The knitting machine isn’t dead

by Liz Lopez on 21/03/2007

in knitting+crochet+yarn

Now here’s a sight for sore hands …

Home knitting machine

My Mum’s knitting machine has been sitting in a garage for the best part of 20 years. She made jumpers, scarves and blankets and even lace for three children. Then we grew up and wanted the latest chain-store crap. I remember sunny afternoons buzzing not with the sound of the cricket on the radio, but the metallic whoosh of a metal carriage being run back and forth over a bed of needles.

Not long ago, inspired by the explosion of really cool knitting patterns, like “Ribbed for her pleasure”, in ‘Stitch n Bitch’, I asked Elma to teach me some hand-knitting basics. But it turned out to be a nasty strain on my wrists, as my job involves sitting behind a computer all day. A sinking feeling of “oh no… this feels bad”.

Then last Friday I popped into the Stitches Craft show in Melbourne. Amid the scrapbooking, beading , candlewicking and quilting displays, there was a Machine Knitters Association of Victoria stall.

Association secretary Angela McGregor had an autumnal-themed bunch of scarves and hats on display. The ones made from expensive yarns and those from Reject Shop wool were indistinguishable – they all looked great, and looked like far more work than she claims they actually were. And she’d got some interesting webbed effects through dropping stitches on her machine, which, unlike my mother’s, employs punch cards.

Knitting machines are an endangered species – Brother’s head office in Canberra say they stopped stocking them several years ago. But you could try e-Bay, or in Australia, this business directory .

Their advantage is speed – attractive to felters – and the finished product often looks neater and more uniform than hand-stitching – which you may or may not want.

My mother says her Brother pre-punch card model made shaping garments a lot easier. But she had to add a ribber – expensive and tricky. Elma never liked the new-fangled card models, saying they made experimentation difficult.

McGregor says machine knitting was huge in the 60s, died down again then had a brief resurgence in the 1980s when shapeless jumpers (shudder) were in vogue. She says she makes hats and scarves for her kids, but their tastes are too finicky for her to risk clothes. She suggested it can be tricky shaping things on a machine, but you can do it if you’re really determined.

Her advice to people resurrecting knitting machines from the garage is to pull out the sponge bar (a tab to the left). If the foam has worn away, it will need replacing. Oh, and give the works a wipe with sewing machine oil. There’s a good checklist on e-Bay.

It’s not the sort of craft you’ll find taught by the local council of adult education, but the association can put you onto classes or more informal get-togethers in members’ private homes or halls.

Like most first-time-mothers-to-be, I plan to use the time when my baby is sleeping to start a PhD, launch a corporate empire … and maybe dust off the knitting machine.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Masquerade March 21, 2007 at 7:50 pm

Knitting machines rock! :) Our Bond is almost as old as we are, but he’s still going strong, look: http://maskerade.blogsome.com/2007/02/25/bond-den-bla-lilla-stickmaskinen/

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2 patsijean March 21, 2007 at 9:49 pm

I sure hope the knitting machine isn’t dead. Retail sweater choice is very limited. I too cannot knit or crochet because my hands will not allow it. I have owned two knitting machines, a KnitKing and a Bother and if I did not now live in Tennessee, and have internal power surges, I would still own them. One can knit beautiful yardage; yes, with care, it can be cut. More importantly, one can make beautiful sweaters with nothing more than a plain stitch and the wonderful yarns available today.

A book that would be helpful to many is “The Prolific Knitting Machine” by Catherine Cartwright-Jones. I just checked and it is avaliable on Amazon.com. It is not a machine maintenance manual, it is an entertaining book about easy, quick methods to knit up sweaters for anyone and their personal preferences. I like this book so much, that even though I currently do not own a knitting machine, I still hang on to it and read it occasionally. The illustrations are priceless.

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3 Alberta March 22, 2007 at 4:00 am

OMG! I may just have to dust mine off and give it another try! Thanks for the informative links Liz!

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4 Char March 22, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I always wanted a ribber board.

