The first thing many hand-knitters jokingly say about machine knitting is something to the tune of “Hey, isn’t that cheating?!” And after finishing a hat in half an hour and a full-length six-skein scarf in an evening, I can see what they mean. But like weaving, loom knitting, or spinning, machine knitting is a fiber art all its own.
Cheating, it is not. Once you see what a knitting machine is capable of, you may want to give it a try. I’ve been flying through my stash and no worsted weight yarn is safe.
Long Live the King
A couple of months ago, I acquired an Addi Express King Knitting Machine from a friend who wasn’t using it anymore.
It’s a circular machine that knits 46-stitch tubes, but it can knit flat panels as well. This particular best-selling machine is made in Germany and became hard to find during the pandemic due to several viral YouTube videos and lots of crafty people with extra time on their hands, so I jumped at the chance to own one.
My first thought was … will this be one of those gadgets that ends up sitting in a closet somewhere? To prevent that from happening, I started a project right away. And that’s when I became hooked. (Literally. This machine has lots of hooks.)
I quickly discovered that machine knitting is like hand-knitting’s louder, faster, extrovert cousin. Fast, fun, and a little bit rattly. Learning to knit on a machine is a journey and like anything else, you need to take it step by step.
Cast-on and Crank Out a Hat
The first big difference between hand-knitting and machine knitting is the cast on. There’s a fun weaving action to start things off, a back and forth motion that is pretty easy to get the hang of. I have owned two different vintage flatbed machines in the past and found this circular machine was much more user-friendly to set up.
After you cast on, you thread the yarn through the yarn guide and off you go, cranking away!
The first project hand-knitters typically make is a scarf, and the first project new circular machine knitters make is a hat.
A quick study of info on the internet reveals a pretty basic hat recipe that works on most machines: 120 to 140 rounds using worsted weight yarn will make a perfect cuffed beanie with double thickness. This is created by making a tube on your machine that’s twice as long as you’ll need. The length is difficult to eyeball because the stitches are stretched out until you take your project off the machine, so using the row counter on your machine is critical.
You cast on, you crank … and if you’re lucky your yarn will work perfectly and smoothly and out comes a tube that you can fold into itself to make a hat!
I think it really helps to have a hand-knitting background before trying to use a knitting machine; understanding how stitches look and work is definitely helpful here. If you know how to do a three-needle bind-off and pick up live stitches, you already know how to transform machine-knitted pieces into a finished project.
Sounds simple enough, huh? Almost too good to be true? This is where any machine knitter will laugh, maybe with a few tears in their eyes because there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve. Machine knitting does require technique and skill, the same as knitting by hand does. It’s fiddly.
It can be aggravating. You need to hand-crank; nothing is automatic. Your yarn may not like your machine, and vice-versa. It may be too thick, too thin, or it may not have a tight enough twist. It may skip or stick, causing dropped stitches and anxiety. Rescuing a tucked stitch can be stressful if not traumatizing, and changing colors and keeping proper tension can be tricky.
But remember when you first learned to knit by hand? Anything worthwhile takes a bit of practice and patience. And it’s all worth it.
After making a basic hat … which became many hats … I made Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Destination Scarf using six skeins of Lopi, which was a bit of a challenge because Lopi is a sticky, fuzzy yarn. But I was determined, and with the right tension it cranked out beautifully.
Then I made a hybrid half hand-knit, half machine-knit cowl and hat set using Clinton Hill Cashmere, which was a fun experiment. (Cashmere … in a knitting machine? Living on the edge.)
And my most recent project was something I’ve wanted to make since my very first hand-knitting days—an iconic handknit pattern by Jared Flood, the Noro Striped Scarf (Ravelry link).
All these years later, I discovered a bag of Kureyon in my stash, meant for this exact scarf and decided it was time to make one. I adapted the handknit pattern for the knitting machine and out came beautiful stripes made by switching skeins of Noro every two rows, which was thrilling and also a bit frightening.
It’s a whole new world.
As with any hand-knitting project I’ve taken on over the years, I have learned something new with each machine project I’ve made.
There are lots of pros to machine knitting. It can be a lifesaver for people with hand or wrist pain. It’s a fantastic time-saver if you knit lots of hats or scarves for charity. Machine knitting is great for swatches, panels or squares for patchwork. If you set a stopwatch as you machine-knit your first project, you will be in awe of what you have accomplished. I have had tons of fun cranking out hats for friends, family and for charity.
Of course, there are some minor drawbacks, too. You can’t knit a 100-stitch cowl on a machine with only 46 hooks, so there are some circumference limitations.
But with patience and practice, you can make a sweater on this Addi machine. A sweater!
I’ve gone down several knitting machine rabbit holes, joined all the groups and hope to find a sock cranking machine someday.
I will always and forever knit by hand. You can’t replace the love I have in my heart for that quiet, repetitive, meditative process. But I have really enjoyed adding machine knitting to my skillset. Learning a new thing is never a bad thing. (Half-hour hats and six-skein scarves in an evening aren’t a bad thing, either.)
Check out Jen’s YouTube videos at Jen Geigley Knits to follow along with her knitting machine adventures.
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