Thursday, November 28, 2013

Re-inventing the art of sock making, in Tasmania

I have seen Mongrel Socks in a local shop in Cygnet but had no idea about the story behind them until now…... I bought some for my mother last winter and she LOVES them.

A couple of pre-World War Two era knitting machines, a cappuccino steamer and some experimentation can make a business.

imageHelen and Laurie Timms used to sell woollen socks in Hobart that had been made in Launceston at the Tamar Knitting Mills.

When that factory closed down, rather than buy socks from interstate, the Timms decided to have a go with making the socks themselves to sell.

To do this, the Timms needed some knitting machines. So they bought two old models from the Tamar Knitting Mills.

"We got friendly with the manager and we used to sell the socks they made on the machines," says Laurie.

The Timms bought two of the machines, one made in 1927 and one in 1930.

"Took us two years to get the second one going and it turned out to be a very simple small part," says Laurie.

imageThe machines chug away in the Timms' shed in Cambridge now, making a pair of socks in 10 minutes, producing the socks a string, like sausages.

When they took the machines the Timms knew nothing about making the socks.

"We thought 'How hard could it be?' and it was really, really hard," says Helen.

The socks they make are made with pure wool with some nylon in the heel to make them long wearing, but other than that the socks are pretty much just the same as when the machines were new, close to 100 years ago.

Once the socks are knitted, there's a bit of sewing around the toes and the socks are steamed, to shrink the wool so the socks don't shrink when you buy them and wash them.

The steaming is done by hand, using a coffee machine they bought in Hobart.

The name of the Timms' company, Mongrel Socks, has come to have two meanings.

"The name for the product came about because of the nature of the multicoloured knit, so it's a real mixture, a mongrel," explains Helen.

"But actually it has turned out to be much more descriptive of the machinery. It's given us merry hell."

Despite the problems the Timms had in the first two years, and the fact that replacement parts have to be improvised or custom made, they have no plans to modernise the machinery.

There's little point, explains Laurie, as the newer machines work in rather than same way anyway, only using computer programs and perhaps working a little faster.

But the Timms don't plan to mass produce their mongrel socks.

"Tasmania can't compete on mass produced items, so we really have to target niches," says Helen.

It did take the Timms a bit of searching to be able to find a Tasmanian wool supplier, becase all the best wool was sold overseas before local producers could get it.

But they've currently got a local wool supplier, producing certified Tasmanian, non-mulesed merino wool, adding to the Tasmanian nicheness of the socks and small business.

Interview with Helen and Laurie Timms by Jo Spargo, featured on Your Afternoon.

5 comments:

Jenny M said...

An amazing effort by the Timms. Good luck to them.

Tanya Murray said...

Thanks for posting the story. We have been keen supporters of the Mongrel socks and even have a pair on our coffee table ready to be sent to Italy for a Christmas present. It was great to read the story behind the product. Very warm fuzzies.

Gavin Webber said...

Great story, and sounds like a business that is a labour of love.

Thanks for sharing Kate.

Gav

Linda said...

Great to hear about! Goo on them for running a great business!

Linda said...

Oh no! Not goo on them!! Good on them! Lol!