getting started, machine knitting

Machine Ready? Lets start knitting!

Hopefully you have read the previous posts and have now set up your machine and work area.  You have a new sponge-bar and your needles and carriage are all ready to knit.

You have also ordered or found some suitable practice yarn.   You also have opened your operations manual.  We are ready to start knitting.

Threading the Yarn Mast

First thing to do is to setup your yarn mast and thread it with your yarn as shown in your manual.  The tension dial should be set according to the thickness of your yarn.

Setting Your Tension

(NB: when the knitting machine manual describes yarn for the standard gauge tension mast dial (and for other gauges) as fine or medium yarn it relates to the range of yarn suitable for that gauge of machine,  not the US yarn weight terminology.)

Following tables show tensions for knitmaster/silver reed/singer machines. 

Carriage stitch dial: Brother tends to be two dots tighter than brother machines, so subtract two dots.  Toyota tends to be two dots looser than Knitmaster/ so add two dots.

Slip Stitch is usually knitted a whole number (3 dots) higher than stocking stitch.

A good video to watch by the answerlady on YouTube can be found here.

Typical Tensions

Fine Gauge Machines: 1 ply yarns can just about be knitted on a fine gauge machine with fine knit bar or as double jacquard with a ribber.  Industrial 1 ply yarns can be bought in bulk cheaply and then twisted together to make a thicker yarn to be used on fine gauge or standard gauge machine.  2 ply and 3 ply yarns are best for this machine.  BSK sell 2/28 industrial yarn cheaply and two strands together make a 3 ply yarn.

YARNMAST TENSIONSTITCH DIAL
1 ply62 – 4
2 ply53 – 6
3 ply45 – 8

Standard Gauge Machines: 2 ply yarns can just about be knitted on this machine using a fine knit bar to create lace work or double jacquard with ribber.  3 ply and 4 ply yarns are best for this machine. Industrial yarn (2/28) can be used if 2 or 3 strands are twisted together.  You can use a jumbo wool winder to do this (a normal sized wool winder can be used but it only does 100g of wool).  Jumbo wool winders can be purchased online.  Don’t forget to get spare cones or ‘hats’, as you need to use the wool on the cone.  You can use 3 strands of industrial yarn to make a full 4ply yarn.

YARNMAST TENSIONSTITCH DIAL
2 ply52 – 4
3 ply43 – 6
4 ply3 5 – 8

Mid-Gauge Machines: A thick 4 ply yarn like Yeoman Cashmilon can be used on this machine but Double Knitting and Aran yarns are best on this gauge of machine. Masts differ on these machines so refer to your manual.

YARNMAST TENSIONSTITCH DIAL
4 ply1 – 4
DK5 – 7
Aran8 – 10

Chunky Gauge Machines: Aran and Chunky yarns are best on this machine.  Thick double knitting yarn can be used but can be difficult. Masts differ on these machine, some do not have a tension mast

YARNMAST TENSIONSTITCH DIAL
DK1 – 4
Aran/worsted5 – 6
Chunky/Bulky7 – 9

Try Knitting some Samples

Once your machine is threaded up correctly, follow the instructions for casting on, set up your carriage for stocking stitch (read manual) and then follow instructions to start knitting.

The first few attempts might not be successful.  It is easy to forget to set something on the carriage.  There may be a slightly damaged needle.   The sponge-bar may not be fitted properly.  You may be using too many or too few weights for the yarn. 

You will drop stitches. Keep reading the manual to learn how to release the carriage when it gets stuck.  Play about with the stitch dial to see what your knitting look like with a tighter or looser setting.  Once you knit a few rows successfully you can try knitting stripes.  

Before you know it, you will be addicted and ready to knit a simple striped or block jumper which I will show you how to do later in the Basic Shapes section of this guide.  

This section of the guide is almost complete.  I will be adding a few posts to cover more information about yarns, online resources and books, and knitting machine maintenance. 

The next section of this guide will be produced over the next few months and will cover the basic techniques of machine knitting, different ways to cast on and cast off, increasing and decreasing, creating a cast on rag and a tension square. 

Enjoy your knitting !

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Uncategorized

Moving!

Wicked Woollies blog now has a new home, however, this home will continue to exist in its current form. New posts will now be on the new site.

My computer recently failed but now I have built a lovely new computer and I have even managed to learn how to upload photos from my pc to my Instagram account. The new site will allow me to learn to create a nice new blog without adverts.

so please come and find me in the near future at

www.wickedwoollies.co.uk

getting started, knitmaster, Uncategorized

Get some Practice Yarn

Before you attempt to make any ‘proper’ garments, you need to practice. This is good for several reasons. Firstly, you need to check that the machine is in working order… are all the needles working etc. Second, you need to learn how to use the machine. Third you need to test different types of yarns in the machine. Fourthly, you need to try out different stitches and patterns to see how they look.

In order to do this on a budget, you need to find some cheaper yarn to practice with. You can also use left-over yarn for ‘waste’ yarn. Waste yarn is used to protect the main yarn of the garment. It is usually used for casting on and casting off (binding off).

The cheapest type of yarn is usually acrylic. This is a light-weight man-made yarn that can look and feel like wool. Cotton is the next cheapest, and this is natural and can be stiff, heavy. A cotton/acrylic mixture is a very nice yarn to work with. Wool is the natural fibre spun from the coats of various animals, the most common being lambs/sheep and alpaca. Some people, like me, are sensitive to wool and cannot wear or work with it. Wool is more expensive to buy but there are wool/acrylic mixtures that make it more affordable. Cashmere is a yarn made from a special type of goat and is very expensive, but very luxurious to wear.

