Knitting machines are great for speed or for making exquisite fine gauge knits but they can also be very expensive. Are they right for you?
Before you buy a knitting machine, you need to realize that they are not necessarily going to be faster or easier or produce better results than you could get by hand knitting. You need to be aware that some complicated patterns are difficult or impossible to reproduce on a machine. Knitting machines limit the size of items that you can produce on them to the number of stitches which that machine can hold; so that you might have to figure out where you can split a pattern and sew it together by hand later.
Be aware that you will need to block most machine-knit fabrics because when you remove your fabric from the machine it will be distorted and curled from being stretched and weighted as you are knitting it.
You need to appreciate that knitting machines are complicated and there is definitely a learning curve to machine knitting. Knitting with a machine is very different from hand knitting. An oversimplification of the mechanics of a knitting machine is that it has a row of needles (latch hooks) and a carriage allows the yarn to go through the needles and the machine to produce a knitted piece. It has more in common with a loom that with a sewing machine. There is a lot of set up involved; and they can be temperamental or confusing, especially if you are a beginner.
Think about your reasons for buying a machine. There are several more important reasons to invest in a machine, than its speed. A knitting machine helps a lot with sustaining an even tension in your knitting. It will allow you to create better Fair Isle projects. A machine will make it much easier to hang several colors than to keep track of them on two needles, for knitters doing intarsia. It is easier to knit lace on a machine than doing it by hand. A machine will save you time and money if you are doing production knitting or charity work. It will make it easier and quicker to rip out mistakes. A machine makes it much faster to knit stockinette; (you can complete the back of a plain, basic adult sweater in less than an hour), which will allow you more time for designing and being creative. A machine can speed up the tedious work of stockinette stitches, while also giving you the satisfaction of hand manipulation. You can still work through a complex chart for lace, Fair Isle, or cables manually.
Keep in mind, though, that some things are easier to do by hand. You can only do seamless socks on a double-bed machine with circular kitting capabilities. Mitered squares are tedious on a machine because you have to remove and re-hang your work every few rows. Entrelac can be done on a machine but it is less interesting. You will probably have more satisfaction doing an intricate aran sweater by hand. Most machine-knit afghans must be pieced together because the knitting width is limited to the number of needles on a machine. You can only do knitting in the round on a more expensive double-bed machine. Knitting and purling in one row, and creating seed stitch or gansey designs is laborious on a machine; although knitting and purling automatically in one row can be done on a higher end machine and a garter carriage, it’s not something for a beginner.
Swatching is essential on a machine. Different machines do not knit the same yarn at the same tension or gauge. You will need to, before each project, do a test sample, using the exact yarn you will be using for your project at the precise settings that you intend. You must launder and block the swatch exactly as you would treat the final garment.
Your machine must be cleaned regularly. Routine maintenance after each garment is easy. You will need to remove all the needles and give the machine a deep cleaning every year to keep it performing at its best. Knitting machines don’t tolerate static electricity, so you will need to keep the humidity level up, use anti-static tools and ground yourself before touching them. These machines can be noisy too.
Whether a knitting machine is right for you depends on what you want to use it for. There is something special about a hand-knit fisherman’s sweater, just as there is about a St John’s-style suit knitted on a machine. Machine knitting and hand knitting are different crafts, even though there is some crossover between them. Each of them has its own specialties and its own niches. It still requires human creativity and nimble fingers to create beautiful knits on a knitting machine; so using one could open up worlds of possibilities for you. Have fun.
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