by Angelika, machine knitter since 1987.
Selecting your knitting machine should be done carefully. Just as there are different knitting sizes and crochet hook sizes for different sizes of yarns, there are various gauges of knitting machines. Take your time to learn what models knit the size yarns you want to use. Often the requests I get are "I want to do hats." Hats can be knit in any size yarn. There are hats knit out of thick yarn, and there are hats knit out of thin yarn. Thin yarns are better knit on the standard guage machines, while hats done out thick yarn need to be done on a bulky knitting machine. Understanding which machine knits which size of yarn, and understanding the features each machine offers you, is the key to making a wise choice.
What is a knitting machine? Learn what machine knitting is all about, and which knitting machine fits your needs.
If you are thinking about buying a knitting machine for yourself, I strongly suggest you research the models out thoroughly. There is much to understand about what you desire to knit, why you desire to machine knit, and what types of items you'd like to produce.
A few strong recommendations:
Knitting machines are not like sewing machines. It seems like we were born with the basics of sewing machines. Knitting machines are fascinating pieces of equipment with buttons, springs, wires and hooks enough to contact the outer world. Common comments from individuals who have never seen nor have heard of knitting machines, when confronted with one is "WHAT is THAT!". In October of 1984, that was my line. In November of 1984, 9 months pregnant, I was under the machine looking at the 3" x 3" square hanging off the needles. I wasn't hooked, it wasn't a passion. I was POSSESSED!
A knitting machine is a bed of latch hooks. Depending on the gauge, there will be anywhere from 150 to 220 latch hooks in a knitting machine bed. You move the knitting machine carriage from side to side. As the leading edge of the carriage passes over the needles, it shoves the latch hooks forward and the stitches fall behind the latches. As the center of the knitting machine carriage passes over the hooks, it lays the new yarn into the hook, and as the carriage clears the needles, the needles are pulled back. New stitches are formed as the prior row of stitches are knit off the needles. I'd say that at any given time, there are 5 stitches being formed at the same time.
Because the latch hooks are always facing one direction, and because the carriage travels right to left, then left to right, the default fabric is stockinette stitch. If you are a hand knitter, you will want to also read my article, "The Differences between Machine and Hand Knitting" because the defaulting fabric, which is knit every row, for a hand knitter is garter stitch.
Here is a basic education and some key questions I ask my prospective knitters when they come in to buy their own machine.
Heavy & cabled sweaters are usually done on a Bulky or Chunky size machine. These machines have the needles 9mm apart and the hook/latches are large enough to accommodate the thick yarns without splitting the yarn. Other techniques (some automatic, some manually manipulated) that can be done on most bulky/chunky machines are fairisle, tuck, slip, lace, intarsia, weaving and more. DK weight yarns are the smallest yarns handled by bulky machines. The largest yarns it can handle are chunky yarns. Most homespun yarns, unless extremely large, can also be knit on the bulky knitting machine.
Knitted suits and lace curtains are items that are usually (but not always) done on the standard bed machine. These machines have needles 4.5mm apart and the hook/latches are much smaller. Other techniques that can be done on the standard machines are fairisle, tuck, slip, lace, intarsia, manual cables and more. Standard machines usually have more stitch types to select from. The lace is automatic, while on the bulky and midgauge machines lace is manual or what the industry calls hand manipulated. This is the size of machine that produces the St John's knits, if you are familiar with the knitted suits in high level boutiques. The standard will knit very thin (almost as small as thread) yarns, if they are doubled or tripled. Yarns that are traditionally (in the US) called fingering weight are the most popular size to use on this machine. The largest yarn that can be knit is the sport or DK weight. Since different manufacturers of yarn can produce a heavier or lighter sport weight, it could be that even some sport weight yarns won't knit very successfully.
For garments with the look and feel of true hand knitting, the mid-gauge is the machine of choice. These machines have needles 6.5mm apart and the hook/latches are smaller than the bulky, but larger than the standard machine. Other techniques that can be done on the mid-gauge are fairisle, tuck, slip, intarsia, manual cables, manual lace and more. This machine can knit most sport weight yarns, though, not real tight. And if the yarn doesn't get split by the needle hooks (if the yarn is not too fat) the mid-gauge can knit most chunky yarns.