The best yarns for practice are acrylic and acrylic mixtures. If you look on Ebay you can find a good range, but the postage costs soon mount up. You may be able to find a job-lot of yarn at a suitable price near enough to collect (Try gumtree, ebay etc). However, it may take time to find it.

For most knitting machines, you will be looking for yarn on a cone as this is the most suitable type of yarn for most knitting machines. This also means that you have a lot of yarn that will not run out in the middle of your knitting. These cones can be put on the knitting table behind the machine, but the best place is down on the floor behind the machine. This gives more time for the yarn to smooth out before it gets into the mast. I put my yarn on a small plank of wood, raised off the ground. This stops my feet from knocking over the cones.

Small ball of hand knitting yarns are only suitable for simple types of machines like the Bond knitting machine or the Silver Reed LK150. If you have a mid-gauge or chunky simple machine and balls of hand-knitting yarn that you want to use, you need to rewind the balls of yarn into’cakes’. You do this with the help of a wool winder. The standard type of wool winder will rewind balls up to 100g. The resulting cakes can be used with your machine by taking out the thread from the middle of the cake and threading this into mast/carriage.

waste yarn and main yarn using 2 strands of industrial yarn

If you have purchased a mixed pack of cones and you find them too thin for your type of machine, you can use a twisting stack to twist 2 or 3 yarns together. You will need to put the stack and cones on the floor. My next post will give more details about yarns and thickness to help you to decide what yarns to twist. I twisting stack will allow you to twist up to 3 yarns. I have two so that I can twist waste yarn with my main yarn, or I can do fairisle with two colours.

I have a large/jumbo wool winder that I got cheaply on the Internet and love it. I buy large cones of yarn from BSK and wind off some onto a spare plastic ‘hat’ (also known as bobbin) and twist them together using my Hague twisting stack. I would get at least one more spare ‘hats’ or ‘bobbins’. (Alternatively you could tape some card around the hat and then take this off and slip on another spare empty cone!).

Best Practice Yarn Option:

I highly recommend going to Yeoman Yarns and choosing one of their starter packs of yarn. They cost £30 for 4 kilos and £35 for 6 kilos. The yarn is good quality and this is a fantastic deal as postage is free to UK.

You should specify your type of knitting machine and thickness of yarn needed. You can try and get your favourite colours, but this is practice yarn so colour does not really matter. However, I would ask to not have black or dark blue if you do not have good eyesight. You will not get everything you want as it depends upon what they have in stock, but they will try to meet your needs.

  • FIne Gauge: Ask for mainly 3 ply with some 2 ply
  • Standard Gauge: Ask for mainly 4 ply with 3ply (those allergic to wool should specify this and ask for 2 ply)
  • Mid-Gauge: Ask for mainly DK wool with some aran
  • Chunky: Ask for aran and chunky
My Yeoman Yarn Acrylic 6 Kilo pack

You will also notice that they have other 4 kilo and 6 kilo packs of specific type of yarn. For example, you can get a chunky/aran yarn pack for £45 and you can specify your favourite colours. These packs are a little more expensive but they are ideal for your next pack to try and make some garments.

My latest BSK stash of bulk yarn

Additionally fine gauge and standard gauge machine knitters can also buy thin industrial acrylic in cheap packs at BSK. BSK has clearance packs of coned yarn from 2 kilos to 10 kilos. The costs range from £11.00 to £42.00. You would have to pay postage, but if you were buying more yarn, spare needles, long brush etc you get free postage to the UK if your order is over £50. They have a good range of industrial acrylic and cotton/acrylic mixes as well as bramwell yarn, yeoman yarn, and some fancy yarns. I like to buy a stash of yarn from BSK each year. I particularly like their cotton/acrylic mix and hope that they get some more in.

So order some yarn and lets get ready to do some knitting.

getting started, machine knitting, Uncategorized

Setting Up Your Machine – Check the sponge-bar

Many of the domestic knitting machines contain a needle retaining bar also known as the sponge-bar.  Passaps, Superbas, some plastic bed machines and some really old machines did not have a sponge bar. Check if your machine has one.

The sponge-bar is a long metal metal bar that contains a strip of foam that holds down the needles. The needles will not knit properly without a sponge-bar in good condition.

The manuals do not seem to mention anything about the sponge-bar.  The sponge-bar on a Japanese metal bed knitting machine is found in a channel near the front of the machine.  You need to pull or push the bar out of the channel.  In the picture above, I pushed from the left side using a wooden chopstick until it was long enough to pull from the right side.  You need enough space to do this.  You can then check the sponge.  Does it still have some height in spring in it?  If not then it is time to replace the sponge.  Remember to replace the bar with the sponge side down on top of the needles (use a ruler to hold down the needles as you push it in).

The sponge in these bars will decay with use, contact with oil and with UV light.  This means that you will usually get between 4 – 6 months of use from a sponge depending upon how much you use the machine.  You should not knit with a collapsed sponge as you can damage the needles and the carriage.

A good sponge should still have a good depth above the metal bar.

This bar shows how the sponge has collapsed down to the bar and needs replacing.

