In yesterday’s blog post, I asked you to imagine: how many sweaters would you own if you had to spin the wool for (and then knit) each one?
Your answer, I assume was, ‘not that many’!
Life in the mid-19th century
In the mid-1800′s, this guy was a familiar member of the (very cramped) American home:
If you were lucky, your iron (essential for ironing the often-wrinkled linen and cotton fabrics of the day) may have been a fancy model, like this one:
What’s so fancy about this iron? Previous models were just a flat piece of iron, requiring you to place it on the stove to re-heat every minute or so (and oh yeah, you’d better hold it with a towel so you don’t burn your hand!). This newer model allowed you to put coal inside (so it would stay hot as you iron!) and featured a wooden handle that you could hold. Genius!
Around this time, a woman could purchase woven fabric, which would have been made on a very big loom:
But buy a pre-made sweater? No dice!
By 1850, though, carding machines (carding is the process of taking raw wool and combing it into condition ready for spinning) were available, taking one step out of the sheep-to-sweater process for some:
My suspicion, though, is that even though carding machines were available in the mid-19th century, they were used for industrial applications (carding and then spinning wool for woven fabric), and not available to the average homemaker.
And then came the knitting machine…
The idea for a knitting machine had been around for centuries, but either due to inefficiency or expense, knitwear certainly wesn’t in mass production until the 1900′s.
There are two basic forms of machines. One is a machine that works in rows, and creates a flat fabric (as you would use for a piece of a sweater):
A second is a machine that works in the round to create a tube (as used for socks):
We’ve all seen these posters that were around in WWII times, right?
I used to think these posters meant that sock-knitting machines hasn’t been invented yet, but that’s not true. The machines had been around for a while. Rohn Strong pointed out in our last podcast episode that women were asked to knit because the machines were already operating at full capacity, not because they weren’t functioning.
Wow! Can you imagine? Every knitting machine in the country was working at such capacity that we needed handknitters to make socks for our soldiers! We had the technology, but it was certainly a different world, wasn’t it?
The war put our country into high-production-gear, and it was after the conclusion of the war that America both had the machines and the resources to knit clothing for leisure wear. And now, we think nothing of buying a sweater from the store!
As a side note, crocheting has never been mechanized… due to the complexity built into each stitch action. When you see a piece that’s been crocheted, it’s been done by hand.
So the next time you buy a sweater…
Pause for a moment. Be in awe of how far technology has come. Think of the sheep, the sheering, the carding process, the spinning, the design, the knitting, the machinery. How history has built to the place where we are today- where we can decide we want a sweater, and go buy it from a store.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Where are all of these awesome machines living now? I visited them on my recent trip to The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village!