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Dear readers, 

We’ve been following Olgalyn Jolly’s brilliant writing and documenting of her machine knitting for ages, with equal parts admiration and mystification. We’ve noticed some hand knitters dipping into the machine knitting waters of eBay, and wondered: would Olgalyn share her knowledge in our pages? We asked her, and were thrilled when she said yes. Welcome, Olgalyn, and feel free to leave your beautiful, mysterious swatches right here, anytime.

—Kay and Ann

Don’t hate me because I machine knit. And whatever you think of what I do, please don’t call it cheating. I am a proud machine knitter, and I can knit a sweater-wide row of stockinette in 4 seconds flat.

Machine knitting is a handcraft. (Industrial knitting, the type that take place in knitting mills, is a different topic of discussion.) Most knitters using domestic machines learn that manual dexterity is a requirement, just as with hand knitting.

It’s not all about speed. Designing a sweater to be machine knitted will require the same amount of measuring, math, and creativity as designing a sweater to be knitted by hand. Though the act of machine knitting is usually faster than hand knitting, there are times when this is not the case. I’m pretty sure an experienced hand knitter can produce a square foot swatch of garter stitch about as quickly as I can produce a square foot of garter on a domestic knitting machine. That’s because a home knitting machine is configured to knit certain types of fabrics easily: variations of jersey (stockinette) or rib fabrics, to be exact. Intarsia is an exception and can require much handwork. Garter stitches are in a family of stitches demanding much hand manipulation of stitches. (Remember I said manual dexterity was required? More about hand manipulations later.)

Machine knitting and hand knitting are two distinct yet related crafts, producing similar outcomes.

Here’s a close look at a Passap knitting machine with the carriage, also known as the lock. This is what its Swiss manufacturers call it. It’s threaded with orange yarn. You can see machine knitting needles in different positions sitting in each slot.

Just like you, hand knitter, we machine knitters must master the intricacies of casting on, binding off, increasing, and decreasing. Just like you, we create stitches by pulling one loop of yarn through a previously made loop. In our case, however, each one of the hundreds of needles on a machine holds a single stitch (and perhaps one or two more when doing the fancy stuff). We knit many stitches with each pass of the carriage. Some stitch patterns must be created with hand manipulations of the yarn, and we use special tools for that.

This cable stitch was made on a very basic machine, manufactured in Japan, using the 3-prong transfer tools shown and finished with the latch tool.

As with hand knitting, it takes study and practice for a machine knitter to learn the techniques for complex texture and colorwork. In order to knit some stitch patterns—textural work (like the gold swatch at the top of this page) and jacquards (like the off-kilter plaid swatch below)—we select particular groups of needles for knitting on each row.

Knitters with basic machines select their needles by hand. Those of us using more advanced machines can preprogram our needle selection either mechanically with a punchcard—the same way the earliest computers were programmed—or electronically with an on board computer, depending on the machine.

I  knitted this swatch without any special hand manipulations. Much time was spent developing the design, choosing the materials, punching the card, and keeping track of colors, while knitting on my machine.

Each of these swatches could have been knitted by hand. I had a blast imagining them, experiknitting them, and then executing the designs on my machine. For me, the brain-to-swatch pipeline is shorter with machine knitting, but then I’m not a real hand knitter.

Though I’ve knitted numerous sweaters on a machine piece by piece, casting on, binding off, increasing and decreasing as necessary by hand, my favorite part is always developing the stitch pattern. By machine or by hand, a sweater takes a long time, no matter how you knit one.

I designed this sweater to be knitted on a machine that uses bulky yarns only.

History of Machine Knitting

While the earliest instance of hand knitting, as we know it, is rather fuzzy (pun intended), we do know when the earliest version of the knitting machine came to be. Englishman William Lee invented the first knitting frame in 1589. In many ways, it was similar to our current machines, except there was no carriage to carry the yarn across the needles, and the needles were simple hooks.

Though his knitting machine sowed the first seeds of an Industrial Revolution that would begin in earnest a couple of centuries later, Lee did not reap any benefit from his invention. Beginning in 1599, at a time when monarchs ruled Europe and granted patents, Lee applied for a patent on his invention twice to Queen Elizabeth I of England and once, after relocating to France, to King Henry IV of France. Each time Elizabeth I refused, as she feared the invention would put gainfully employed hand knitters out of work. Henry IV died before Lee’s claim was honored.

At last, in England in 1657, Oliver Cromwell officially declared the knitting frame an English invention by William Lee and granted the patent. Unfortunately for Mr. Lee, this was 47 years after he died.

Lee’s first machine must have had hooks of similar size to the contemporary machine needles pictured above, as they produced a fabric of 8 stitches per inch. Both the hand knitting needle (US size 2) and this contemporary machine needle produce stitches of about the same size.

