My search for sustainable design and technology, has over the years led me both backwards (in technology) and forwards in terms of sustaining my own design practise...a practise rooted in analog, non powered, and intuitive approaches. This has slowly led me to explore knitwear machinery as an alternative to modern textile technology despite my roots in apparel design and textile printing.
When I purchased my MM Dubied, a simple machine from the 1930's, it came with some 1954 editions of the Italian magazine "Estate, " in the back it featured advertisements for the Discam and the Autocam. When I graduated to the more complicated NHF4 Dubied I realized that the odd contraptions in the advertisements could help me speed up pattern selection, all without having to learn complex computer programming or buy expensive software. Pattern selection on these manual machines requires mental counting, time consuming hand toggling actions and a high degree of concentration so you don't lose your place. This is where Autocams come in.
Autocams are drum pattern devices that attach in pairs to the Dubied or Santagostino carriage, they modify stitches much like a punch card does. Discams are pattern devices based upon the disk format. They hold less information than autocams but operate based upon the same principle. The autocam is a drum with pegs of different sizes and positions which rotates one stop like a typewriter. For every pass of the carriage, cams are selected via fingers, also much like typewriter keys which change cam positions. For me there is an imagery format mashup of player piano drums, music boxes, machine knit and computer punch cards, typewriter selectors and clock gears. These formats were such logical straightforward approaches to the problem of mechanical selection. Their fall from favour was a side effect of the technology revolution but also major changes in fashion. See Sandy Black's book:
Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft for more
So why is this a Part 1? Well, I just recently installed an Autocam after spending some time with my very knowledge dad Edmund, who is a clockmaker. He helped me gut, clean and install the necessary parts into a Dubied carriage. Part 2 will be about using and changing the pegs!
The autocam rides on the carriage top, but it also requires longer cams so that the fingers can push select the cams. That is why we had to gut the carriage: to replace the cams and add fittings for securing the autocam.
Here's the underside of the carriage before it is stripped down.
Here's the very dirty interior of the carriage. I was shocked at all of that fluff and grime! Eww. Obviously we cleaned it up using a toothbrush and some gasoline and it looked much better.
Here's the completely gutted carriage. We are reassembling the tension assembly. We had to take it apart because the new cams are physically linked to parts of the tension.
Here the new washer has been installed for the longer cams and it has been linked to the tension assembly.
And here the Autocam has been screwed onto the carriage. The new cams need to be fitted where the old ones were and then the cam plate can be screwed back onto the underside of the carriage.
I hope this wasn't too geeky for you. I am excited about this contraption because I won't lose my place on patterns like the one to the right. It also means that really complicated patterns which require constant cam switching will be fun instead of frustrating.
Anna is a Hamilton based knitwear and textile practitioner blogging about her collection development as well as pre-1950's knitwear technology.
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