Word of warming. My cat Jenson looks cute lying on my clean covers but heavy objects can collapse a sponge bar. My sponge bar lasted 24 hours!! nothing knitted. It was flattened. It took a week to get a bit of spring back into it, but I have replaced it with a new one. Lesson learned. I am now putting lightweight, empty cardboard boxes on my covers to see if that stops him! If you have any other ideas, please add them in the comments.

Replacing the Sponge

There was little information on how to do this when I started looking a couple of years ago.  Fortunately I found a site that not only sells good quality kits, but also provide detailed information on how to replace the sponge.

You can buy Zuusco sponge kits for Knitmaster/Silver Reed, Brother and Toyota machines  from XenaKnits here.  I made a mistake the first time I bought a sponge and had to start again.  I recommend buying a double pack just in case.

This page details how you remove the old sponge and fit the new sponge.  There is text, images and a fantastic video that I recommend watching.

You will need a flat-head screwdriver, some sticky tape glue remover (I use goo gone from Amazon), scissors, an old rag, cotton buds and a steam iron. 

I do this on my ironing board which has been covered with plastic, newspaper and an old duvet cover… it can be messy. It can take a while and a lot of effort to get the metal clean.

Long-life Sponge Bars

In the UK there is also another option for machine knitters who do not want to or cannot change the sponge themselves every 4-6 monts.   Robert Fountain runs a small company called Smartco, based near Manchester, that produces covered sponge bars that will last about 4 years. 

As UV light and oil from the needles increases the decay of the sponges, he has developed a covered sponge-bar, that will not rot.  The cover protects the sponge thus enabling it to have a life close to 4 years.  It is not recommended to keep the bar in for more than 4 years as the sponge will wear out eventually.

The bars cost £16 for a fine/standard gauge machine and £19 for a mid-gauge/chunky machine.  Postage costs about £8 in the UK and you can get up to 4 sponge-bars for this cost, so you might want to consider getting one with another knitter.  Thus, although the sponge-bars cost more initially, they are cheaper in the long run. And they save you all that mess and hard work and the cost of the glue remover.

Robert (also known as SpongebarBob) does not have a website but he does have a Facebook page.    Robert also sells knitting machines, parts and accessories so it is worthwhile giving him a ring to find out more.   To place an order ring Robert on 0161 624 0757.  He is very friendly.   I have just ordered one and will keep you updated on its progress, although I need to use my old sponge-bar first. A good excuse for lots of knitting!

getting started, machine knitting

Setting up Your Machine – First get your Operation Manual

new old machine has arrived

Hopefully your knitting machine has arrived, and your knitting table has been set up.  You are now ready to start setting up your machine.

Get Your Manual

Your machine will usually come with its operating manual or user guide.  This manual is absolutely necessary to understand how to set-up and operate your machine. 

If your machine did not come with a manual, then I strongly suggest that you try and find a second-hand one if possible.  Ask in the facebook groups or set-up an alert on Ebay.

Alternatively, you can download pdf formats of most manuals at www.machineknittingetc.com.  You should be to take the file to a local printers and get a hard copy.  This will be easier to use, and you can add notes to the pages.

This manual will start by giving pictures of how to clamp your machine to your table and set-up the machine ready for knitting. 

Check that you have all the right parts and tools

The start of the manual should show you diagrams of the parts of the machine and the tools that come with it.   Check that you have them all and get to know them.   Some of these items will be in the box, others in the machine.   Whilst you might not need all the tools at the start, it is best to replace any missing items as they will all be used as you progress your knitting adventure.  Again look online and set up an alert on Ebay.

New or Reconditioned Machines

If your machine is new or reconditioned it should have all the parts and tools with it, including a newly fitted sponge-bar.  If you have been given a sponge kit then you need to renew the sponge.  More information about this is given in the next post.  Meanwhile read through your manual and get to know the names of all the parts and tools. 

Old Second-hand Machines

Carefully set-up your machine, it can be fragile.  You are checking what works and what does not. You need to find any missing/broken parts or tools as quickly as you can.  First ask the person you got the machine from (if you can) they might have some of the missing parts.  If not then ask in Facebook groups, online stockist or on Ebay. Sunny Choi on Ebay is a trusted supplier, but you need to wait a while for the items to turn up from Hong Kong.

Do not try and knit until you have renewed the sponge-bar (see next post).

Needles:

You may need to change any damaged needles so get some spare needles for your machine.  Them manual usually explains how to remove and replace a needle, otherwise there is useful information on the Internet.  For example theanswerladyknits has a good video at this link.

Carriage:

If the carriage has not been used for a while, the metal drums at the back may have seized up.   You can try using a warm hair dryer over the drum to release them.  Alternatively, I found that a few drops of oil on the drums works.  I turned the carriage upside down on some old rags and left for about 24 hours.  A Silver Reed/Knitmaster supplier can sell you the metal teeth (called fins) if any are broken.

Racks: 

Some knitting machines have a left and right rack at the back of the machine.  These rubber ribbed items help the carriage to run easily to the ends of the machine, holding it in place.  After a while these can break.   New racks can easily be obtained from usual sources like www.andeeknits.com.

Light Cleaning:

You will need to clean the machine so check out Youtube videos for helpful information.  The following is a good one.
TLC For Your Knitting Machine by Diana Sullivan

However, many of the products are not available in the UK.  I find that surgical spirit (buy cheaper at vets suppliers) is needed for cleaning and Singer sewing and knitting machine oil (available from BSK at their website or Ebay store) is good for the oiling.  You can also get some spare needles from BSK. You can also get oil from AndeeKnits.

