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!

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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.

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

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.