My knitting machine was originally my grandma’s and made the rounds between most of the members of my family, with me being the only one that ever actually used the thing. It’s a chunky one-I have often thought I would prefer a finer one.
I learned quite a few decorative stitches for it from older books and made mostly bags and such.

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5 Jussi March 23, 2007 at 9:18 am

just go and do it! machine knitting is not the poor relation to hand knitting, it is a complimentary but different craft, I use knitting machines in my business to knit the main peices, then I finish them off by hand, the machine is great to help me get ideas out quickly, even for things that I eventually hand knit.

The machinery is nothing to be afraid of, there are loads of resources on the net (search machine knitters webring) buy some old magazines, they have alot of technical advice in them, and there are ebay-ers who sell manuals on disc for almost every machine.

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6 Angela - in UK March 24, 2007 at 2:26 am

I got mine in 1983, persuaded by a friend from New Zealand, who said it would be good for making my very tall, skinny husband lots of jumpers. I have NEVER made him a jumper yet!! But I have made DOZENS of cot blankets [no shaping needed!] for friends babies, and for orphanagesin Romania. Also had great success knitting up grey industrial yarn into a chain mail outfit for relative who was in a production of Macbeth!

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7 Cheri in Quincy Illinois USA March 29, 2007 at 1:03 am

I am knew to machine knitting. I bought an inexpensive ($159) model from our local Hobby Lobby store. It is called the Ultimate Sweater Machine. I am having difficulty learning because the carriage jams and doesn’t move very smooth. I suspect it is because of the plastic vs metal parts. I plan to continue learning on it and possibly buying a more expensive used model.

The reason I am trying the machine knitting is because I am a slow knitter AND left-handed. Need I say more? Thanks for the information and keep on knitting!

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8 Lisa March 30, 2007 at 8:07 am

Knitting machines are to knitters what sewing machines are to sewers – a quicker, easier way to get things done faster, and with more uniform results.
Don’t doubt I tote things around to handknit as much as any other handknitter – I love to handknit, and crochet occasionally… but the knitting machine gives you an opportunity to play around with lace, colors and even stitches we can’t readily do in handknitting… and you can do it in so much less time… handknitting a swatch to test out a stitch is why I always HATED knitting swatches… now, I almost laugh when I knit a swatch… it’s GREAT!
:)

Cheri – I know where you are – was SO there when I started with my Bond… and you’ll get it – stick to it.
Once you’ve learned this machine, you can use ANY machine! (sure, the lingo gets a little weird… but you’ll get it!) Welcome to the MK fold!
:)

Happy knitting everyone!
:)

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9 theoreticgal April 17, 2007 at 11:39 am

totally understand the interest in machine knitting
i have been playing with my ebay passap and I am having a blast. http://www.flickr.com/photos/theoreticgal/395064506/ my first effort with a punchcard pattern.
I would love to acquire an electronic machine with motor but i get the feelin that the electronic are more likely to be an issue, so I’ll be happy playing with a mechanical for the time being. Can’t wait to get a few basic jumpers finished.

I have made quite a bit on an ultimate seater machine previously but the passap is a real step up. I am also a melbourne knitter so I understand teh difficulties finding supplies here compared to the Uk and US. shipping can be very high.

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10 bette April 27, 2007 at 10:16 pm

I have 3 knitting machines. However —- here in the U.S. , I am told that Brother is no longer being imported and Passap has stopped making their machines. Finding basic supplies such as replacement needles is very difficult. Have had to quit using my Passap because of this. I still use my 2 Brother machines, but wonder what I will do when my supply of needles runs out. Seems like they are only available “used” now.

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11 Cyndie September 11, 2008 at 10:55 pm

I am trying to figure out what would be the best machine to get started with, and still be able to use many years in the future. I’ve looked through ebay, and craig’s list, there are so many types, but I want one that is smooth, and will wear well. What do you suggest????

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12 Knitting Machine Repairs October 30, 2008 at 11:29 am

Nice Article, i think a lot of people are forced to quit knitting bacause of damage to old machines and lack of parts and people who can repair them. Its a pity really as it seems to have come back into fashion, why pay through the nose for designer garments when with a little creativity you can make them your self!!!