Deeper Cleaning/Servicing:

It might be a good idea to find someone who can do this properly.  However, if you are on a budget, or cannot find anyone, then you might wish to try DIY, then there is a good range of videos on Youtube that might help.

Old machines can easily crack and break, so go slowly.  Get all the tools and cleaning materials ready. Watch the videos again and again until you are clear about what needs to be done.

The following two videos are a good start but there are a number of videos from theanswerladyknits that go into the servicing of various machines and their parts.

Cleaning and Lubricating a Knitting Machine and Carriage by roberta Rose Kelley

Dismantling a Singer/Studio 150 Knitting Machine for Deep Cleaning by theanswerladyknits

I will do another post of taking care of your machine and what to do each week/month etc.  For now I wish you luck on getting your machine into shape. The next post will give information on the spongebar or needle retaining bar.

Tell me about the machine that you have just acquired.

getting started, machine knitting

Got my Knitting Machine…Now what do I do?

knitting machine arrived

First, if you have your first knitting machine, or it is on it’s way to you, congratulations.  This is the start of your new hobby.

You will probably be excited to start knitting.  But this may not be possible yet.  You need to prepare your knitting area and machine before you can start.  This post will go through the things that you need to do/get before you can start.

If your machine is an new or old Knitmaster/Silver Reed/Singer/Studio standard gauge machine, then this blog is perfect for you as I will be showing you what to do on a knitmaster standard gauge machine.   However, if you have a different machine, or a different gauge, you can still use this blog.  You will need to refer to your manual as to how to set up your machine and which buttons, levers to press etc.  The basic techniques will be the same.  Different gauges/tensions are also catered for.

Your Knitting Area

First decide where you are going to set up your machine.  You need lighting but putting your knitting machine in direct sunlight may cause the machine to yellow and slowly become brittle.  Being in too hot or too cold environments are also not good for the machine.  

room for the sponge bar

Find a space that has enough room for you to sit in front of your machine and enough room behind for the yarn.   You also need space at the sides to get your sponge bar (if your machine has one) in and out.  

You also need space for yarn, for tools, for accessories, for pattern, for your latptop/computer (if you are using knitting software).   This storage space does not need to be near the machine if you are short of space.

You can store your machine under your bed or in the corner of a room when your machine is not being used.

Your Knitting Table

Your knitting machine is large and, if it has a metal bed, heavy.  You need a long, sturdy table or frame to mount your machine.  Most knitting machines are clamped to the table.  If you are working on a dining room table, then you will want to make sure that the table is protected with cardboard before you try clamping your machine!  This is not a good idea for the long-term but will do if there is no alternative or until you find your proper knitting table.

Traditional knitting machine that fold up can be found online.   New ones can be purchased at Andee Knits or your local knitting machine supplier. They will probably deliver them by post.  You can also find new and second-hand tables on Ebay or Gumtree for about £20.   These knitting tables give enough room at the back to store some tools and weights and are my preferred option.  You will usually need transport to pick these up, so keep looking until you find one within reasonable distance.  Ask in charity shops or put up a notice in your local shop.  Someone might have an old table you can buy.

using an IKEA trestle

Recently a member of a Facebook Machine Knitting Group showed pictures of her knitting table using IKEA trestles (link here to UK site, costs about £25). A suitably sized plank of wood was firmly attached to the trestles to hold the machine.  This seems like a good alternative if you have DIY skills (or know someone who has).

Lighting

craft lamp

Get a good craft lamp so that you can see your stitches.  This is especially important when you make mistakes and when you are casting off (binding off).  Some people clamp a desk lamp to the knitting table.  I do not like this idea.  I need the room and it gets in the way when you are knitting (especially with colour changing).  I prefer a floor lamp.  I already had a suitable craft lamp with a magnifying glass that was perfect for my knitting.  A father and son floor lamp would be good.  You can move the lamp about and you can quickly move it out of the way when you need to.  Even a cheap one like Argos one could suffice for those on a budget.

Pattern Holder/Computer Instruction

You need somewhere to put your instructions.  If you have an electronic machine with software then you need a small table/desk/chair to put your computing device(s) near to the machine, but out of the way of the moving carriage.

music stand for pattern instructions

If you are following paper instructions (book, printout etc), then you need somewhere to place the paper where it will not be damaged or blow away.  There used to be devices that you could attach to the mast or to the table, but are easily available today.  I used a chair until I thought of my old music stand.  It is ideal and a couple of plastic clothes pegs help to hold down the pages.

Tools

A range of tools will come with the machine.  They will be found either in a plastic box or in a space in the machine itself.  Or in case of plastic machine, they may just be in the box that the machine came in.  These tools should be placed on the table at the back of the machine so that they are always easily at hand.   Jars, old cups etc. are useful to hold these items.  I have 2 cups.  One with the tools that I usually use and one with the rest of the tools.  I also have a jar with rarely used tools nearby.  Knitters also attached the lids of metal machines to the table in order to store longer items like ribber combs, cast-off combs and fine knit bars etc.

weights ready to use

In addition, you also need a pen/pencil, rubber, scissors close at hand.  Your machine will come with weights and I find it useful to store these at the back of the machine on the table.

 If you do not have any ravel cord (cast-on nylon thread) with the machine, then you will need to purchase some.  I got several colours (important as you need a contrast colour) for a few pounds.  You buy some from Andee Knits.

