knitting machine

Tegan Rose & Lara Cameron run the textile design and print studio, Ink & Spindle, located in inner city Melbourne. Their focus is on sustainable, ethical & local production.

Thanks Kathreen for asking us to guest blog today! Very exciting.

Lara & I had a chat about what we should write about & decided that if you wanted to read about us, you could do so on our blog or Facebook page. So instead I’m going to tell you about a fun, non-Ink & Spindle thing that has been happening after hours here in the studio this year!

Knitting. Machine Knitting to be precise!

And we have the raddest machine knitting crew around…

Backstory: My mum taught me how to hand knit when I was very little. We lived on a property in South West Victoria, with no TV, far away from anything or anyone that wasn’t a cow or sheep, so I spent my childhood following my parents around, probably loudly complaining about being bored. As a consequence of that I learned how to do a lot of odd things. From catching yabbies with my bare hands, to making candlestick holders on a lathe, to knitting. Not that knitting is particularly odd. Though it was maybe 1990 and I was around 6 years old. I have no idea what other 6 year olds were doing in 1990, but they were probably having an ace time playing Guess Who or Hungry Hungry Hippo (I always wanted, never had, those games – deprived child, I know), probably not hanging out in the garden with knitting needles.

So as you can probably already tell, I have a little trouble staying on topic at the best of times… ok – KNITTING! You see, I could decide on, plan and begin a project no worries. But finish one? Rarely. I have very distinct memories of my step-dad telling me – throughout my childhood, probably every time I picked up my needles – that I needed a knitting machine. I had no idea what one was, but he would describe one to me and tell me how his mum had one when he was little and used to knit all his clothes on it. And how great they are. And how I’d absolutely LOVE one.

But it was all just a bit too abstract and complicated for my brain to get a handle on without ever actually seeing one in action. But I always remembered about the mythical, amazing knitting machine.

So last October, when my lovely friend Suzie said she had just aquired a knitting machine and it was totally awesome, my immediate response was: FIND ME ONE TOO. So she did.

Less than 2 weeks later I was sitting in the home of the President of the Machine Knitters Association of Victoria, having a lesson on how to clean, care for and (thankfully!) use my new, highly confusing, complicated, beautiful and retro looking Singer 888 from 1960-something. I excitedly called my step-dad on my way home and told him it may have taken 20 years, but guess what I just bought? Hilariously, he couldn’t remember ever telling me I needed one.

But yay! It was fair to say my new machine was totally overwhelming, and also super exciting. Mostly overwhelming. I could make scarves – because they’re rectangle. But I needed lessons. Pronto.

The cool thing was, that Suzie dove head first in to the land of MK’ing and got involved in different groups like the Brunswick Novices Group and the Aussie Machine Knitters – Suzie was also experimenting like crazy with yarns and talking to people who had been knitting forever and generally doing all kinds of really awesome stuff… but best of all, through her our little crew of newbie MK’ers (who also needed lessons, pronto) developed and Suzie organised us a semester of classes with the hugely knowledgable Angela. [You can read about Sooz’s machine knitting journey on a previous whipup.net guest post here. ed.]

Lara and I quickly volunteered our studio to host the classes, as we have a big long table perfect for the machines & really love that we can share our studio space with other creative and like-minded people within the Melbourne/handcrafted/local community.

We spent the next 6 months learning, practicing, making mistakes, doing homework (my step-dad scored himself a very unattractive birthday beanie which, I have it on good authority, he loves) then our beginner classes came to an end…

Have to say I felt quite bereft when our monthly Friday night MK classes stopped! (Yes, Friday night. I had to laugh when I turned down invites from my 20-something friends to all kinds of ace gigs/parties/bars because I was much too busy… attending knitting class.)

Again Suzie came to the rescue. Now we had learned just how to use our machines, we wanted to learn more about technique and garment construction. Suzie got us Brianna. Brianna has an amazing knowledge of machine knitted garment construction and generally I think is pretty brilliant at all things textile related.

Brianna spent the whole day yesterday teaching the crew all kinds of nifty tips and tricks, not just how to knit a super cool cardi. Which, yes, I am totally wearing today. That’s how great knitting machines are – in one day, even learning a new thing (so we were really slow) and we all have a spanky new cardigan.

To conclude: My step-dad was right. They really ARE awesome. Go get yourself a knitting machine and someone to teach you how to use it – build your own crew of MK newbies and a wardrobe of handmade garments!

xx Teegs

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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.

Resources:

- 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.

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