The History of Knitting Machines


Knitting dates to prehistoric times, when ancient people used plant fibers, their fingers and a single stick to knit items. Knitted socks have been found in Egyptian tombs and Roman burial mounds. From there, knitting progressed to two and even four needles. But people were always looking for a way to produce knitted garments faster and easier. This quest led to various kinds of knitting machines.

14th century

  • By the late 1300s, peasants used round, four-needle peg frames to knit warm caps. These were similar to the spool knitters children still use today. A painting by German Master Bertram, "The Knitting Madonna," shows Mary knitting a small garment with one of these frames.

16th century

  • At a time when pristine white stockings were the height of fashion for upper-class men, the stocking loom, designed by the Rev. William Lee of Nottingham, produced fine silk stockings at a much faster rate than knitting them by hand. This flat loom produced a long, flat piece of knitting, which was seamed up the back to form stockings.

18th century

  • Knitting on frames, the precursor to modern knitting machines, became popular in the 1700s. Jeremiah Strutt of Derby invented the Derby Rib Frame in 1759. Samuel Betts improved on this and created a mechanism that allowed for knitting lace. In 1768, spurred by the popularity of brocade waistcoats, Crain and Porter created a color change mechanism. This eventually led to the development of punch cards for color changes, a system which some knitting machines still use today.

19th century

  • By the late 1800s, manufacturers began marketing knitting machines for home use. Ads touted the machines as helping housewives to produce more knitted goods in a shorter amount of time, freeing them for other activities, or allowing them to earn extra money by selling their handwork to others.

    The Lamb knitting machine was the first home knitting machine. Introduced in 1867 by a Mr. Lamb, it had 84 needles and weighed about 15 pounds. Later models had 96 to 110 needles. A Lamb knitting machine cost $45 in 1887, not including the stand, which was an additional $6.

    By 1879, the Crane Knitter was introduced. This 106-needle machine had a keyboard design similar to modern flatbed knitting machines. About this time, circular sock machines also began to appear.

Modern Machines

  • Modern knitting machines began to appear shortly after the turn of the century. The mechanisms of today's machines remain much the same, though modern electronics have replaced punch cards in some systems, and computerized programs allow for many design innovations. Today's knitter can find machines designed for knitting everything from fine lace shawls to bulky sweaters.

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  • Photo Credit Photo by Joshin Yamada
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