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Tending to my (experimental) knitting

With company gone, life back to normal, and too many rainy July days, I finally decided to haul out, assemble, and learn something about those knitting machines I scored early last month.

The days I discovered, researched, and bought the machines, I was hot to try them out. By the time they’d sat for weeks, my attitude was merely dutiful. Sigh. I already told the blog I have these machines. Somebody’s going to ask what I did with them. I better do soooooomething even if I don’t feel like it.

So Thursday morning the Toyota KS650 knitter wasn’t the only heavy thing as I dragged equipment into the kitchen, raised the drop-down leaf on my tiny table, and started learning to assemble the components and set them for stitching. My mood was a bit thick, and my first attempts to use the machine didn’t help.

The manual says for first experiments, use extra bulky yarn. Literal-minded me, I go and get the super-bulkiest wool blend in my yarn boxes — and instantly create three messy jams among the dozens of slender little metal needles before even managing to cast on. And the carriage (the thing that does the actual knitting), which is manually pushed back and forth over the needle bed, needed to be drawn by draft horses.

I did manage to produce this deformed little swatch with that super-bulky yarn. It’s kind of cute, with all those weird tentacles and the big bite out of its side.

Don’t be fooled by the few inches that actually look like normal knitting. Despite having both tensioners wide open loose, that fabric is so stiff and dense I’d carpet a floor with it before I’d wear it.

I was about to blog, “Okay, I’ve done my duty and tried the machines. Now they’re going into the attic in case of doomsday,” when I decided to experiment with a medium-thick yarn (worsted weight) — and that turns out to be what Toyota considers “extra bulky.”

Shazam. From there everything (well, most everything) was beer & skittles. The cat’s meow. Feline pajamas. Nifty zorch. OMG.

A swatch of knit fabric that would take hours takes minutes. Zoom. Zip. And except in cases of human error or machine malfunction, it’s perfect.

So I ventured to add punch cards to the machine. With punch cards and various settings (of which the machine has many and mysterious), you can create all manner of texture patterns and do some limited color design.

I ended up creating patterns like these after no more than an hour or three of putzing with the machine, consulting the manual, and having The Dreaded Learning Experiences.

And fast? In fact, when I went make that green-and-white experiment in two-color pattern knitting, it went so easy I ended up making a 6-foot-long skinny scarf in that elaborate pattern in less than half an hour. I can’t tell you how long that would take me with wooden needles, and before I finished I’d have screwed up the pattern half a dozen times.

I bow to the machine.

It was fun, besides. Overall, it was also a Learning Experience of the best and least painful kind. And there are still more punch cards, more settings, and more attachments to try. Which brings up the drawbacks of machine knitting.

1) A ball of yarn that would last a hand-knitter two days (or two months, depending on said knitter’s speed and dedication) disappears in minutes before startled eyes. Not that machine knitting uses any greater amount of yarn per stitch; it doesn’t. It’s merely that it produces fabric that fast.

2) Machines are made for speedy, accurate production of repeating stitches. That’s what they’re good for. Through various attachments or manual tweaks, you can do more customizing, but it’s often so tedious you might as well hand knit. (There will be none of those intricate dragons made on these machines.)

3) Without such time-wasting tweaking, the machine can’t make dimensionally stable, relatively non-stretchy fabric (like seed or moss stitches, for you knitters in the audience). Those more stable fabrics make the best scarves and scarves are the easiest, handiest, giftiest thing to knit.

4) Knitting machines are herkin’ big equipment. Heavy, too. And a bit tricky to set up (though not as bad as some websites warned). Unless you have dedicated space to keep them ready to use, you might not get as much out of them as you’d hope.

Anyhow, that’s kind of a moot point because I don’t expect many readers will be in the market for these big flat-bed knitting machines. They were a very 1980s thing. Only one company (not Toyota; Silver Reed) still makes them and the original ones available on eBay are overpriced. But if you ever run across one on Craigslist or in a local shoppe …

I don’t know that the machines I got will have any practical use. I mainly wanted to explore their workings, to play with them and learn them. But I got pretty excited about how much could be done how easily and thought a mini-review was in order. After I blog this, I’m headed back to experiment some more.

9 Comments

  1. Comrade X
    Comrade X July 20, 2019 1:01 pm

    So now when the doldrums of the rainy season hits methinks I know a therapy.

    You know anyone with some alpacas?

  2. jed
    jed July 20, 2019 5:16 pm

    > Nifty zorch

    And, Bob’s your uncle.

    The really important question: can you make cunning hats with it?

  3. StevefromMA
    StevefromMA July 20, 2019 5:18 pm

    Those are cool. My wife saw the pictures and asked if you sell them. I said you weren’t a capitalist. (joke).

  4. free.and.true
    free.and.true July 20, 2019 8:52 pm

    Wow, I’m jealous. And you know, legwarmers are back in style.

  5. Joel
    Joel July 21, 2019 8:34 am

    Punch cards! How…Victorian!

  6. Those People
    Those People July 21, 2019 3:45 pm

    Ooooooooooowwwwww!!!
    Cunning hats…….the Swedes make long head-size tubes similar to that green and white job: add pointy ends, sew up the seam, then stuff one end into the other, fold up the brim. Double thick beanie with quadruple thick brim—warm enough for Minnesota. “Dubbelmossa”

  7. Jorge
    Jorge July 23, 2019 3:08 pm

    I am not a knitter but do love old tech. Are those really punch card readers or is it paper tape? The picture you show seems to be paper tape.

  8. Claire
    Claire July 23, 2019 6:48 pm

    ComradeX — Yep, we’ve got alpacas and llamas around here, and I have a collection of locally spun wools that I’ve picked up at garage sales, store closings & such. I’ll try them out, but so far it seems as if the machines prefer smooth, commercially spun yarns, not so much hand-crafted ones.

    free.and.true — Legwarmers! Those would be a perfect project for the machines. I’m working up my nerve to try attaching the ribber & that might be especially good for making legwarmers.

    Jorge — I’m not sure I get the distinction between true punch cards and paper tape, but I can tell you that the card is plastic and its holes and blanks (as it automatically cycles through the machine) set the positions of those switches just beneath. Then the carriage has two “memory dials” that move past the switches and do … um, something or another. 😉

    jed — No cunning hats ala Firefly, but perhaps some cunning Swedish hats as suggested by Those People.

    Joel — It may be Victorian, but it’s still high tech to me. 🙂

    StevefromMA — Thank your wife for her v*te of confidence, but right now I’m not sure anybody would actually want the result of the confluence of my skills and a knitting machine. I don’t know whether to LOL or cry over some of my results.

  9. ellendra
    ellendra July 24, 2019 6:38 pm

    One of my grandmothers was the type of person to buy every nifty gadget that came along, whether she’d use it or not. When I was little, she got a knitting machine and my dad had to help her set it up. She spent a couple hours showing off all the things she could do with it, and then as far as I know never used it again.

    But, the scarf she made me while showing off? I wore that every winter for 30 years. It held up better than anything I tried to replace it with, only giving out after one of the neighbor’s dogs got hold of it, and even then, it only has a small 1″ hole that I could probably fix if I can find it again.

    You’ll never hear me dissing something made on a knitting machine.

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