A couple of centuries after she died, Queen Elizabeth’s fears became reality. In early nineteenth-century England, a small group of displaced, yet skilled, textile artisans would resort to smashing automated looms and knitting machines. These artisans called themselves Luddites.

Machine Knitting for Hand Knitters?

I’ve noticed an upswing in hand knitters, including many sweater designers, who are interested, curious, and venturing to learn machine knitting. I sometimes teach the weekend intensive course, Machine Knitting 101, at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, New York, where those new to the machines learn the basics. April 2019 marked the first time that my sold-out class of six was made up entirely of hand knitters!

One hand knitter hoped to use a machine to handle the “boring parts” of hand knitting. Did she mean stockinette? A machine can indeed be helpful there.

Another hand knitter in the class had inherited an enormous stash of yarn and wanted a tool to knit the yarn more quickly. Knitting machines gobble up yarn. In fact we prefer to purchase yarn on gigantic cones, for quantity’s sake with an added benefit of smooth unwinding. Take caution here; most knitters who knit to work through stash end up acquiring an added stash of coned yarn.

The other hand knitters were eager and thrilled to add a new (to them) fiber-related craft to their maker arsenals. Yes! I believe the day is here when hand and machine knitters can live and work together in harmony.



Source: “The History of Knitwear,” by Lisa Donofrio-Ferrezza and Marilyn Hefferen, chapter 1 of Designing a Knitwear Collection: from Inspiration to Finished Garments (Fairchild Books 2017).  there are varying accounts of these historic details, but the important dates match in all sources.

About The Author

Olgalyn Jolly is a knit designer who lives and works in New York City. With training from Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and in the fashion industry, Olgalyn currently produces a collection of luxurious sweater knit fabrics and is the creator of the online course How to Cut and Sew a Sweater. She teaches Introduction to Knitwear Design to fashion design majors at FIT and machine knitting to knitters and non-knitters alike at the Textile Arts Center.

Olgalyn enjoys teaching people of all skill levels the intricacies and the joy of working with sweater knits.


  • I’m so glad to see this topic added! I acquired a basic LK150 last year after badly injuring my hands—I was so afraid I’d never be able to handknit again. I was NOT giving up knitting! Fortunately my hands recovered and I’ve handknit four adult sized sweaters since, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the LK150, especially in the summer when having a heap of wool in my lap is not inviting. Welcome, Olgalyn!

  • This was very interesting to read. Thank you.

    What I like best about handknitting and crochet (for which no machine exists) is the portability. A project bag goes everywhere with me. It’s perhaps the one reason I haven’t taken up sewing, and so too with machine knitting. But it is clearly a handcraft, agree 100% Olgalyn!

    • you can do crochet in a knitting machine, but it is as slow as the one done by hand!! so…..

  • Wow, is this interesting! I’m a hand knitter but getting up there in age and have plenty of issues like arthritis. This gives me hope – thanks so much!

  • Thanks for this very interesting article; I hope to see more as I am trying to learn about machine knitting to supplement my hand knitting.

    • What a wonderful article. You took a rather complex technical subject, added in fascinating history, personal experience and specific examples and had me on the edge of my seat (it probably was the Elizabeth I part). Now I’m thinking, would it be possible to do the stockinette body of the sweater on the machine and then take it off and add on embellished cuffs, neckline, etc. by hand? I happen to like stockinette but I have a lot of stash to go through:-). Chloe

      • Yes,you can. You can also start with a hand knit edging, hang the live stitches on the machine, and Stockinette away!

  • A lot of my hand knitting designing skills and techniques come from learning how to knit and design using a knitting machine.

  • I was clueless until now. This is fascinating and a wonderful article! Thank you. I look forward to more…

  • Thank you so much for including articles about machine knitting. I have been hand knitting for about 55 years and machine knitting for about 20, although I still consider myself an advanced beginner machine knitter. I started out with an Ultimate Sweater machine, then moved to an LK 150 (which I love) and finally yearned for a metal bed machine. I acquired a Brother 260 with ribber and 940 with ribber. I am anxious to learn stitch patterns and then incorporate those patterns into adult sweaters or baby blankets or sweaters. Thank you again for introducing us to Olgalyn. I look forward to her posts in the future.

  • As a hand knitter for 5 decades and a machine knitter for 25 years I was thrilled to see this article. And it is true: a stash of coned yarn can build up in no time!!!

  • Thank you so much for this post! I have always wanted to machine knit (in addition to handknitting, which I love). I see it as its own craft – very machine-technical, able to create extremely fine fabric. When I retire, it will be my “new” craft (in addition to hand knitting, spinning and sewing) to see if I can recreate beautiful RTW cashmere sweaters. I wish there were more online about this type of knitting because it really is a far frontier that would have more uptake if there were more easily accessible info.

