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Why doesn’t my knitting machine work?

While it is frustrating not to have objects behave as expected, I also find that this can be a very fun challenge.  Asking myself ‘why doesn’t my knitting machine work?’ is an invitation to better understanding all the little brushes, switches, flappers, and levers that are interacting between the machine bed and the carriage.  Non-electronic knitting machines are (presumably) a solvable equation.  If it doesn’t work, there is almost certainly something you can fix about it (although it might require replacement parts up to and including a whole ‘spare parts’ machine).  No advanced degree in machine knittery or rocket science required.

But mechanical aptitude and willingness to experiment are valuable attributes.  I will point out that I’m far more apt to experiment on the knitting machine than other types of things around the house.  Our furnace, for example, is temporarily knocked out and while we have opened it up and adjusted and cleaned some things to temporary good effect, I am quite ready to have a professional look at that dangerous and integral system.  See?  After staring at the guts of my furnace and all it’s gas and electrocution hazards, knitting machine repair seems like quite a soothing hobby!  The worst the knitting machine can do to me is snag my yarn and suck away my time.  It’s all about perspective.

Since I have 3 machines in my home that require some TLC and trouble-shooting, I think it’s time I develop a process.

Here’s my first few steps in assessing the “health” of a new-to-me knitting machine, (and I expect this process to evolve with practice):

  1. Check for really obvious missing parts (refer to manual for what should be present), look for bent/broken needles.  Try running the knitting carriage back and forth a few times.  If all goes well, no carriage jamming, move on to step 2.  If carriage jamming, skip ahead to step 4, Trouble shooting.
  2. Basic cleaning and lubrication – this means brushing needle beds and carriage with a medium-firm brush, removing excess lint, and rubbing everything with a soft cloth that has knitting machine oil on it.
  3. Check the sponge bar – if it has a sponge bar.  Disintegrating or permanently squished sponge bars are a really common problem in used knitting machines.  It’s an easy, relatively cheap part to replace.  I have read elsewhere that if the spongy part sits less than 3/8″ above the metal part, you should replace it.
  4. Try to knit a basic sample per machine manual instructions.  If that succeeds, great!  Move on to a test of the punch card operations, and then the lace carriage (if applicable).  If knitting a basic sample fails, move on to trouble-shooting mode.
  5. Trouble shooting mode.  From here, I want a flow chart…  but until I develop one, here is a nice chart on Needles of Steel for Troubleshooting tips.

So far, I have one machine (the KH 881) that won’t close stitches and I’m hoping it’s the sponge bar because I just ordered one for it, and the other machines (the bulky and the KH 800) are knitting the basics fine but may have other issues.

I’m also hoping to try Jack’s cleaning method, from The Answer Lady Knits & Ask Jack video series.  I watched a bunch of the videos while I was home sick one day last week.  It was kind of like listening to the Click & Clack of knitting machines.  The two people have a great rapport and cover a lot of really useful material about how to clean, test and repair knitting machines.  So far though, I haven’t noticed a video that covers a starting troubleshooting process for the beginner, which is why I want to develop my own process.

Also, it might be worth noting that, if you don’t feel you have the wherewithal to troubleshoot and repair your own knitting machine, people like Jack or others can be paid to service your machine.

Until next time… keep those needle beds zipping!

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Knitting machine accessories

I haven’t done much with my Brother KH 800 knitting machine in a while, because having out a delicate machine with fiddly and dangling bits doesn’t seem particularly compatible with having a curious toddler underfoot.  And the craft-room door doesn’t actually click closed, so I can’t keep him out of there mid-project.  But I’m planning some time off for a mitten-knittin’ marathon, and I am considering bringing out the big guns for it.

Thinking of my future knitting machine adventures, I’m probably not going to get around to it soon, but I think a ribber might be a valuable addition to the machine.  How do I find out what ribber is compatible?  There are a couple of really good sites that I like to refer to that have charts about knitting machine abilities and accessory compatibility.

