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“Girls don’t play with erector sets.” OTOH …

You know I’m a dedicated thrift store and garage sale shopper. My habit has saved thousands of dollars over the years while also giving me the thrill of the hunt and the occasional Big Score.

Must confess, though. Thrift stores can also be places to blow money on impulses. To wit:

A few readers may recognize those as knitting machines. (Technically the white one is a knitting machine and the other a ribber.)

I knit. Sometimes. But until earlier this week I only dimly realized that such things as kitting machines existed.

Then the manager’s son spotted me pulling bags of yarn out of the freebie box behind my favorite thrift store and he enthused, “Mom’s got three knitting machines back there, barely used. They just came in. You should take a look.”


The machines were in the employee office. Chris didn’t even plan to put them in the store because, after all, “Who buys knitting machines?” She didn’t know thing one about them — except their eBay prices, which she uses to guesstimate what her own prices should be for unusual items (hint: waaaaay lower).

I looked inside two of the enormously heavy cases (we couldn’t get the third one open) and was immediately fascinated. Such mysterious, complicated workings! Such obvious quality and superb condition.

I was intrigued. I had no real use or place for anything like this. But I told Chris I’d research and get back to her the next morning. Off to the library …

The main things my research told me is that flat-bed knitting machines are versatile and fast once you’re used to them, but they’re fiendishly difficult to learn and tricky to operate. One devotee said, “We’re practically born knowing how to use sewing machines, but knitting machines are completely non-intuitive.”

I also learned useful things about the specific machines to pass along to Chris — their vintage (late 80s) and the sizes of yarn they were built for. They were a “thing” back then, but apparently only one manufacturer still makes flat-bed knitters.

I kept reminding myself that I had NO use for them. But I felt like I did when I was 11 and wanted the erector set that Mom eventually talked me out of because (sigh) “girls don’t play with erector sets.” Elegant machines! So much to explore.

In the morning I went back, got the stuck case unstuck, and sat on the floor more closely examining the machines, the books, and the box of attachments. An hour later the Toyota (yes, Toyota) KS650 knitter and Toyota KR350 ribber were mine. I left one knitter — and sufficient info for Chris to market it knowledgeably — behind.

I paid $30 for the knitter and books, $10 for the ribber, and $5 for the box of attachments. Forty-five dollars is a YUGE splurge in thrift store terms. I tell myself I can sell the machines and their do-dads on eBay for five times what I paid, but I doubt I will.

I bought them simply to learn how they work. To play with them. OTOH, they’re also mechanical, not electric, which could make them useful-ish small-scale production devices in SHTF times or for somebody living off grid.

Both have their manuals, which contain parts lists. When I spread everything out on the kitchen floor, I discovered (“That never happens,” said Chris) that not one single part or accessory was missing — except, of all things, a garden variety crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches, an item every hand knitter already has.

I’m getting ready for company at the end of the month, so it may be a while before I set the knitter up. Anybody out there ever used one of these beasties? I still feel decadent and wildly impulsive for buying them.


  1. Pat
    Pat June 8, 2019 12:59 pm

    How big are they? They look about the length of a typewriter. And would they knit length-wise the length of the carriage?

  2. Claire
    Claire June 8, 2019 2:23 pm

    Pat — They’re about four feet wide and the knitter is maybe double the depth of a typewriter. The garment or pieces of garment would be knitted bottom to top (as on knitting needles), but a full row is knitted in one motion. The item being worked moves toward (?) the operator, not side-to-side along the carriage. Does that make sense?

  3. free.and.true
    free.and.true June 8, 2019 2:36 pm

    Neato burrito! They don’t even appear to have been used at all.

    Oh, and girls TOTALLY can get into erector sets and other mechanical wonders. Well, at least some girls can, and do. ;~)

  4. S
    S June 8, 2019 4:04 pm

    I had a knitter in the early 70s. Smaller, about 30”, and more of a toy. Not nearly as well made and rugged as those Toyotas you have. Mine was a castoff from a neighbor girl.

    It was tricky to set up but once you got the hang it was not so bad. I learned to do several simple patterns.

    Once you got it going that machine could really crank out the knitting. Keeping it in yarn was the main challenge. My grandmother would use the panels I produced to assemble much more complex things.

    You could see the difference, the knitter output was more uniform than handmade, and generally not as tight.

    I learned to do a quick check of every row. You could just push it back and forth but then errors would be a real PITA to undo when you finally did spot them.

    Good luck! Have fun!

  5. Pat
    Pat June 8, 2019 4:14 pm

    Yes, I can picture that, Claire. Thanks for the info. It’s bigger than it looks, but I suspected it might be.