Operating Manual

Before you set up your machine and start knitting, you need to check that you have all the relevant manuals for your machine.  The Japanese machines usually came with an operating manual (how to set-up and operate the machine), a knitting manual (how to do a tension square and various knitting techniques) and a pattern manual (pictures of the different stitches that the machine can create).

Find these manuals.  If the machine did not come with any manuals then go to www.machineknittingetc.com and download them for free.  Most manuals are there.  If not then try and find a manual for a similar machine.

Yarn

I will do a separate post on yarn.  For now, I thought that I would add an idea for your knitting machine table.   Some people put their yarn cones on the table, but it is better for you to put them on the floor.  If you are twisting 2 or more thin yarns to make a thicker yarn, then you definitely need to have your yarn on the floor behind the machine table.

 I always kept kicking my yarn, so I have added a shelf a few inches off the floor so that my feet now go under the shelf.

I have also taped down an old metal clothes hangar to the back of the table so that it just hangs over the edge. This stops the yarn from rubbing against the back of the table.  It might not look pretty, but the yarn is happily running smoothly over the round metal.  This is a great, inexpensive idea that I would recommend.

Ok you now have your space, your table set-up, your operating manual.  It is time to set-up your machine.  The next post will discuss this further.

I would love to know what type of machine you have chosen. Please tell me in the comments below.

getting started, machine knitting

Where to Buy your Knitting Machine?

If you have read the previous post, you should have a good idea of what type of machine you want to purchase. You need to look for the best one that you can buy within your budget. For example, if you want to buy a standard gauge punch-card machine, then you can buy a new SK280 for approx £700, a reconditioned and tested machine for about £400 and an second-hand bargain for £200-300. The cheaper machines tend to be older and may not have been used for a while. Cheaper bargains can be found if you are willing to clean and service them yourself (you can find info and videos on the Internet).

Brand New:

If you want to buy a brand-new machine, then the best choice is a new Silver Reed machine.  You have the choice of a simple chunky machine (lk150), a standard gauge punchcard (SK280) and a standard gauge electronic (SK840). You can buy them at your nearest stockist, list found here.   

Reconditioned with warranty:

As the range of machines that you can buy new is limited, you may prefer to buy a reconditioned second-hand machine.   This is a good option for those who do not want to clean and service an old machine.   It is important that you find a suitable supplier that you can trust and that can continue to service your machine if this is desired.    If the supplier is not local then you will need transport, or you will need to have the machine delivered.   Posting a machine can be a problem if the machine is not properly packaged, so you will need to make sure that your supplier knows how to do this and has insurance.  You should also make sure you have a warranty period.

These are my 2 favourite suppliers (very knowledgeable and friendly)

  1. Irene Court.  She is based in Wales but you can find her in the FaceBook group called Knitting Machine Sales UK.  Irene is well respected and can post abroad.   She seems to specialise in Brother machines.  She also has various accessories and spares.  Well worth joining this group and checking what is available.  She is happy to help if you message her.
  2. Andrea James.   She has a shop called Andee Knits in Somerset and a FaceBook page called Andee Knits Ltd and a website where you can usually find a good range of second-hand machines, spares and accessories.  Andrea has a range of Knitmaster and Brother machines that have been fully serviced and tested with a 12 month warranty.  Andee Knits is a good place to get your DesignaKnit software.

Second-hand – condition unknown:

If you are on a budget or are looking for something in particular, you may wish to ask around.   Find out if there is a knitting group in your area.  If there is, this is an ideal place to ask for help in finding a machine.   Ask local charity shops to contact you if they come across one.   Put wanted ads in your local shops, newspaper and online communities.  Check the two FaceBook sales groups; Knitting Machine Sales Uk and Domestic Knitting Machine Sales.  There is a regular supply of machines for sale, some of which can be delivered.  It is a good place to ask for help in finding the machine that you want.

The easiest way to find a range of second-hand machines to buy is on the Internet.  In particular, Ebay and GumTree.   It is easy to set-up a search/alert for machines with a specified distance.   Then it is a case of wait and see what comes up.   Ebay does involve a bidding process.  I find that if the machine is collection only, the price tends to be lower as there are few bidders.  If you do want to bid on a machine, you need to check out the photographs carefully.  How clean/dirty is the machine?   Ask the seller questions about  the machine’s storage and when it was last used.  The best deals are for machine packages.   As long as you have transport, you can usually find a good bargain bundle including ribber, colour changer, magazines, etc.   You will not normally be able to use the machine, as it is likely that the sponge bar will be old and trying to move the carriage could damage the machine.   Most machines will want a clean and a new sponge.  The needles will need to be cleaned and damaged ones replaced.   Buying a punch-card machine unseen is usually less of a risk than an electronic machine.  You need to make sure that the seller has switched on the machine and the lights have come on.   Else you will be spending more money getting the electronics repaired.  Only buy an electronic machine second-hand if it is being sold at a good price so that you can afford to get it mended if necessary.

GumTree will have less machines for sale, but prices tend to be lower.  If you find a machine in your area you have the opportunity to see the machine before you buy.  I would set-up search alerts on Ebay and GumTree and ask the Universe to send you the ideal machine.

While you wait, I would be preparing for your machine.  Where is it going to be used?  Do you have enough storage and good lighting?   What do you want to knit?  The Internet is a valuable resource to look for patterns and yarn.  Watch knitting machine videos to inspire you.  

