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Socker Mom -- Racine woman makes hosiery with an antique machine

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Sock Making Machine

Susan VanSwol makes socks Saturday, January 21, 2012, with an 1920s-era antique circular sock-making machine at Anything's Possible, 237 Main St. / Gregory Shaver Buy this photo at

RACINE - Sue VanSwol calls herself the "Socker Mom."

The 58-year-old Racine woman sells socks that she makes using a rare antique circular sock machine. She demonstrated how the 1920s-era machine works Saturday by making socks at Anything's Possible, an eco-friendly book, gift and art shop at 237 Main St.

"I was born 100 years too late," VanSwol joked as she worked, her French-Canadian ciruclar sock machine sitting on a table in front of her.

The main parts of the machine are a hollow cylinder and a crank wheel. On Saturday, VanSwol used a crochet hook to loop yarn around small needles that line the upper edge of the cylinder. Then she turned the crank and a tube of yarn - the beginnings of a sock - started appearing in the center of the cylinder.

VanSwol kept cranking, and before long half of a blue, green and white striped sock was hanging from the cylinder.

It takes VanSwol about 45 minutes to make one pair of socks. She can unloop yarn from a few of the cylinder's needles to create ribs in the sock; to create heels and toes she unloops yarn from about half the needles and then cranks the machine.

"It's a very strange- looking piece of equipment," said Marie Boyum, owner of Anything's Possible. "But (the socks) are definitely wearable and warm."

VanSwol has been making socks for about four years. It all started when she couldn't find knee socks for her mother.

VanSwol decided to knit some herself so she visited an alpaca farm to get wool. While there, she mentioned her difficulty finding knee socks; the woman at the farm showed VanSwol a sock machine.

"She says, ‘Why don't you get a sock machine?' " VanSwol remembered. "At first I thought, ‘That doesn't look very fun to me.' But then I went home and I looked on the Internet and I became fascinated."

VanSwol started reading online forum posts regarding sock knitting, and ended up buying her own machine from a woman in Michigan.

The machine cost $950, which may seem like a steep price, but VanSwol said it's been worth it.

Plus the machine is now valued at $1,200, although VanSwol has no plans to part with it.

"I wouldn't take any amount of money for it," she said.


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