getting started, machine knitting

Is Machine Knitting an Expensive Hobby?

It depends upon what you are comparing it with.   It is definitely more expensive than hand knitting, but perhaps cheaper than jewellery-making or golf.  However most of the costs are upfront in obtaining your knitting machine.  After that you mostly need an annual service and a good stash of coned yarn.   If you are on a budget then accessories make good presents so write a wish-list and make sure family and friends are aware of it when it comes to your birthday.

I am based in the UK and so most of the information on this page will be based on what can be found in the UK.

Overall the costs of Machine Knitting will need to cover:-

table, tools and accessories, patterns, learning resources, yarn, maintenance and repairs

Knitting Machine: Today a lot of young people are getting interested in machine knitting (probably with accessories and some yarn) because they have inherited an old machine from a family member. This is good news the costs are reduced.

If you don’t have a machine then you can choose to buy a brand new machine (expensive and limited choice), a reconditioned and serviced machine (not so expensive but you need to check any warranty period) or a cheap second-hand machine (varying prices and conditions so might be risky).

Costs will range from £3000 for a full electronic machine package with ribber and software to £20 for a simple plastic bond knitting machine found in the local charity shop.  

If you are on a budget, then I suggest asking around to see if anyone has one to lend or sell you.  Put wanted adds in the local shop, or go round the charity shops with your contact details, asking them to contact you if they come across a suitable machine.   

As a beginner I would suggest that you look for a punchcard machine to start with and might be looking in the range of £100 to £300. The main machines will be a Brother or a Knitmaster.  New machines will only be Silver Reed. I will write more about what knitting machine to buy and where to get it in a later post.

Table: A Knitting machine needs to be clamped to a table.  Whilst you might wish to use your dining room table (suitably protected with cardboard!) it is better to buy a proper knitting machine table.  If you have transport then you can probably find a cheap second-hand one locally for about £20 or you can get a new one delivered for about £60 from Ebay or local dealer.  

Tools and Accessories: Not sure if there is a clear distinction between the two so I am lumping these together.  The knitting machine should come with a range of tools that will help you to knit.  The operating manual will a picture and list of all the tools that you will need.  If you damage or lose them you can usually find replacements on Ebay or your favourite online store.   I will give more details in later posts.

It used to be difficult to find tools but in the last year or two, Chinese suppliers are now manufacturing many these at good prices.  The quality is not always as good as the originals but are getting better.  In particular they are now making cheap punchcards which were very difficult to get hold of.

More expensive accessories, like a ribber and colour changer, garter carriage and weaving arm only need to be purchased if and when you need them.

Additional accessories that you might find useful could be things like scales to weigh yarn, a good lamp,  and plenty of storage and containers to hold things.  I also have an old music stand to hold my instructions and a desk chair that allows me to move around my machine.  

Patterns:  There are far fewer patterns for machine knitting than hand knitting.  There is only one surviving UK magazine called Machine Knitting Monthly.  You can find copies or subscribe here  for less than £3 per month. There are a number of other places that you can find machine knitting patterns but you usually have to pay for them.   However I have found free patterns and I will give more details in a later post.   I will also provide some free basic patterns on this blog so look out for them in the contents.

Learning Resources: There are a few online courses, and metropolitan.co.uk does some residential courses and the costs vary.   There are plenty of second-hand books available, some of which I have found for very little cost.  There are also a large number of useful videos that can be found on YouTube for free.   FaceBook also has a number of machine knitting groups where you can get advice.

A very useful pdf online resource for finding free manuals, patterns and learning materials is the website MachineKnittingetc.com .  Here you can download a wide range of useful material for most machines that were made.

As usual information can be found for those on a budget, but you do need to spend time looking for it.   However, to save you time, I will write a post listing the best resources for learning.  I also hope that my beginners guide will also prove to be a useful free learning resource.

Yarn:  This is where you can spend a lot of money or not depending upon the quality and type of the yarn.  It is now more difficult to find good yarn at a reasonable price as there are few suppliers.   Most knitting shops only stock balls of hand-knitting yarn which are not really suitable because you need a lot of yarn on a cone that flows freely through the machine without any joins.  