I bought my two standard gauge machines from Ebay.  Both machines were collection only and I paid less than £100.  I did not know what condition they were in, but were assured that they worked before they were packed away.   I was fortunate that both machines did not show signs of damage and just needed a good clean and new sponges.  The electronic machine’s electronics worked, thank goodness, but it had really bad needles that I had to sand down before cleaning. Many had to be replaced.  I now have two working machines that will give me hours of enjoyment over the next few years. I tend to use Andee Knits and Ebay for my spares. I use Xena Knits for new sponges (these last longer and she had a good instructional video).

So, I hope that you will also find the right knitting machine for your needs. 

brother, getting started, knitmaster, machine knitting, singer/studio

Which Knitting Machine shall I get?

If you do a search on the Internet for Knitting Machines, you will find a vast array of different types and prices that you can buy on the second-hand market.  For a beginner, new to machine knitting, this can be very overwhelming and confusing.  It It can be difficult to decide which knitting machine to buy as the answer is not simple.  No one machine can do everything so it might be a better question to decide which one to buy first.  And as a beginner, unless you know exactly what you want to knit, this should be one that is easy to use and has easily available spares, tools and accessories.

Several factors can help a person to decide which one to start with.

  1. Make
  2. Budget (condition, functionality)
  3. Gauge (which yarn to knit with)

Make

In the UK the home knitter will have a choice of about 5 makes of knitting machine.  There is the simple plastic Bond (Ultimate Sweater Machine). This is cheap but does not have a lot of functionality but might be a good starting point if you want are on a small budget and want to use cheap balls of DK wool from places like Aldi.   Here is a page with links to information about all the techniques that you can do on a BOND.  And here is site that has a lot of free patterns that you can download.

There are also the European machines known as Passap, Pfaff and Singer Superba.  The Pfaff and the Singer Superba (Phildar, White) are not common and not suitable choices for the beginner.  The Passap is a double-bed machine that works slightly differently so is not considered suitable for beginners but does produce lovely textured fabric if you have one that is working.  Here is a link to a site that has a number of Passap manuals and patterns.  And there are more patterns on Ravelry.com.

The website will focus upon the more common Japanese machines known as Brother (KnitKing in the US), Empisal Knitmaster/Silver Reed (also known as Silver Viscount, Studio, and Singer) and Toyota Elna.  Toyotas are cheap to buy second-hand but more difficult to get spare parts so is not really suitable for beginners, however, if you have inherited one then I suggest that you join the Toyota Knitting Machine FaceBook group and get help there.  Here is a link to the History of Toyota Machines with the different ones available. If you do have a Toyota machine, then you can still learn the basic techniques on this website. 

Budget

Many Knitmaster/Silver Reed and Brother/Knitking machines were manufactured in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (some silver reed since then).  They range in price from an old machine, condition unknown of £50 or less ranging to a new machine with software of around £2000.  I am ignoring bundles which can include accessories like the ribber and colourchanger etc.  The price you will pay for a single-bed machine usually depends upon the following factors:-

  1. Age of machine
  2. Condition of machine
  3. Demand for the machine
  4. Access to spare and accessories
  5. Functionality

If you want a new machine then you only have the choice of 3 Silver Reed machines from Silver Viscount or one of their stockists. There are now some ‘brother’ type machines being made in China, but some think the quality is dubious. It will be interesting to see if they improve in the future.

If you want a different machine the you will be looking at getting a second-hand machine.  You can buy a reconditioned machine with a warranty from a variety of sources, my next post will highlight the best ones that I know.   If you can afford one, then this is a good choice for the beginner who wants the machine to work straightaway.

If you are on a small budget then you will need to look out for a second-hand bargain on the internet or in local charity shops etc.  The main problem will be the condition of the machine.  It may have been stored away and needs a good clean.  It may be missing tools and you will need to buy some more.  It may need repairs and this is extra cost.  Are you willing to do this yourself, or do you need to find someone to do this?   You will need to weigh up the condition of the machine (check any pictures, ask questions, try and see the machine before you buy) with the price being asked.

Most of the machines that still work were manufactured in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Over this period of time the machines new versions were developed that had more and more functionality, usually related to their ability to create different patterns.  These machines can also be divided into Manual Patterning, Punchcard Patterning and Electronic Patterning.  These terms were explained in the previous post.  

Manual machines are cheap and good for the beginner, but quickly become tiresome to operate.   Electronic machines are usually more expensive and will need electronics or software to operate.  The electronics are now very old and could fail so I would get a reconditioned machine if you can afford this.  DesignaKnit software and cables can be bought to work with many Brother or Silver Reed machines, but check first.  The software choice might not be the best for a beginner, but can be something to think about for your second machine.  A punchcard machine is the best choice for a beginner. They are more robust and reliable and offer a range of patterns and stitches to support your new knitting hobby.

The final part of the decision of which machine to buy depends upon the type of yarn that you wish to knit with or more specifically the thickness of the yarn.  No machine can knit the full range of yarns, if you want to do this you will need to buy more than one machine.

Home Knitting Machines can be divided into 4 types depending upon the thickness of yarn that it can knit.  This is known in the trade as the GAUGE.  This relates to the spacing between the needles (and thickness of needles).  The following table shows the type of machine, the type of wool it can knit and the names of the knitting machines that you should look for. (passap and pfaff machines are 5mm gauge).

