Hi makers! Kristine of RESPONSIVE TEXTILES here! I’m so excited to share my craft with you today, but first, I have a confession. This has been weighing on me for a while, and it’s time to spill the tea. I’m a knitter who can’t do much with knitting needles. There it is! I said it! Beyond the basic knit and purl, I’m pretty lost, and it feels good to finally admit it. So how can I call myself knitter? Well, my craft is actually machine knitting.
Although the name suggests industrial manufacturing, this kind of machine knitting is on par with an old-fashioned loom. Popular from the 1970s to 1990s, these hand-powered machines brought expedited knitting into the home. There are many different models, each with its own set of features. There are also many accessories available, which expand these machines’ capabilities. So for the sake of summarizing, I’m just going to give you the lay of the land. (If you want to know more, hit me up and we can talk).
Basically, the knitting machine is a flat bed that houses 200 latch hook needles. It also includes a carriage, a tension unit, and two rabbit ear antennas, which feed the yarn through the machine. Knitting with this single bed creates stockinette fabric. For variations like ribbing and brioche, an accessory called the ribber is added. The ribber is another flat bed with 200 latch hook needles and its own carriage. It attaches to the front of the machine and meets the main bed at a 90-degree angle. Stitches are distributed between them, and their carriages lock together so they can knit in unison, like a happy family.
And how does this thing actually knit? With good old-fashioned arm strength, of course! Machines like mine are hand-powered. To knit a row, the carriage is pushed across the machine bed. This continues back and forth to build the fabric. So basically, every day is arm day. For any color changes, new yarn is threaded through the machine. To create slopes, lace and various textures, stitches are manually transferred onto new needles. Overall, this is a meticulous and labor intensive craft. The process may not look like hand knitting, but it’s similarly tactile and repetitive.
Unlike its traditional counterpart, however, machine knitting has the benefit of speed. A row is knit in a single movement rather than a stitch at a time. This really expedites the process and makes it easier to work with thin yarns (hello summer knits!). The ability to create lightweight fabrics is a major draw for me. I also love how organized machine knitting is. Every stitch is laid out on its own needle, and the fabric neatly hangs in front. What can I say? It speaks to the neat-freak in me. (#shameless)
That being said, however, it isn’t all blue birds and sunshine. Although the knitting machine can produce most hand knit fabrics, it has its shortcomings. Often these are just inconvenient. For example, the 200-needle bed maxes the fabric width to 200 stitches. It’s a pain, but it can be overcome by adding panels together. Sometimes, however, the machine’s limitations are restrictive. For instance, you have to knit within the gauge of your machine (whether bulky, standard or fine). This is not a drill. To knit with yarns outside of that gauge means you need another machine. Another restriction, and probably my least favorite, is the fact that I can’t work on my knits while travelling. The machine is not airplane-friendly.
As with any medium, machine knitting is about negotiating creativity with problem solving. Despite its limitations, I enjoy experimenting within these boundaries and seeing what I can create.
Have you machine knit before or are interested in trying it? Do you have any questions or want to learn more? If so, please let me know. Machine knitting is my jam and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thank you for letting me share my craft with you today, and I look forward to connecting with you soon!
x Kristine, RESPONSIVE TEXTILES
Kristine is the designer/founder of RESPONSIVE TEXTILES, a cat mama of two and a Bravo super-fan. While finishing her graphic design degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, she discovered the knitting machine in an elective class. This turned out to be a gamer changer, and knitwear has been her path ever since. In 2014, Kristine launched the sustainable knitwear line, RESPONSIVE TEXTILES, which she currently handcrafts out of her Augusta, GA studio. To connect with Kristine and see more of her knitting machine in action, head over to her Instagram @responsivetextiles or visit www.responsivetextiles.com.