Yarn also comes in different thicknesses.  You need to know which yarns will work with your particular machine.  The most common machine yarns are either 1 ply yarns or thicker 4 ply yarns.  These work with fine and standard gauge machines.  Chunky machines need thicker yarn to work, although you can use a twisting stack to twist 2 or 3 strands of 4 ply together.   Using thicker yarn will be more expensive, but some of the simpler chunky machines might work with balls of yarn if they are rewound into cakes or onto a wool winder hat.  I only have experience of the cheap Bond machine but might consider using a mid-gauge or chunky punch-card machine in the future.

I was able to find a couple of job-lots of cheap acrylic yarn locally that I could pick up. This will serve me well for practice and for waste yarn.  I also have found one or two online sources of affordable industrial yarn that I will buy in the future.   BSK.co.uk has a supply of cotton/acrylic yarn that is affordable.  As someone that reacts to wool, this sounds like a good solution if it works on my machine.  I will write a later post with more details about buying yarn.

Machine Maintenance:  You need to give yourself an annual budget for servicing and repairing your machine.   At minimum you need to buy surgical spirit (vets have the best deals) for cleaning your machine and some machine oil and spare needles (Andee Knits and BSK).   You also have to renew the sponge bar at least annually so you will need a sponge bar kit (I get mine from XenaKnits who has a good videos on how to do this).  I also use GooGone to help get the old glue out (got from Amazon).  Again I will give more details in a later post.

Andee Knits or Metropolitan and SilverViscount and Ebay can provide a range of spares for your machine.  Videos are available on YouTube to help you do this.   Otherwise I would join a FaceBook group and ask if there is someone not too far from you that could service or repair your machine.

I have found that even on a small budget there are ways to enjoy machine knitting. You do not need to have an expensive machine. As a beginner the joy is in learning to knit and finding out what machines can do. I hope that you enjoy finding out how I do this.

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getting started

Should I learn Machine Knitting?

This was the question I asked myself a couple of years ago and you may be asking yourself the same question.

I had a list of reasons why I wanted to learn to machine knit and how it would be of value to me, but I also had some concerns mainly relating to Affordability and Difficulty.

Instead of creating one long post here I will address the two concerns of cost and difficulty the next post, In this post I will present my thoughts about the value of machine knitting.

Will I get any value out of Machine Knitting?

I think it is important that you do have some idea of why you want to machine knit, otherwise it is likely that will give up at the first hurdle. Your reason why could be as simple as you have just inherited a knitting machine from an elderly relative and you would like to know what it does or as challenging as I love knitting and would like to learn how to design my own garments with a professional finish that I could sell. Mostly it will because you like being creative, making things and the idea of machine knitting appeals to you either as a creative hobby or as a means to knit more quickly and professionally.

You might find that using a machine is easier than hand knitting. It certainly is faster once you and your machine are in harmony. It is more difficult to do this socially as you need to have space to set up the machine and table. And this is difficult to transport to a meet-up. Decide what you want to knit and then decide what machine will do this. This blog will focus upon the flat-bed home knitting machine. Later posts will give more details about different machines that you could find in the UK.

In this post I list some of the reasons why I wanted to learn machine knitting. I am sure that some of these reasons will be similar to yours. I would love to know why you started to machine knit. Please write them down in the comments.

My Reasons for Wanting to Machine Knit.

  1. I am a crafty person and I am learning to hand knit and crochet so why not learn to machine knit as well.
  2. I love the idea of making my own clothes that fit me better than the garments I buy, especially as I am short in body and arms.
  3. I like learning new skills and the idea of learning how a knitting machine works appeals to me.
  4. I have time on my hands and I want a new challenge in my life.
  5. Hand-knitting can be a bit painful on the joints so a knitting machine could alleviate this pain (or give me different pains!)
  6. Hand-knitting can be slow and I would like to make things more quickly on a machine
  7. I would like to create more professional looking garments.
  8. I like the idea of using a machine to create my own designs and patterns or even recreate patterns that I see online.
  9. I have an old machine that I bought years ago and some old wool and since I now have no money it is time to learn to use it or get rid of it.
  10. As I tried to figure out how to get the old machine to work, I discovered a whole new world of machine knitting that excited me and I found that I loved learning about all the different machines, accessories, patterns, techniques, software etc. and wanted to learn more and more.