    And I did have a smallish erector set as a kid.

  6. larryarnold
    larryarnold June 8, 2019 6:12 pm

    What a fabulous find. And it even came with a cup of coffee. Or is that tea?

    Back in the day we (boys included) spool-knitted. Pound four finishing nails in the top of a wooden thread spool, then add yarn and a hook.

    Nowadays they sell kits. Lots of them are made in funny shapes, of plastic. Here’s one from “Historical Folk Toys:”

    Good thing nobody told it was also called “French Knitting.” That would have been yucky.

    Good luck with your new endeavor.

  7. david
    david June 9, 2019 9:53 am

    How very self-indulgent and decadent! Wallow in it. The feeling will fade soon enough.

  8. ~Qjay
    ~Qjay June 9, 2019 4:07 pm

    We’re still looking for a decent treadle sewing machine that won’t cost us a fortune. Mrs. Qjay says you have quite there score there!

  9. John Wilder
    John Wilder June 9, 2019 8:23 pm

    “What end do you hook to the Internet? Does it work on wi-fi?”
    -Questions my sons would ask

  10. deLaune
    deLaune June 10, 2019 4:49 am

    My little sister had a knitting machine fifty years ago. She was (and still is) an avid knitter; Dad got the machine for free from a coworker (schoolteacher) who had given up on it. Sis used it for a few years, then sold it.
    I can confirm what “S” said. There was a steep learning curve. Of course, my sister was only nine at the time.

  11. coloradohermit
    coloradohermit June 10, 2019 10:50 am

    Very cool find Claire! Does it suggest that there will be more knitted dragons?

    “girls don’t play with erector sets.
    That reminds me of the Christmas(age 7?) that I asked Santa for a train set and Santa didn’t deliver. I was crushed! Later I was told that girls don’t play with trains. Pooey on that.

  12. Claire
    Claire June 10, 2019 11:26 am

    Neat knitter experiences.

    I have a feeling I’ll end up wishing I’d begun with something more toylike or specialized (it looks as if Amazon has tubular … thingies … that make hats and socks a lot easier to produce than the cramped old multi-needle hand methods).

    But boy, these machines are wonders! They can do everything — cabling (my favorite), fair isle color work, lace, plus a few types of knitting I’ve never heard of. The knitter also reads punch cards to execute various kinds of patterns. It came with five factory-punched cards, and among the extras I picked up (not shown in the photo) are blank cards and the special punch for making custom patterns. There’s also an add-on device for intarsia color work and a set of garter bars (which I don’t believe have anything to do with garter stitches, though I have a LOT to learn yet).

    As to more knitted dragons in the future, CH, that would be an extremely interesting challenge, as the dragons involve cabling, lace, built-in i-cord, and multiple patterns of decrease and increase stitches. By hand, they’re an intermediate project. On a machine … whew. But I admit I immediately thought trying them — AFTER a few simple scarves.

    (For those who don’t know what dragons CH refers to, I’ll link later to a 2015 blog entry if I can find the images; most images didn’t carry over when I moved from BHM to a self-owned site. They’re pretty cool.)

  13. M
    M June 10, 2019 12:17 pm

    Oh, that looks like EXACTLY what I should be looking for for my wife for Christmas goodies. That type of not intuitive mechanical thing is the type of thing she loves, particularly when attached to something that makes things from thread/yarn/fabric.

    Very interesting.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 12, 2019 8:58 pm

    But boy, these machines are wonders! They can do everything […] It came with five factory-punched cards, and among the extras I picked up (not shown in the photo) are blank cards and the special punch for making custom patterns.

    Do everything, you say?
    Blank punch cards to produce custom patterns, you say?
    You know what the Jacquard looms evolved into, right?

    Python is a good first computer language.

  15. Claire
    Claire June 13, 2019 9:35 am

    “You know what the Jacquard looms evolved into, right?”

    Yup. 🙂 I was a fan of James Burke and his Connections. That episode particularly struck me.

    That said, I think I’ll forego learning computer languages (though I did learn, and even tutor BASIC, waaaaaay back in the day). I’ve got enough on my hands with writing, drawing, knitting, creative goofing off, and the final several years of finishing details to convert Ye Olde Wreck into Mo Saoirse Hermitage.

  16. Paul Joat
    Paul Joat June 14, 2019 12:32 pm

    I don’t knit I don’t wear much in the way of clothing that could be made on a machine like that, but given the opportunity I would have bought them. A mechanically programmable machine that makes clothing is cool.

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