  • This was fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. For me, this opens a window I didn’t know I wanted to open. I’m now intrigued!

  • Excellent article. I would love to know more about machine knitting.

  • Really interesting! Of course, now I’m trying to figure out how to translate that blue and white swatch to hand knitting!

  • Thank you, this topic is so interesting & fascinating! Creativity knows no bounds

  • Thank you! Such an educational article! Loved learning about this topic.

  • I appreciate this informative article! Thank you for explaining the intricacies of machine knitting.

  • Thank you for the inspiration! One of my MIL’s friends had been given a friend’s two knitting machines, and she passed them on to me, and I really need to learn how to use them!!!

  • I have two knitting machines, both gifts from my stepmother & dad; she had a roomful at one time — five, I think! Though not used often (for years) (and years) (and decades), I can attest to the skill involved. It was in the instructions for sewing together a machine-knit sweater that I first learned about magical mattress stitch. I found the whole process quite fascinating and loved the quality of even the very beginner sweaters I made. I would love to learn/discover/knit more! All I really need is 72 hours in a day…

  • So happy to see this coming to the MDK site! I acquired a Brother standard machine with a ribber a couple of years ago and have enjoyed doing some basic, boxy style sweaters on it, but do envision designing more things. I admit to loving hand-knitting more, at this point, but I do like the speed at which my machine knits stockinette.

  • Thank you for featuring Olgalyn! As a long time hand and machine knitter, I’ve been enjoying her blog for many years. Happy to know that others will also be enjoying her knowledge.

  • Thank you Olgalyn. I especially enjoyed the interesting history of machine knitting.

  • Thank you! I cannot afford a knitting machine, but I have been thinking that it could be a useful tool. I hadn’t realized how versatile it could be. What an interesting article about a another aspect of fibre arts!

  • I had no idea about the intricacies of machine knitting. What an informativie article. I feel like a star should shoot over my head and I should say, “The More You Know!”

  • That sweater that you designed is absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for including the picture.

    Although there was a time in my life when I wanted a knitting machine, I have a hunch that I would now prefer hand knitting. However, I would dearly love to try machine knitting to actually experience it. Perhaps it would be that I would end up doing both.

  • Dear Olgalyn, what a wonderful article. I have been machine knitting for 35 years, designing and teaching, following something my Mum did in the ’60’s when she had a Swiss Magic. I now belong to our local Fibre Artists group who are stitchers, quilters and amazing fiber artists in cloth and one of our group forwarded this article to me saying she so appreciates my work even more now. This is a wonderful explanation of what we do and how it’s not cheating but very involved.

    You might have left out the time it takes to rescue work when for some reason (tired, working late on a project and not noticing the cone is empty, a fault in the yarn, etc) the next row sends your work plummeting to the floor…maybe still attached a bit to the needles so it becomes an unravelled mess when it hits the floor!

    • Oh,don’t remind me!

  • Back in the 80’s when I moved from California to NYC…. I purchased a knitting machine…. was never
    very successful with it…. Sold it to a student @FIT…. Hope she had better success !

  • Welcome! Wonderful explanation of machine knitting. So many people think it’s easy! It takes a long time for it to get anywhere close to easy! I’m still waiting!

  • Just love your information and so enjoyed your demo at the Northeast machine knitters get together

  • Really enjoyed this article, as I am a hand knitter with a few machines, flatbed and sock.Hope to read many more of her articles, they are well written, interesting and nicely illustrated.

  • There was lots of interest in machine knitting, around here anyway (Detroit) in the 80s and 90s. My friend because interested and so did I. We had babies and part of the appeal to me was being about to knit things for my children and finish before they had grown out of them. I wanted a simple Bond machine but my husband, an engineer, bought me one of the first electronic machines. Unfortunately there was no support nearby. No one offered classes or help for this particular machine. With two small children and a job It was easier to have know than spend hours trying to figure it out. My friend got into it and ended up with a big, $6000 machine. She stayed with it for quite a while and was part of a machine knitting club for quite a few years. Then interest died out, the club faded away and I don’t know if any machines being should around here any more. My friend when back to have knitting about 20 years ago. It’s nice to see it having a revival now.

  • Thank you for this article. I am grateful that you said machine knitting is not cheating. My hand knitting friends always say that. I think of it as another way to accomplish something. I do both hand and machine knitting. Each has its own purpose. I had to search for quite some time to find a place to learn machine knitting. I drive 80 miles one way twice a month to attend classes and have for the past 4 years. I absolutely love it and my teacher. I wish there were more resources for machine knitters, like patterns and magazines. A large part of machine knitting is taking hand knitting patterns and converting them for the machine. I think it’s time for machine knitting to come out of the closet.

