Liz Lopez

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.