We may be able to help you “bette”, if you contact us we may ber able to ship you the passap parts you need!!!!

Happy knitting all!

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13 cj October 21, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Would you or anyone be able to answer a question about the ultimate sweater machine and how you set it up? I just (as in the other day) purchased Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine and am having a hard time with it. I took my time and followed the directions very carefully, step by step, and completed all successfully, until I knit the first row…it only knit like four stitches and them seemed to jam up. Earlier-When I was putting the “bed plates” together (assembling the two needle plates) I noticed this thin strip of grey foam protruding from the inside out of the plastic plates near the needles where the two ends meet to attach (where you have to fit the tiny grooves into one another0. I was trying to figure out whether this foam was extra cushion for manufacturing purposes or it served some other function as to hold the needles in place, (giving the needles a grip so they wouldn’t slide all over the place when moving into various positions). My first instinct when I saw the foam was that it was extra cushion from manufacturing and to tear it out but when i examined it closer it seemed that the small piece that I had thought it was -was really apart of a much longer strip spread inside the plastic beds over all the needles-So I did not remove it but left it intact but noticed the difficulty in moving the needles into place when preparing for a row. My question is -is should that foam be removed or is it there for a reason to provide grip for the needles so they are not sliding all over the place when the carriage moves across the plates? Did you remove the foam? How did you set your machine up? Are their any tips you have for more fluid movement of the carriage in contact with the needles? Thanks so much!

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14 kath_red October 23, 2009 at 6:23 pm

hi CJ
I am really sorry that I can’t answer your questions – may I suggest you contact your local knitters group to see if there are any experts on knitting machines.
good luck
K

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15 maggi bloice May 3, 2010 at 6:17 am

Hi There

Regarding the Bond Classic or in the USA “the ultimate sweater machine” I am sad to hear such negative comments. I am a collector of knitting machines and rate the Bond as one of the best inventions ever and my collection would not be complete without one. I bought mine (years ago) because I used to spin my own yarn and this machine handles a wide range of yarns easily – in my day the instruction books that came with the Bond were of the finest quality and easy to understand. I had one friend who was an expert on this machine and produced the most wonderful stuff, including one off sweaters you would not believe. Like all machine knitting, it takes a bit of patience to learn and if you go in with a negative attitude nothing gets done. I read on the web just recently (2010)that a lady actually knits here in the UK on her Bond and sells the garments to the USA – what more can I say. Start off simple and work your way through the instructions, take your time, start off with a simple pattern and work your way up. Believe me the time taken is well worth it – I personally would not be without my Bonds and I have collected around 5 of them with an old ribber. Look out for Bond Collection Books – they really are excellent and this machine handle mohair, Aran and a great range of yarns easily. Regarding the foam strips – cant think what they – sounds like packing material – run the carriage along the bed – it should slide very easily and unrestricted. As far as the plastic and metal business – the finest semi-industrial knitting machine in the world is made of this ie the Passap.

Maggi

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16 Kenneth May 9, 2012 at 3:06 am

It is hard to find an enthusiast online to communicate with, so I hope someone might reply. I recently inherited property, and in the property I found brand new, well what I thought might have been new until I snooped around to find out what they were and what era they are from. Apparently my great grandma was quite the knitter, and I mean she has everything; what I am getting at is I am going to sell what I have, but the value eludes me. maybe you can help. Here is a list of what I have and its condition: 1-SK-321 Studio in its original case(looks awesome,preserved) with that is a Ribbing attachment-in its shipping box from 1964.I found a Radar-also in the original plastic and shipping box. 2. SK-301 in its case(both cases and contents look unscathed) this machine also has a ribbing attachment in its original shipping box. 3. Pattern cards in its plastic from that era, books magazines……etc. tell me what you think please

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17 kath_red May 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Hi Kenneth
If you contact the original author of this post then I am sure she can put you on to you someone who can help you out. otherwise you might try the local machine knitting society in your area.
good luck
Kathreen

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