Angelika’s Yarn Store:  http://www.yarn-store.com/knitting-machine-chart.html

and

Daisy Knits:  http://www.daisyknits.com/bcompatibility.htm

I have used both of these sites to help identify and assess the usefulness of many ebay knitting machine items, and that’s probably how I’m going to find a ribber, if I eventually go for it.  My experience is that most of the time when knitting machines and accessories that show up on ebay, the seller found it at an estate sale or grandma’s attic and has no clue what they are selling.  If they did a little research, the item is better described and the auction goes well (perhaps too well for my cheap tastes!).  If the seller didn’t do their homework, then good deals can be found for the savvy knitting machine shopper.

Until next time, keep those needle beds purring!

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Toy knitting machine

My toddler has been taking up more of my time than my crafts and craft-posting lately.  I suppose that’s healthy!  But it means few posts here.

My husband recently discovered a fun item for me at the thrift store that I must share:

Kenner Knitting Machine

Kenner New Automatic Knitting Machine ca. 1967

A Kenner 1967ish toy flatbed knitting machine!  It boggles my mind to think that there was once a market not only for adult housewives to crank out knitwear on these fun-but-fiddly machines, but also that their children might want to imitate them on kiddie-versions thereof.  I seriously wonder if this was a niche-market or considered a mass-market thing.  Sometime I’d like to see some stats on yarn-hobby-industry sales over the decades, and find out what portion was hobby machine knitting.  Because it seems like they were making a lot more knitting machine stuff 50 years ago.

Trying to look up my $7 Kenner thrift-treasure, I did find some posts on vintage/nostalgia boards talking about the hair-pulling experience of trying to use the toy knitting machine as a child.  I’m hoping that my adult-sized knitting machine experiences will make it easier for me to troubleshoot this little machine.

It does use standard-sized knitting machine needles, and the manual says it produces a standard gauge (and to borrow Mom’s leftover “regular weight” yarn).  But it only has 24 or 28 needles (it’s not in front of me at the moment).  It seems to be mostly complete and in decent shape.  The carriage bumpers for the two ends are dry-rotted, and the needles on the far ends of the row seem too sticky/tight, but I think I can loosen some screws to help with that.  Amazingly, all the needles are there and not a single one is bent or broken!  Since most of the original yarn-balls are intact, and there is little evidence of use except for a few remnants of pom-pom cuttings, and some tiny bits of fiber caught in some of the needles, I suspect this toy machine was tried once and given up quickly.

Knitting Machine box contents

Inside the Kenner New Automatic Knitting Machine box

I hope I can get it working.  I think it might be more convenient than my regular machine to keep out of my baby’s way since it’s so small, and it should be big enough to crank out some mittens if it works ok.  Down the road, I am tickled by the thought that my kid might want to try using a knitting machine, and that I’d have a kid-sized one for him to try out.  That is, assuming, he has any interest in crafts… I can only hope.

Until next time, keep those needle-beds clackety-clacking!

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Playing with Machines Again

Brother Knitting Machine KH 800

Brother Knitting Machine KH 800 in action

My Mom was given a knitting machine by a friend who was cleaning out her basement, it sounded kind of fancy.  I offered to teach my Mom how to use it, but our recent get-togethers were focused on other things (eg. I am expecting).  When she came over to help me bake traditional Slovak Easter foods for the holiday, I figured I could at least set up my Knitmaster and show her the basics.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and on the associated info page, my Knitmaster is a very humble sort of knitting machine.  It’s a standard gauge (meaning it can handle lace-weight through DK), but it’s functionality is limited to plain stockinette unless you are willing to do some very tedious hand-manipulation.

I had considered upgrading to a punch card machine last year, but I really couldn’t justify the expense.  My humble Knitmaster was an eBay bargain at $46 including shipping.  I’d likely have to pay at least $500 for a gamble on a basic punchcard machine.  Spare cash being limited as it often is, I gave up on the idea after a few months of Craigslist and eBay stalking.

So last week I showed my Mom the wonders of machine knitting on my Knitmaster.  I demonstrated various techniques on a piece that started as an attempt to machine knit a baby cardigan.  She also got to try out casting on, binding off, and basic rows.  My crafty buddy Emily also stopped by and got to try out the knitting machine.  Emily is a scientist by trade, so I think the precision and mechanical nature of the knitting machine were intriguing to her.

