Several days ago I started my Mineral Heather sweater on a knitting machine. I know that some of you have never seen the knitting machine in action, or have been thinking about buying one, or just curios about how it works. I decided to do a mini-guide on making a sweater on a knitting machine. This is not a step-by-step tutorial where I walk you through every stage of the process. It’s mostly an overview of what knitting machine is, what it does and how it works, mainly from a hand knitter’s point of view. When I was choosing my knitting machine it was the information that was missing – I couldn’t find a place where the mechanism of knitting machine would be explained from the point of view of hand knitting. I think this way it is much easier to get the idea of what to expect from the machine. This overview is not going to teach you how to use the knitting machine. If you buy your own machine some day, the manual is the best way to start. There are many helpful YouTube videos and you can always visit Machine Knitting group on Ravelry for any technical question.
When I first got an idea to buy a knitting machine, I hardly imagined what it was, how much it cost and how to use it. All I knew is that I loved knitwear and yarn and wanted to experiment with this kind of craft. I did a very thorough research before picking up my first knitting machine. One of the best places to start your knitting machine education is Angelika’s Yarn Store website, where she writes reviews of the most popular knitting machines, shares tutorials and other useful information. The best article to start with is What Every Hand Knitter Should Know Before Buying a Knitting Machine where she covers the differences and similarities between machine and hand knitting.
In this review I will share my experience and how I make things on my knitting machine. I am definitely not a professional machine knitter, but I think, my point of view as a hand knitter who occasionally does machine knitting, will be useful to those who are just considering the machine knitting or just plainly curious about it.
Ok, this is how my process of making Mineral Heather looks like. I am posting black-and-white pictures because I think this way all the details are much clearer. And this way you can’t see the rust on my machine 🙂
First of all I decide what kind of garment I want to make. The shape, the fit and so on. Then I do all the numbers and write down instructions for myself to follow. There are machine knitting patterns out there, so you don’t have to do it all by yourself. My machine (Silver Reed LK150) is very simple and it can’t do the ribbing. You can do the ribbing manually transferring stitches, but it takes more time this way than doing it by hand, at least for me. So, I am knitting my ribbing for the desired length by hand.
Then I place the carriage on the needle bed. The carriage is like your hands in hand knitting. It does the work of knitting the stitches.
These little knobs are the “heads” of the needles. Each knob is a needle. Here you can also see the row counter. Every time you pass the carriage across the needle bed, the number goes up. It is very useful, as the exact row count is much more important in machine knitting than in hand knitting. When you are hand knitting a piece, you can stop and measure it to see how much is left before the desired length. But on the machine the fabric is really stretched and distorted, so you can never do your measurements while the piece is still on the needles. You can rely only on your raw gauge and follow it exactly.
The next step for me is to push forward the necessary amount of needles. For example, according to my calculations I need 82 sts for the back, so I push forward 82 needles.
They don’t really look like needles, more like long crochet hooks. The next thing I do is to put my knitting off the usual needle on the knitting machine. I put one stitch on one needle, one by one. Wrong side is facing me.
Then I push the needles with stitches on back to the working position.The stitches should be secured on the needles, so they don’t jump off when I move the carriage across them.
Now I am ready to thread the yarn. First I carry it through the yarn feeder – this is basically a place where you “connect” your fabric on a needle bed with the carriage.
Then I go through several tension guides. It is almost like threading sewing machine, only much easier, at least for me, I am a hopeless seamstress 🙂
This is what you get at the end.
Next step is to adjust the stitch dial. Stitch dial is like the needle size in hand knitting. It will determine how many stitches/rows per inch you will get. For this sweater I chose 6.5. This number doesn’t correspond to needle size in hand knitting. You have to try several stitch dial adjustments to see how the fabric behaves. The higher the stitch dial, the less stitches per inch you will get. The thickness of yarn also determines the stitch dial number. The thicker the yarn, the higher the number. It is also worth mentioning that your machine can’t knit all weights of yarn out there. Your knitting machine is like a set of knitting needles – there are a lot of them, but not an infinite number, which means that some yarns just won’t work on the machine. I am using one of the most universal machines – it is mid-gauge and it covers a great range of yarn weights.
When I first got my machine I was quiet scared – what did I get myself into?! It didn’t look like knitting at all. It is not really a hobby that you can take to your cozy couch and relax. You need to have a special place for the machine, you need to sit straight, move the carriage across the needle bed, watching the tension and making sure that everything is going smoothly. It is a manual work and I am definitely not choosing to work on the knitting machine after a long day at work. I love to do it early in the mornings or at weekends when I am full of energy. But I do enjoy it a lot! It is really fun to watch how the smooth (given that you are watching the yarn tension!!) rows of fabric are growing. It is a domestic knitting machine that has very little to do with mass product knitting machines. There is a lot of hand work involved. I would definitely label the piece knitted on the domestic knitting machine as “handmade”.
Now the fun part begins – knitting!! I decided to set a timer and let you know in how much time I knit 10 rows, without any shaping involved. Well, ready? 10 rows in 32 seconds!!! Pretty fast, right?
Well, I think this is enough information for today. I don’t want to give you a headache 🙂 Next week I will show you how I do the shaping – increases, decreases, binding off and so on. Who knows maybe you will consider getting a knitting machine for yourself!
Joining knitting and reading Yarn Along today. I got Mark Twain from the library and can’t wait to dive into the collection of his short stories today.
Enjoy your week and stay safe!