Silver Reed currently manufactures only one model of this size. The Silver Reed SK155 knitting machine is a bulky machine, with a 12 stitch repeat. This machine is mechanical. It does not need electricity. A wonderfully simple machine to operate, yet will not limit your creativity. The 12 stitch repeat is done via a punched card. A few come with the machine. Most machine knitters will purchase the specialized punch and a package of blank cards to design their own stitches. There is no ribber for it. You can hand manipulate the rib (it goes fast), or you can hand knit the rib and hang it on the machine, or you can remove the completed fabric and either hand knit or crochet the hem or trim. The SK155 knitting machine has grown in popularity in 2011, as hand knitters are looking to work up all the yarns they have accumlated over the past few years. This knitting machine is a very very sturdy work horse, designed to last a long time, with appropriate care.
Silver Reed manufactures two models of this size. Both have 220 needles on the bed and knit in the range of fingering weight yarns. The SK840 is the computer ready version. The SK840 is a computer ready model that uses a special data cable and DesignaKnit Software that will allow it to knit a stitch design repeat as wide as the needle bed. This is the go to machine if you are looking to design baby blankets with a full blanket sized design. The SK840 will fairisle, tuck, slip, thread lace, weave and more. Lace is automatic with the purchase of the lace knitting carriage, when you are connected to the computer to download the lace design. The SK840 is broken into two purchases; the bed and the DesignaKnit Software. Without the software, you can still knit stockinet and do many beautiful things. But the SK840 was created with a full spectrum designer in mind. (Read more about the design capabilities of DesignaKnit on the DesignaKnit web page.)
The SK280 knitting machine is 24 stitch repeat machine with 220 needles. It is a mechanical machine. It does not need electricity. This machine comes with a small selection of pre-punched cards to do fairisle, tuck, skip, thread lace, weaving and more. Special blank cards and a special punch will allow you to create your own cards, or recreate a card as specified in your pattern. The lace knitting carriage is an optional accessory.
Both knitting machines models have lace carriages and ribbers as optional purchases. Both machines are the same size and quality. Often with interchangeable parts. The biggest, most obvious difference is that the SK280's punchcards are limited to 24 sts wide (repeatable all across the fabric).. Both machines use the SRP60N ribber.
I like to make my T-tops on this machine, which are simple short sleeved tops with a jewel neckline. I'll choose a very pretty shade of yarn, and maybe something scrumptiously soft, and knit in simple stockinet.
The Silver Reed 6.5mm knitting machine is the LK150 . This is my choice for a plastic bed machine. It has 150 needles on the bed, The plastic carriage glides smoothly over your knitting because the needles have specially designed roll caps. The LK150 also will operate at a 13mm gauge for very large yarns and is indicated thus on the carriage. By hand manipulating the needles you can do cables, lace, tuck, slip, fairisle and more. This is the top selling knitting machine in the Silver Reed line of machines. It is very easy to learn, and pure joy to knit on. I rarely, if ever jams. The creators did a bang-up job on this machine. If you hand knit, the LK150 knitting is a wonderful compliment to your knitting. Once you learn what all it can do, you can apply your knowledge of hand knitting, and come up with some of the most amazing designs.
I love using this gauge of machine for cardigans and long vests. It's also great for kids clothes. Absolutely the best for home decor!
MY OPINION REGARDING DEALERS:. And everyone has their opinion. Hear mine, listen to others and make the decision for yourself. I feel that if you have an active, knowledgeable (see! I said active & knowledgeable) dealer close by, you should buy from her. She will support you through your first projects and lead you into advanced levels of knitting. Dealers are the people of support knit club meetings and doing large seminars. We need them!
You may save $100 by buying mail-order, but the frustration of not having a trusted professional to show you through challenging techniques is JUST NOT worth it. Lessons could run anywhere from $100-$200 and up for a full range.
I hope this guide will be informative. I have pulled my information from my experience since 1984 when I purchased my first machine, then in 1987 became a retailer. I hope I have added to your knowledge of knitting machines and you feel a little more qualified to make your decision.