Today I want to welcome Sooz to Whipup. Sooz blogs about crafting and the rest of life. She’s been sewing and knitting for more years than she’s inclined to count and devotes whatever time is left after the demands of family life and the day job to teaching, designing and infecting as many people as possible with the making virus. She lives in Melbourne with her smalls, her bloke and the stash.
It started with an op shop find too good to refuse – a fully kitted manual knitting machine for $40. And then the discovery of a group from the Machine Knitters Association, especially for novices and conveniently located in my very suburb. Despite my best efforts to resist a new craft and a starting point of complete ignorance and lack of prior interest, fate seemed to intervene and I got hooked.
And now it seems not only am I loving the knitting and accumulating machines and stash at an alarming rate, I have also ignited the interest of quite a few others. Between other newbies like myself and the more seasoned members of my Machine Knitters Association group I have found a really exciting world of shared skill and new possibilities.
I have to admit that at least part of the appeal is the way machine knitting has gone from being a significant mainstream craft (everyone seems to remember an aunt or gran who used to do it) to near extinction in a single generation. Thousands and thousands of these machines flooded into Australian homes in the 60s and 70s and then just as quickly they left the market and ended up in op shops and garages or even worse, at the tip.
The women who have maintained a connection to the craft – those I have met through the Association and via sales and other forums – are astonishingly knowledgable and deft. They know about different makes and different models, they know how to make these quite complex machines work at their simplest (for dodos like me) or accomplish feats of wonder, they know about yarns and suppliers and tricks galore.
I can’t think of a comparable domestic craft which has not only hit the heights of popularity and then gone out of fashion so quickly but where the lion’s share of the tool set has gone out of manufacture too. Gaining a second hand manual machine – particularly one that has been used and well cared for by its owner – feels like a gift across time. It is exciting to feel like I am part of keeping something alive that is struggling to make its way to a new generation of followers, and at the same time like I am discovering something largely new (to my generation at least).
But I also love the whole modern technology conquering boring repetitive manual tasks thing that underlies the knitting machine phonomenon. Don’t get me wrong here, I am also a hand knitter and machine knitting hasn’t changed that one jot. I love hand knitting, I find its repetitive nature a key to its enjoyability, but it occurs to me that the knitting machine was the iPad of its day. By making the generation of large amounts of uniform fabric in very limited time so achievable machine knitting (a) gets boring jobs out of the way fast and (b) opens up the possibility of a much more experiemental and imaginative approach to making garments. I don’t tend to gaily abandon an existing pattern when I am working on a hand knit garment because reworking bad ideas involves weeks or months of work. But when a whole jumper can be made in a day then it is eminently possible to try out even the most outlandish of new ideas. I can now also contemplate knitting a whole jumper in laceweight yarn or an all over lace baby blanket, something I wouldn’t dream of doing by hand.
Like all technology driven activity, machine knitting carries its own frustrations. As anyone who has lost hours trying to install a new printer or remedy a software crash can tell you, dealing with the downfalls of the technology can make you curse your so called productivity gains. Manual knitting machines may be old skool in technology terms, but they are still way more complicated than the pointy sticks and string of the hand knitter and there are infinitely more things to go wrong. But when I am tearing my hair out with the third attempt at a piece I have to remind myself that no matter how many set backs I have I am still completing garments at lightening speed compared to doing it all by hand (a bit like imagining tossing the computer out the window and typing that 2,000 word essay on the manual typewriter, tipex in hand).
I’m only on the start of my journey, there is still much to learn and many garments to be made. Fairisle and lace, ribbed and hand manipulated, knit in the round and double length, plated and woven, socks, jumpers, cardigans and leggings. The possibilities are endless and I’m looking forward to ever step along the way.
– Machine Knitters Associations in Australia: Vic :: NSW (Offers a correspondence course for novices) :: SA
– Worldwide listing of associations and clubs
– Ravelry also hosts a range of groups around machine knitting – including a large omnibus group and the local Australian group.
– My flickr gallery of machine knits is here.