It’s 1910. You and your husband work at a local mill. You start a family. But in order to continue to live in company housing, you must produce a product, despite staying home with little ones underfoot. What’s a woman of the day to do?
Karin Fuhrer-Thornton, area business owner and knitter extraordinaire, would have known exactly what to do to keep her job and her home. Karin is a collector of antique knitting machines and her oldest machine to date is now on loan and exhibit at the Mebane Historical Museum. Machines of this variety made their debut on the market in 1878 and was often mimicked in later versions by several additional companies.
Made for the home, these pot-metal machines clamped to a table edge. It is made up of many moving parts and it took huge amounts of practice to be able to use successfully. Karin has mastered the machine after five years of trial and error.
Considering its complexity, one can only imagine women attempting to follow the detailed instructions with children to tend to and dinner to cook but women did, and the mill got their socks made, despite their absence from work. During World War I both men and women utilized these machines to make socks for the war effort.
Later, a marketing push was made by the manufacturers that the machines would afford a woman financial independence were she to make socks at home. Companies that purchased the socks frequently returned them for perceived flaws with the instructions to unravel the socks and start again. It was likely that no one ever got rich making socks with these machines, but we know thousands here in America and in the UK, tried.
Karin will demonstrate her skill of operating the machine at a museum event in the coming months.
The Museum is open to see this exhibit and others Tuesday – Friday 10 -2 and Saturdays 10 – 3.