Gauge

FINE
7 gauge
STANDARD
5.6 gauge
MID
3.9 gauge
CHUNKY
2.8 gauge
3.6 mm
250 needles
4.5 mm
200 needles
6.5 mm
105/140/150/160 needles
9 mm
110 needles
1ply, 2ply, 3ply
lace, fingering,
light fingering
2ply, 3ply, 4ply
fingering, sock
4 ply, DK, aran,
fingering, sock, sport, worsted,
(DK), aran,
chunky, bulky,
mohair
  Simple:

LK140
LK150 (plastic)
Simple:
Bond (8 mm)
Knitmaster/SR
LK100,
Zippy 90
Brother:-
KH230
Punchcard:Punchcard:Punchcard:Punchcard:
Knitmaster:-
F270
F370

Brother:-
KH120
Knitmaster:-
321, 323,
260, 360,
700, 740,
zippy deluxe,
Zippy Plus,
Silver Reed:-
sk280

Brother:-
KH860, KH881
KH836, KH890,
KH891
Knitmaster:-
MK70 (foldup)
SK160

Brother:-
KX395
(convertable 4.5 and 9 mm)
Knitmaster:-
SK120, SK121,
SK150 (steel),
SK151, SK155
SK160


Brother:-
KH260
Electronic:Electronic:Electronic:Electronic:
Silver Reed:-
SK830
Knitmaster:-
500, 550, 560, 580
Silver Reed:-
SK840

Brother:
KH900, KH910,
KH940, KH950,
KH950i, KH965,
KH965i, KH970
Silver Reed:
SK860


Silver Reed:
SK890

Brother:-
KH270
  • A great museum site for range of knitting machines can be found here.
  • A full range of knitting machines can be found here.
  • great historical list of Studio/Singer/Knitmaster machines and accessories here.
  • Info on Knitmaster range of machines and accessories can be found here.
  • Brother range can be found here and thoughts on range of Brother machines here.

If you want to buy new then you can choose from the simple plastic mid-gauge LK150, the SK280 standard gauge punchcard or the SK840 standard gauge electronic machine, all can be seen at www.silverviscount.co.uk along with available new accessories.

If you are buying reconditioned or secondhand, the fine gauge and mid-gauge machines are rare and command high prices.   For a beginner on a budget wanting a machine that patterns, the best choice is a standard gauge punchcard machine or a chunky gauge, although the latter are not so common. 

Personally, I have owned 5 or 6 machines in my lifetime and as a beginner I like my standard gauge punchcard machine as it is easy to use and punchcards are cheap.  I do not knit thicker yarns often and am happy to hand knit them.

The choice between Brother and Knitmaster/Silver Reed is not easy as they both knit the same types of patterns, Knitmaster/Silver Reed uses levers on the carriage, Brother uses buttons.  Knitmaster/Silver Reed parts are more easily available and old accessories work on newer machines.  Brother have different types of accessories but were more popular in the UK so there are more second-hand machines available.  Some Brother machines also have garter carriages that can create purl stitches.  Some of the Brother machines can be used with img2track software.  Knitmaster machines were liked for their lace carriages.

In conclusion I believe that Brother or Knitmaster/Silver Reed is the best choice for a beginner.  Punchcard machines are the best choice overall.  Standard gauge machines and 4 ply yarn patterns is the most common choice and the most supported.  However, if you want to knit with DK yarn then you may need to wait until a suitable machine comes along or buy a simple LK150 new.

If you are still unsure find out if there is a knitting machine club in your area and go and see some machines.  Do a search on YouTube for knitting machines to get a better idea of how they knit and how easy or difficult they are to use.

Remember that you do not have to find your ideal machine straight away, the machine that you begin on can be resold so that you can find your ideal machine once you have a better idea of what you want to knit.

Here is an interesting YouTube video about choosing machines.

My next post discusses the best places in the UK (some with international delivery) to get your first machine.

getting started, machine knitting

What is a Domestic Knitting Machine Part 2?

The 1970s/80s introduced garment shaping or contour devices or charting devices that provided visual pattern guides as an alternative to written instructions.

The Knitmaster version was called a KnitRadar or Knit Contour and the Brother version was called a KnitLeader.  Some knitting machines had these incorporated into the main bed, but external ones could be purchased and attached (as shown above).

A set of Pattern contours came with the device in a range of sizes. The knitter chose the correct pattern to insert into the device. The device also included a gauge scale ruler and a set of stitch scales. A tension square was created and the gauge scale ruler was used to find a stitch and row number. The row number was dialled into the device. This controlled the rate at which the pattern turned when the carriage moved across the machine. The stitch number indicated which scale ruler to insert and this showed how many stitches should be cast on and when to increase and decrease. It is quite easy to use but you need to follow the instructions given in the machine knitting manual.

Users of the knitting software DesignaKnit have access to a range of garment shapes that can easily changed to suit any individual’s measurements.  These can be printed out with a set of written instructions, or the software can give verbal instructions to be followed as the user knits. DesignaKnit software can be used with Silver Reed/Knitmaster, Brother/KnitKing and Passap knitting machines. Each machine needs the appropriate connecting cable. Software called img2track can be used with some Brother machines to create black and white picture knitting.

I have touched on the main parts of the typical single-bed knitting machine.    These machines create knit stitches only.  If you want to add purl stitches to a design or even do ribbed cuffs etc., then you need to add a ribber.   

A ribber is a flat-bed of needles that is attached to the knitting machines with the needles in the opposite direction. 

A ribber carriage is added to a ribber sinkplate.  When you move the carriage on the main bed the ribber carriage is moved.   Needles are arranged manually on both beds, but the ribber does come with a set of punchcards (for the main machine) that allows ribbed patterns to be created.  The ribber can be removed is the user wants to knit only.

