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Cranking Out Wool Socks: A Column & Video About Antique Sock Machines

Today my Grand Rapids Press art & craft column is about Mike Bronkema, a fire-fighting farmer who cranks out cozy socks on one of those fabulous antique circular knitting machines. Check it out, then watch the video below.

OLIVE TOWNSHIP — The first time our paths crossed, Mike Bronkema was sporting an Olive Township Fire Rescue T-shirt and knitting a pink sock on a hand-crank antique circular sock knitting machine.

We were at the Michigan Fiber Festival in Allegan County so this public display of crafting was socially acceptable, even celebrated. Bronkema was attracting quite a crowd with his 1920s machine that intrigues men and women alike.

Women dominate the world of fiber arts, but the knitting machine appeals to men, because “men love mechanical equipment,” Bronkema said.

I stopped to chat with him against my better judgment. I knew the conversation would be great for readers, but would be personally dangerous as it would nudge me to explore yet another expensive corner of the fiber arts map.

I already had been casually looking for a hand-crank knitting machine online, so I knew hanging out with Bronkema would only cause trouble. Fiber enthusiasts are enablers. We can’t help ourselves. We like to “help” each other find looms, spinning wheels, etc. We love it when newbies join the flock, so to speak.

Sure enough, my casual and completely manageable obsession with someday becoming the proud owner of a refurbished sock knitting machine flared up in a massive way as I snapped pictures of Bronkema cranking out a wool sock in the August heat.

It’s been roughly four months since our first meeting, and I’ve yet to swan dive into the fantastic world of sock knitting. However, after visiting Bronkema at Shady Side Farm, the business he operates with his wife, Lona, I know it’s just a matter of time.

Continue reading the column here.

If you’ve never seen a circular knitting machine in action, here’s your chance. I shot a short video of Bronkema explaining how it works.

If you live in West Michigan and looking to get your wool fix, go meet Bronkema next week and watch his sheep get their annual haircut at Shady Side Farm Shearing Day from 9 a.m.-noon Dec. 27 at Shady Side Farm, 13275 Blair Street in Olive Township. A selection of socks, woven rugs and other handmade items will be available for sale. For more information call (616) 786-3827 or check out the family blog or shop online.

Comments

Comment from Turtle
Time: December 21, 2008, 3:12 pm

very cool! if i could dream up any wish gift (aside from a sheep or goat) i would wish for one of those sock knitting machines! i have searched about them and they look so cool.

Comment from Linda Wright
Time: December 21, 2008, 3:45 pm

Hi, My daughter sent me a link to this site. I have a sock knitter with stand and original shipping box, made of wood. We used to use it when our daughter was young, and had a ball with it. It sits alone now. Linda

Comment from Lona
Time: December 21, 2008, 4:32 pm

Thanks for the great article, Jennifer!

Linda, I’m pretty sure I can find a home for your sock knitter, if Jennifer doesn’t want it… ;-D

Comment from Tracey
Time: December 22, 2008, 1:44 am

That is so bizarre… I woke up this morning dreaming about how I could MAKE a machine to knit a sock. I never knew these machines existed. Really fascinating article. Thanks.

Comment from Bev
Time: December 25, 2008, 2:50 pm

Hey, I really enjoyed that video – what a nifty little device. I do love a machine that’s all mechanical parts (not eletronics) and understandable devices. Fun!

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