  • As a hand knitter, I will admit that I caught the machine knitting fever a few years ago and was then on a mission to become proficient with 120 needles at once. With the purchase of a Brother Knitking 840 and a ribber, I thought that I was on my way to fast, easy, sweater knitting for all of my friends and family. After reading all of the users manuals, books, and magazines, I could find, I began swatching, swatching, swatching…and I realised that machine knitting is not the fast, easy, answer to sweater knitting. It is work, hard work and patience. It is discipline and creativity beyond such that I possess. It is glorious and beautiful and much, much more. It is to me, something of the gods of fine fabric and yarns. It is beyond my reach even after months and months of practice. So now, I read the articles of the women and men whom have mastered this art, whom have the attributes of the gods that can produce these glorious works of art that are machine knit garments. And I dream of being one of them as I pick up my two needles, size 8 not 2, and begin a sweater of my own.

  • Yippee! Machine knitting! Woohoo for Ms. Jolly and Ann and Kay for inviting her to your conversation!!!!

    Ms. Jolly also contributed a great article in Threads about Sewing up a sweater from machine knitted fabric made by machine Knitters like herself.


  • So awesome! Liz from Sheep to Shawl in South Deerfiled, MA passed this on to me. I have a compuknit III Brother machine and dont know how to use it, but KNOW that it, with all its accesories will add to a local textile hub. Creative Economy means machine knitting local garments. Thank you!!!

  • I remember a segment on CBS Sunday Morning years ago about actress Karen Allen. After having her son, she left Hollywood, took a course at FIT (I believe) in designing knitwear. She opened a shop somewhere in Massachusetts and uses machine knitting for her garments. I enjoyed this article. I was given a Brother machine 20+ years ago, but confess I’ve never used it. Since I hate knitting blankets, I may get the machine out and use it for them. Looking forward to more articles.from Olgalyn.

  • So interesting – thank you for this article! I have been machine-knitting curious, I would love to do Olgalyn’s weekend intensive class one day. I’ve suspected that machine knitting also takes lots of dexterity and is not ‘the easier’ way to knit. Maybe one of these days, I’ll make it to her class in Brooklyn… I hope we’ll see more of Olgalyn on MDK!

  • I enjoyed the history lesson. Thank you!

  • I have been machine knitting for 30 years
    I have AZ brothers 940
    I am very happy, as I have a good machine.. are Passaups still.being made?

  • Beautifully written. I love that you talked about what an art form machine knitting is. It is a complex art that takes every bit as much talent and time as hand knitting. I have been enamored by the craft for almost 40 years and still work on my machine almost every day…..and learn something new with every project!

  • Interesting read. I would love to know, are there any hand knit stitches that cannot be replicated by a knitting machine.

  • Can i get hand kitting m/c in India..

  • I’m a proud machine knitting too, I love to do kids sweater, baby blankets, hats, anything for ,young kids

  • I can’t get my yarn to catch on my deluxe knitting machine

  • Hello, I’m so glad to see this subject on your website, and to meet a someone who can clearly make the Passap ‘sing’. I love Passap machines, but have only just got back to mine after several years of working on electronic Japanese machines. Like Olgalyn, I am an educator in textile design and enjoy sharing my knowledge with a wider audience. You may have seen my book ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’, in which I offer loads of advice and information about hand and machine knitting. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to encourage knitters in general to consider swapping between the two craft skills as and when appropriate to their working practise and the desired outcome of their knitting. The book has over 500 illustrations and step by step instructions on both hand and machine knit techniques, plus design examples and plenty of practical advice on buying a machine, using equipment and the suitability of fibre and types for both hand and machine knitting. I have watched Olgalyn’s videos on YouTube with interest.

  • I have two knitting machines. Where can I purchase cone yarn in the US? None of the local shops carry cone yarn. It’s confusing to shop online because the yarns seem to be packaged for weavers. My understanding is weaving yarn is different from knitting yarn in how it is treated in the manufacturing process.

  • I inherited 2 knitting machines, I’m a visual learner. I can’t find anyone in my area that teaches how to use a machine are there any videos that teaches LInda Free
    Lolo, Montana

  • I love this essay and I love machine knitting. Love love love it. I will basically run my mouth about it with anyone who gets too close to me. It works my brain in a different way from handknitting. I do both, often hybrid projects. I have two machines, both Brothers: a KX350 (truly believe this is the ideal starter machine) and a KH965i. I daydream about having some studio space where I can leave my machines set up. They are hazardously similar to cat toys…

  • I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thank you, I will try and check back more often. How frequently you update your site?

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