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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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Before we get too comfortable…

Lest anyone think I could focus on any one craft genre at a time…

Just when I have re-committed myself to pursuing the Master Knitter program, I got a tantalizing email from another knitting guild member offering up knitting machines and a garter carriage to anyone who might want them… for FREE.  I called and said that if no one else was interested, I would take the whole lot.  And that there were a couple of the machines that I would like dibs on even if there was a line out the door behind me.  It seems I was the first to call.

So far in my life, I have spent about $200 on three knitting machines and maybe $35 on some parts/accessories.  The first one was a gift for my sister, and the only knitting machine that I think is still sold new on the mass market:  The Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine.  I didn’t know much about knitting machines at the time, but she had a dream about felted squiggly curtains, which sounded like long tedious plain rows of knitting.  I was trying to be supportive, but it turned out that it’s a lot to have a knitting machine in one’s small apartment with cats, finding the right table for it is tricky, and ultimately the machine came back to me.

Before that machine came back, I got my own first knitting machine cheap on ebay.  A few years later, my Mom’s friend gave her (who gave me) a free 12-stitch punchcard machine, the Brother KH 800 from the 1970s.  And just now I’ve gotten a carload of machines and accessories!  It’s an embarrassment of riches!  Or maybe a lot of people are getting out of this dying art.

In truth, it’s challenging to get started when there are few teachers, the machines are (usually) prohibitively expensive to get sight unseen, I don’t think any book or magazine publishers are currently publishing sexy modern patterns for machines, and unlike hand knitting, it’s hard to take your problem project over to a friend’s house for troubleshooting.

In any case, I feel very lucky, this is a whole lot of machine value for the cost of a car ride.  It pays to join knitting guilds, folks.  One guild member’s clutter can be your future clutter… er, treasure!  But seriously, we didn’t talk much but I got the impression that my benefactor had enjoyed machine knitting but was having difficulty taking the bulky, heavy machines to classes and was now ready see someone else enjoy these machines. Carol Murdoch-Miller, you are an angel of the knitting world.  You have given a stranger a beautiful gift of crafting happiness.

As for the added equipment to my small home – my husband smiles, and groans, and teases about the space my stuff takes up.  But I am grateful every day that he appreciates the value of tools.  He really gets it – he was genuinely excited for me to get such an awesome collection of machines and accessories.  And then he lets me store as many knitting machines as I can find in our tiny house!  At least they fold down flat and slide under the bed easily.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually planning to keep all of the machines currently in my house.  I have friends and family who might putter around with them too, and are eager to take them on.  I think I’m just the obsessed one who gets other people going along with these kinds of things.

The ones I’m keeping are the new-to-me 24-stitch punchcard Brother KH 881, the compatible garter carriage, and the KnitKing Bulky punchcard (because I love worsted!) .  I’ll probably pass along the 12-stitch Brother KH 800, since this new one is a real upgrade.  The KH 881 is about 15 years younger, and has two noteworthy features:  the knitleader – which appears to be some kind of guide in which you trace your pattern shape onto a thin plastic sheet and it helps guide your progress; and the punchcard reader takes a 24-stich card.  The old one was from a short-lived period before the 24-stitch card was standardized, there are plenty of patterns that can be halved, but there are a lot more available that cross 24 stitches.

For the recipient of the KH 800, there is a really good video on troubleshooting the card reader – I never got around to that fix.  I’m happy to try to fix it with you, if you’d like!

I looked at the KH 881, and I don’t think it needs a new sponge bar, that seems to be one of the first things that break down, but this one seems to be in ok condition.  I cleaned and oiled and tried to assess if there were missing parts.  So far, it seems like the only missing thing is the extension rails for the lace carriage.  Luckily, there are still shops that sell parts, even if no one is apparently manufacturing new machines of this type anymore.

By the way, while the Brother FTP site seems to be down (unless they moved or something), I found a great many knitting machine manuals over on this site:  http://machineknittingetc.com/ and specifically Brother manuals (even some service manuals) on the Mostly Knitting Machines site.

Investigating my new machines will keep me busy for quite some time, I am sure.  As will finding new places in my house to stash my new equipment!

Until next time, keep those needle-beds clacking…