The next day I got a call from my Mom.  Maybe it’s the impending grandma-hood and the baby sweater I was trying to create, maybe it’s the fact that my Mom just won a circular sock knitting machine from ebay, or maybe it was the fact that my machine is kind of simple and her machine was a bit more complex.  Whatever the reason, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  She asked if I would like to swap knitting machines with her!  So the pic above is “my” new Brother KH 800 Knitting Machine, “on semi-permanent loan to my collection” as we like to say.

So far, I am thrilled!  The Brother Knitting Machine had been in a friend of my Mom’s yarn shop, then it was given to another friend of hers who does charity knitting but apparently never got into the knitting machine aspect of production knitting.  A basement needed cleaning, the machine went to my Mom, and voila!  A free upgrade for me!  It is in fairly good shape (a few needles are missing, apparently swapped out and moved to the ends when bent).  It has a lace cartridge and takes a 12-stitch punchcard.  Alas, the couple of books that I have accumulated on knitting machine patterns are for 24-stitch punchcards, but I think most can be modified.

Compared to my Knitmaster, there are a lot of pieces to set up on this machine.  Flipping through the PDF manual I found online, I was able to figure out most things.  I am slowly building up my abilities with the new functions.  I like making hemmed edges on it – the cast on is so easy it feels like cheating!

The only major difficulty I am having so far is that the punchcard mechanism is not “reading” the cards correctly.  Some of the needles that the card says should be selected are not selecting – I can do it manually, of course, but that sort of defeats the purpose.  The PDF manual is missing some pages, but it doesn’t appear that it ever had a page that detailed troubleshooting the punchcard.  Hopefully internet research will help, but I may be relegated to taking things apart and seeing what happens.

I’m heading for a day-long knitting workshop this weekend with my crafty buddy Emily.  A couple of classes and a vendor area… Watch out now – I’m heading into the danger zone!

Until next time, keep those needles (and needle beds) clicking…

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Project Swapway: Designing a Cape

A few months ago, I joined a Steampunk Swap in the Odd Duck Swaps group on Ravelry.  My swap target (or “spoilee”) was very talkative and fun, so I got loads of ideas for what to make for her.  One thing she mentioned caught my fancy right away as a great opportunity to set a design challenge for myself.

The inspiration started with a page of illustrations of Victorian capes that my “spoilee” had posted.  One caught my eye immediately.

Victorian Cape

Victorian Cape

So gorgeous!  I loved the high neck, the tailored look, the weighty drape of the luxurious fabric (presumably fur, in the original).  I imagined that this would be a lined cape that would keep a lady warm on the coldest winter strolls, and yet be easily tossed aside for a waltz with a beau.

So then I started to think about how to put my own spin on it.  A steampunk cape with a bit of my own flair.  I toyed with the idea of buying fabric and sewing, but I really wanted to knit it.  A yarn with a good drape should mimic the weight of the fur better than even faux-fur.  And what would a knitted cape be without a heavenly lace trim? Continue reading

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The trick to machine knit fair-isle

As promised, I want to share my “comb” trick for machine knitting “fair isle” on a basic knitting machine.  After much tedious and slow hand manipulation, I came up with this idea to make cardboard combs to manipulate a whole row at at time.  This idea is probably not original or novel, I probably saw something similar somewhere long before I had a knitting machine.  But if I had seen it somewhere before, I managed to forget about it through exhaustive hours of hand manipulation of a dense pattern.  Then the idea started to surface in the back of my mind, but I somehow thought it would be more work to stop, measure, and cut out a comb.

Desperation makes us keen to experiment. Continue reading

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Flat socks and knitting machines

With the holidays looming, my thoughts turn once again to production crafting, and I have retrieved my standard gauge knitting machine (KnitKing/Knitmaster 4500) from under the bed. On it was a partially-complete side-seam sock that I started several months ago.

Knitmaster Know How

KnitKing/Knitmaster Graphic from Newsletter

For those not familiar with knitting machine lingo and history, let me briefly summarize what is going on here. Continue reading