people in the state taking up what they call "cranking". Old machines are hard to come by, but there is a company in New Zealand producing new ones. My friends get together and have "Crank-ins" instead of spin-ins! It can be quite a sight to see!

Kathy

Anonymous said...

How wonderful that the sock machine was found! I agree that the last sock should be preserved with the story.
When I was little, my great-grandmother taught me to sew on her treadle machine and in later years, I asked if it could be mine someday. When my daughter was 18 months old, my husband, who was in the Navy, was stationed in Honolulu and we had to move far from home. A month after we left home, my great-grandmother passed away. I couldn't afford to fly back for the funeral but the next time we came for a visit I asked about ma's treadle sewing machine and was told that they had gotten rid of that "old thing". It still hurts. Enjoy your mother's sock machine and let it open up the flood-gates of memories for you. I'm jealous.

Vicki in So. Cal.

pacalaga said...

Oh Jo, how wonderful! I just returned from a trip to my DH's family home, where I was gifted with his mother's treadle sewing machine. This must be the season of cherished family heirlooms.
(And someone probably already told you, but I think only Addi calls 2.25mm a US1. Most other companies call it a US1.5. Yet another reason to learn the metric system.)

Jocerane said...

Hi Jo! It's a great story, and a wonderful find!
Several years ago, I went to "le musée de la bonneterie" in Troyes. They have all the machines, from the very first one made with wood, to the most sofisticated one! And here is a link :
http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/fr/ia.jsp?ia=IB2007%2F000864&IA=IB2007000864&DISPLAY=DESC

Tan said...

What a lovely bit of serendipity, and what a lovely brother to get it running for you and even find the instruction booklet!

Cathy said...

I am new to your blog and I must say for a first post to read this one was amazing. The story and especially the picture of the last sock brought tears to my eyes. I agree with the other who suggested framing the sock. It is a powerful memory of your mother. I can't wait to see your first socks knitted on the machine.

Blessings to you
Cathy

LaurieM said...

You touched me with your story, especially the image of the last sock.

Cindy/Snid said...

What a beautiful story. So glad that it was found and can be loved again!

cindyl said...

Yeh! Yeh! Yeh! for you and the little machine. I am thrilled for you.

Crescendo said...

I'm so glad you found it! I can't wait to read more!

Dez Crawford said...

With my Dad, it was finding his toolbox amongst the jumble in the damaged part of the house after Katrina. That did me in. Your story just brought my dad back for me, having a peek over my shoulder, and reminding me of my granny knitting socks for her family. Though she had no machine, I have her needles, and I sense her near me each time I use them.

Do have the last sock framed on an acid-free mount -- I'm sure you know all about that. Laminate your story and attach it to the backside. In the framing job, include a lovely photo of the revived sock machine in use -- perhaps with the socks for your brother on the needles. I suggest also that you list on the back of the framed piece a paragraph stating where the machine is kept in your home, along with the pamphlet and odd components, so that the framed sock, machine and all parts stay together for future generations, so that some niece or nephew far down the road may lovingly cherish the machine as you do, and perhaps make socks of their own.

The way you connect to the things in your life makes me feel like I have a long lost cousin back in Ireland.

And the violet socks are just lovely, by the way.

lilymarlene said...

Bitter/sweet I think. Not wanting to remember, and desperately wanting to remember.
I would LOVE to have a go at fixing and working that wonderful machine!
And how poignant that there was still some knitting in it. A treasure indeed!

LizKnits said...

What a terrific link to your past! I hope you get her up and running and have many hours of joy remembering your mom.

Red-headed StepKnitter said...

I can't imagine -- the new knitting machines for sale here in the states are annoying plastic things -- how wonderful to find something that will last forever.

P.S. Yes, you can only knit oysters in months that have a 'q' in them.

Judy G. said...

You should really check out Kyle Kunnecke at wwwdotkylewilliamdotcomslashblogdothtml
He has recently acquired a machine similar to yours, and might have some tips for you. I believe that yours is also similar to the machines they use at Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs Alberta Canada (except I think theirs are motorized; or maybe not.)

Your socks are sure purty!

Magaki said...

What a wonderful story :)

bea3855 said...

Hei!
I came across your blog thru Else in Northern Norway; she is also my friend since long!
You have a very intresting Blog!!!
I also offer my items via ebay, so it would be lovely if we could exchange thoughts!
Also I am very intrested in Ireland; one of the few countries I have not visited yet in the northern hemisphere.... :)
Best wishes to you
Bea

Jamie said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your memories and your joy. May you create many new wonderful memories with the Auto Knitter, though I suspect there is a learning curve. :)

I also enjoyed the weather link to the Good Folk. I think it is possible that the Pacific Northwest in the US may have a few of them around too. It would explain a lot.

Granny Sue said...

I love old machines like this. What a beauty. I often marvel at the people who created such ingenious machines--like my apple peeler, the apple corer and slicer and other old-time tools that work as smoothly now as they did 100 years ago.

Cheap Like Me said...

I just found your blog through Spindlers ... what a beautiful essay this post was.

Laurel said...

I just now was catching up on your blog and wanted to tell you how much I loved reading this post. As another poster said, it was bittersweet indeed. I hope you recall many happy memories as you crank out socks with your little sock machine. Thank you for trusting us with the story.