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Knitting Machines 101

 

Knitting machines come in 4 “sizes”. These sizes are determined by the thickness of the needle and the distance between those needles on the knitting "bed".

Each "size" has an optimal weight of yarn it likes to work with.

 

Machine “size”

Distance between Needles

Number of Needles

Yarn weight to use

Comments

Fine Gauge

 

3.6 mm

250

Very fine, almost thread-like

Produces a very fine, very light weight fabric

Standard Gauge

 

4.5 mm

200

Fingering or baby weight to sport weight*

Produces a light weight garment. Perfect for baby things, socks or sweaters that will be worn inside. Because of the highest number of needles, stitch designs can be pretty intricate.

Mid-Gauge

 

6.0 mm

150

Sport weight to worsted weight*

Produces a fabric that is most like a hand knit look.

Bulky Gauge

 

9.0 mm

110

Worsted weight and bulky weights

Produces a thick, heavy fabric.

With fewer needles to work with, intricate stitch designs will not work.

* The heavier weight yarn that is acceptable for a machine is only advisable for stockinette, any patterning may cause the carriage to either not knit smoothly or to jam up and not knit at all. It is advisable to use yarn weights at the lower end of acceptability.

Another note: You can use a smaller-than-recommended yarn on any machine, it will just result in a looser stitch. I.E. You can use fingering weight on the bulky machine (you'll get a looser, airy fabric) but you can't use bulky yarn on the standard guage machine (you will jam the carriage.)

 

Knitting machines come in 3 levels of automation: Manual, Punchcard (automatic) and Electronic (automatic).

 

Level of Automation

How it Works

Price

Level

Comments - Pros/Cons

Manual

All manual operation, no automation

lowest

There is a plastic, portable model perfect to see if machine knitting is for you, or if you like to take your knitting with you.

Pro: Least Expensive

Con: Plastic, less sturdy machine with no automatic capabilities

Manual – upgradable to automatic

Basic machine is manual but an electronic carriage is available

medium

The machine bed is metal and sturdy. The carriage that comes with it is all manual, and also has the functionality for intarsia knitting. The electronic carriage upgrade makes this machine the same as a full featured electronic machine.

Pro: The basic unit is a sturdy machine with a lower price. The basic carriage includes intarsia.

Con: Can’t think of any :-)

Punchcard

The mechanical workings of the machine rely on punched cards for pattern knitting

medium

A card with your pattern punched on it (like a player piano), the machine reads the pattern and automatically selects needles for pattern knitting

Pro: Lower price for patterning abilities

Con: You are limited to a small. (24 to 30) number of stitches per pattern repeat.

Electronic

The electronic workings of the machine rely on one of three "brain" options

highest

These machines are modular in that you buy the machine bed and then you get to decide on one of three options for it's "brains" (the mechanism that controls the automatic knitting).

Brain Option 1: Your own computer with the Design-A-Knit software and the appropriate cables

Brain Option 2: The PC10 - a mini computer that attaches to the machine and contains the software needed to create your own shapes and stitch patterns.

Brain Option 3: The Silver Concept - a box that contains a cut down version of Design-A-Knit software (you can create your own stitch patterns, but no custom shapes)

With options 1 or 2, you can design very intricate patterns and unusual shapes (e.g. dog sweaters, asymmetrical or side-ways knit sweaters).

Pro: No limit on number of sts in a pattern. Easiest means of storing patterns. Interact with the computer for ease of keeping track of where you are in the piece.

Cons: Highest price. Need a computer with DAK or “Concept” box to enable the automatic patterning.

 

Random Notes

  • The “beginner” machines are probably the manual ones that don’t do anything fancy—they just make stockinette stitch a whole lot faster than doing it by hand.
  • If you are pretty sure (but not totally sure) you want to do this knitting machine stuff, you might want to get the mid-gauge manual machine that is upgradable to an electronic version. With the basic part of this setup, you can learn how to use the machine and get a feel for what it can do. Then if you want to go further, you just have to purchase an electronic carriage (the thing that goes across the needles and results in knit stitches) and then, one of the "brain" options mentioned above.
  • If you are not sure at all you will like this, but are really curious and want to give it a shot, get the LK150, the manual, plastic, portable machine. This is a great little machine, that, although all manual -- thus the learning curve is pretty flat :-) is still a pretty versatile machine.
  • Some of the models/brands are no longer available (discontinued). Check the store for current availability. Those machines no longer listed can still be found as used or maybe on eBay.

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