There are lots of options when choosing a knitting machine. How do you determine which one is right for you?
Knitting machines come in three general categories: manual, card punch, and electronic or computerized. With a manual machine, you must move around the pegs by hand when you want to change the pattern. With a card punch machine you input the basic pattern cards they come with (or make your own pattern cards) into the machine and the machine then knows how to change the configuration to make the patterns.
With an electronic machine, there are files stored in its memory for basic patterns (again you can add your own), and it reads the pattern just like a card machine does and moves the needles automatically to make that pattern. Many machine knitters start with a manual knitting machine and then, after they have determined what their needs are, move up to an electronic machine.
Knitting machines come in four different machine gauges. These gauges are determined by the distance between the needles on the machine’s bed; the larger the gauge, the thicker the yarn it can deal with. Think about what you’ll want to knit with your machine so that you get one with a suitable gauge for the yarn you will be using.
Bulky (9 mm between needles) machines are used to knit the thickest hand knitting yarns. Mid-gauge (6.5 mm) machines handle all types of hand yarns including DK weight yarns, ribbons, novelty yarns, mohair, and nubby yarns. They are the best machines for hand knitters. They are probably the most versatile and most able to produce knits that look handmade. Standard gauge (4.5 mm) machines knit commercial grade fibers (anything finer than DK-weight yarns); typically coned yarns. Fine gauge machines (3.6mm) knit the thinnest, thread-like, yarns, and produce fine, lightweight knitted fabrics.
All knitting machines are available in sturdy, metal models, which start at 700$ and go up to several thousand dollars. Mid-gauge machines are also available in plastic (cheaper) versions. Look for a good, basic mid-gauge machine that will operate easily, enjoyably, and well. You should be able to upgrade a good plastic machine via optional accessories.
Most machines are single-bed machines, i.e. they have one set of needles on a flat bed to knit stockinette stitches. Some metal bed machines are made as double-bed machines which allow you to do ribbing automatically (without hand-manipulating stitches). You can also start with a single bed machine and add on a ribber later.
Metal bed knitting machines are available from Silver Reed (also sold as “Studio” in Canada) and Artisan. Silver Reed offers all four gauges, and is one of the most respected and reputable knitting machine companies. Artisan offers more basic and affordable standard and mid-gauge machines.
Plastic knitting machines are available from Silver Reed and Bond. Bond knitting machines are the least expensive ones available, and retail for $130 to $250. The plastic Silver Reed LK-150 (150 needles on its bed) retails for under 400$. This machine is reliable, fun to use, uses hand knitting yarns, and has many add-on accessories; so it is a great one for hand knitters to start with. You can combine hand and machine knitting by hand knitting the ribbed edges and then machine knitting the body of a sweater. The LK-150, and other basic machines like it, lets you enjoy the challenge of hand manipulating stitches to create an interesting texture. The LK-150 has an optional Fair Isle carriage that is worth the investment for people who are frustrated by Fair Isle.
Unless you are familiar with knitting machines, it would be wise to find a dealer or two and go and talk to them about what you want to be able to do and find out what the various machines in your price range can do. You will need ongoing support while you are learning about your machine and preferably lessons too. If you can, you will want to talk to other machine knitters, and/or attend a machine knitting club (these are usually sponsored by local dealers). A beginner may want to buy a mid-gauge machine so that they can use all their hand-knitting yarns. Good luck and have fun.
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