So these are my reasons. What are yours? Please tell me in the comments below.

getting started

Is Machine Knitting Difficult to Learn?

Yes and No.  Actually, the knitting part is not so difficult since you are just moving the carriage compared to hand knitting where you are making the stitches.  However, the difficulty comes in getting your machine to work properly every time it is used.

As a beginner you must expect to make many mistakes.  Some will be of your own making, as you forget to turn a knob or move a lever.  Others will due to something going wrong with the yarn or the machine.   Experience is needed to sort these problems out but you can get help on the Internet.   Join the FaceBook Machine Knitters Beginners Circle or one of the Ravelry.com’s knitting groups and ask questions if you get stuck.  Hopefully this WickedWoollies beginners guide to machine knitting will also help you.

YouTube contains many free videos on machine knitting.  I have found that whilst the videos are of varying quality and clarity, they have proved to be valuable to my learning.  Just seeing people using different type of knitting machines and accessories was invaluable to my understanding of machine knitting.

As you begin to learn, you will have to get used to picking up dropped stitches (more difficult to do on a knitting machine than hand knitting).  Uunravelling rows becomes easier as you practice.   However, it is often better to take the knitting off the machine, unravel the yarn and rewind back onto the cone and start again.  Although I might want to cry, I do this and then start again the next day.

If you have a new or reconditioned knitting machine there should be few machine problems.  Most errors will be operator errors.  Forgetting to do something, using the wrong yarn, not having enough weights etc.   Always follow the user manual and double check all instructions.   This is the only way to knit all the way to the last row without problems.   If you do have an issue, you can ask for help on the Internet.  Remember to state which machine you have and what kind of yarn you are using and make sure you have changed the sponge bar (see post called what is a knitting machine) as this is the first thing you will be asked.

So if you encounter a problem, then go through a check-list e.g.

Have a forgotten something, have I followed the instructions correctly, is the carriage set up correctly, are the weights OK, is the punchcard on, is the punchcard suitable, have I set up the software correctly, is the wool suitable, are the needles OK, when did I last renew the sponge-bar, when did I last service the machine,   All these things can cause errors.

When you start to knit, you must have the operating manual available so that you can follow the instructions for your machine for every technique that you are doing.  You can find free downloads of most manuals on the Internet.   Make notes on paper or yellow stickies and attach them to the pages if necessary.   Do not read the instructions once and think that is all you need.   Knitting machines have many settings that need to be changed and checked all through the knitting process.  So, keep checking the manual and the pattern instructions that you are following.  I have found that it is best for me to rewrite any pattern that I want to follow.  I write out the pattern in a table form, with easy step-by-step instructions.  I include a column for carriage position and row number.  This has saved me hours of distress.  I have found that old printed patterns were not always clear because printed patterns needed to save space. 

As you learn to knit you should practice the basic techniques like cast on, knit, cast off, increase, decrease, transfer stitches (all of these will be included in the guide).   Initially you should create lots of samples that will help you to learn about different techniques, tensions and patterns.   I suggest that you then move on to making mini-garments to try out these techniques.   Creating a mini garment will help you develop extra experiences like pressing and making up.   The smaller garments will show up where you need to improve but will not need you to spend money on a lot of yarn.  This website will give more details on techniques and patterns.

Socially, machine knitting is more of a challenge than hand knitting.  Hand knitters turn up to a meeting with some needles and wool.   Machine knitters have to bring a machine, a knitting table and a host of tools and accessories!  However, there are still some groups that do meet up, so do a search on the Internet.   Fortunately, there are now groups of machine knitters on http://www.ravelry.com and FaceBook.   Join up, do a search and then join the groups that appeal to you. 

For those on a budget, you do not need a ribber or other accessories to start with, just the machine, manual, tools and some yarn.   It will take a few weeks to get used to the machine and practice the techniques, but it will be worthwhile when you produce your first garment.

Good Luck.