Summary

Hand-powered flat-bed 'Preciosa' knitting machine manufactured by Wertheim (Germany) and retailed in Melbourne by Hugo Wertheim.

Physical Description

56-page notebook with stiff cover inscribed 'MEMO / BOOK'. Lined horizontally as if for accounting memos, and stapled at centre. Contains extensive hand-written knitting pattern including 'DARREN / CARDIGAN' and '3 ply Cardigan. Raema Age 10 Years'. Other patterns include a 'Dolls Dress / (SUZANNE)', 'Ladies Jumper', 'Bunny Rug' and '2 Ply LITTLE BOYS SUIT'. About half the pages are unfilled, and many are water-stained.

Significance

The knitting machine provides a relatively rare record of a woman's cottage industry in rural Victoria in the early 20th century, as well as being a significant item of material culture relating to work for the war effort on the home front during World Wars I and II. The machine collection includes a range of parts, manuals, users' notes, two garments and a (digital copy of a) photograph of a garment being worn, providing a comprehensive record of how the machine was used and for what purposes, and how this changed over time as a second user worked the machine.

Knitting machines were enthusiastically advertised in the media in the early 20th century when this model was purchased, both for making family clothing and as a means of earning money. Hugo Wertheim advertised knitting machines as 'One of the most profitable means by which to earn a livelihood or supplement an income IN YOUR OWN HOME' (The Age, 4/2/1911, page 2).

The first hand-powered flat-bed knitting machine was invented by the American William Isaac Lamb in 1863. The machine enabled rapid production of tube and rib-knitted fabric. It knitted in alternating plain and pearl stitches, providing a ribbed effect with high elasticity that looked the same on both sides. The year after its invention, Lamb's flat-bed knitting machine was improved by another American, Henry J. Griswold. Sold under the names ‘Climax’, ‘Crane’ and ‘Little Rapid’, the machines were used in the cottage industry to make men's socks and children's stockings. With further improvements in the machine’s design, circular-knit stockings could also be made.

In Europe, manufacturer Henri Eduard Dubied saw the flat-bed machine displayed at the World Expo in Paris in 1867. He bought the patent and began to make the machines, which he called the ‘Trikoteuse Omnibus’, in his own Swiss factory. By the end of the decade French and German manufacturers, including Laue und Timaeus (later Irmscher & Co., Dresden) were also making flat-bed machines. In 1888 the invention of the tubular cam by G. F. Grosser in Markersdorf allowed heels to also be knitted by the flat-bed machines. Later developments facilitated the production of patterned goods and the use of an electric motor.

The Lamb Corporation remains in business to this day.

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