The ribber can be useful for Double Jacquard that does not have floats on the back of the knitting as you have with simple fairisle knitting (or Single Jacquard).  Instead the ribber is used to create stripes of colour on the back of the garment.

The Passap Knitting machine is a double-bed knitting machine.  This means that both beds are fixed and that the ribber carriage can create patterns.   It is operated differently and can create amazing textured fabrics.  However, it is difficult to see the knitting and thus rectify mistakes.   As such it is not considered ideal for the beginner.

toyota simulknit manual

Toyota/Elan introduced the Simulknit ribber to enable patterning on the ribber carriage.  Although Toyota is a rarer machine, this feature might be worth having if you can find one in good working order.

All this may sound daunting to the beginner, but now you should have a better idea of the many parts of a knitting machine. A separate blog will discuss accessories. 

If you do a search for domestic knitting machines you will likely find a large range of second-hand machines that you can buy.  In the next post I will discuss the questions that you need to ask yourself in order to decide which machine is best for you.

getting started, machine knitting

What is a Domestic Knitting Machine Part 1?

Knitting Machines cover a range of styles from the simple plastic toy machines that can make simple scarves and socks, to the big heavy-duty industrial machines that can make a range of professional garments.

This blog will be referring to the home knitting machine, a flat-bed knitting machine that range from a simple manual knitter (the user has to manipulate stitches to form a pattern) to the more complex electronic machine (electronics or software create the patterns but casting on/off, shaping and moving the carriage are all still done by hand). 

Home knitting machines are called flat-bed because they have a horizontal base that is clamped to a table.  This base or main bed holds the needles (that make the knitting) and can be made of metal or plastic.  Metal is more robust but can rust and is a lot heavier than plastic to carry around with you. The picture above shows the flat bed of a Knitmaster 550 machine.

The needles are made of metal and have a latch to hold the yarn. They have a butt that is used by the carriage to move the needles. The needles can only knit in one direction.  If you want to create purl stitches the user needs to take the stitches off and turn them around manually (can use a circular knitting needle or a garter bar accessory).  These needles can be different sizes for different types of machines.

Different types of knitting machines have different numbers of needles, the more common standard gauge machine bed usually has 200 needles and more needles cannot be added. Wide garments like blankets needs to be done in two pieces that are sewn together. The fine gauge machine has 250 needles.

A few machines can add extensions to its bed to add more needles, for example the Bond or Ultimate Sweater machine is a plastic bed machine that has extra needle bed pieces (shown above) that can be slotted onto the ends of the bed to add more needles.

A device called a carriage knits the stitches by moving the needles forwards and backwards as it is moved across the bed.   Patterns and shaping can be made by holding the needles in different positions.  Carriages can range from the  very simple (like the Bond carriage above) the complex (like the Empisal Knitmaster 700 below). A stitch dial is used to allow slightly thicker or thinner yarns to be knitted.

These latter types of carriage have knobs to control stitch tension and various levers and dials for pattern stitching.

A sinker plate is a metal device like the one above that holds the yarn and has various brushes and disks that help to hold the yarn in the needles.  You can also get a different type of sinker plate for weaving thicker yarns into your knitting.

It is also possible to get special carriages that produce lace knitting and a simple type that just moves the needles and is good for intarsia.

The first knitting machines were simple but knitters demanded more functionality.  The 1950s introduced row counters and tensions masts (also known as yarn brakes).  The latter enabled yarn to run quickly and smoothly through the carriage.   Whilst early machines could use cakes of yarn, they were small and you had to make sure you did not run out of yarn.  So, manufacturers produced small cones of yarn for the home knitter to use that could create a jumper with one cone and the tension masts could be adjusted to work with different thicknesses of yarn, and more than one cone of yarn.

Demand grew for more elaborate patterns and in the 1960s punch-cards and punch-card readers were added to create stitch patterns for tuck stitch, slip stitch, intarsia and fairisle.  The number of stitches that could be controlled expanded over the years and in 1971 24 stitch punch-cards became the most popular width for standard gauge machines (30 stitches for the Knitmaster 370 fine gauge machine).  Blank punch-cards could be bought and created using a handy punch device (shown in image above). 

In the 1980s electronics were introduced that used mylar sheets with a 60-stitch pattern capability.  Machines came with a set of mylar sheets that contained a variety of stitch patterns, but users could buy blank sheets and create their own by marking the sheets with a special pen.   In the 1990s Brother electronic machines were introduced with PPD that had 555 built in patterns, the last machine they made, the Brother KH970, had 665 patterns. Knitmaster introduced the EC1 to replace the Mylar sheet. A PE1 could be added to increase the stitch pattern from 60 to 200 needles. They were replaced by the single P10 device.

Today mylar sheets are rare and expensive to buy, and the electronic controllers are getting old and difficult to repair. Many users have turned to DesignaKnit software to create patterns that cover the full width of the machine.  This is particularly useful for double jacquard designs.   The software may save you from creating punchcards, but it needs a windows laptop to run on, and for some the user interface is difficult to learn. However, the software does allow you to explore and save your ideas, patterns, individual measurements etc. and many people love it for this reason. The software costs about £200 – £300 pounds (depending upon the version) and can be bought from a range of machine outlets. You do need to add the cost of buying the appropriate cable to connect the laptop to your particular machine (another £100 – £200).

continued in next post.