There are three types of knitting machines at Corgi: old, domestic models; double-bed machines; and single-bed machines. All require hand framing – that is, the worker must pull the carriage up and down by hand.
The advantage of these machines is their flexibility. They can make almost anything, but slowly and do well if they last 10 years. They are programmed by punch card, with the designer using something resembling a hole punch to mark out the pattern.
Then there are the single-bed machines, with just one of those rows of needles. They are the only way to do intarsia work, where single colours of yarn are put on individually by hand. Although in theory every thread can be different, the designs tend to be concentrated in the middle of the pieces. Every year Corgi makes a sweater with a different Beatles design on it for Apple in Japan, for example, usually just 15 to 25 pieces. It takes about two hours to knit that front panel. (See previous post for some more examples).
Then there’s the sock presser. Wooden moulds are used to hold the individual socks before they are inserted between heated wooden panels. You turn a huge handle with red knobs on to press the socks.
One of the vanities of examining production is to assume that every machine is the best for its particular job, at least in the luxury market. But that’s not necessarily the case. This sock presser, for example, is 90 years old. You could buy a much better modern one that uses metal moulds, as seen at Bresciani. But then its capacity would be 10 times what Corgi needed, and cost £40-50,000. Investment has to come gradually or be forced by particular necessity.
It’s nice therefore when you see old machines that perform some unique function. Like the single-beds or the hand-wound sock knitter. And even though hand framing isn’t necessarily better, it is certainly different – you can spot a hand-framed cable knit anywhere by the lovely openness of its weave.
Thank you Huw, Chris and Lisa.