January 15, 2005

Temptation (or is it cheating?)

Two of the members of our little crafting group (the mother and daughter team who came with us on our yarn store field trip last weekend) both have mentioned that they own - and use - knitting machines. They've talked about them in passing for the past few months and my knitting-enabling-friend and I have been intrigued, but we'd really no idea just what a knitting machine was. Plus I'll admit that hearing the word 'machine' makes me think of something where you plug in an electronic gizmo, feed in the yarn, and poof, out comes a sweater. Somehow that just seems to defeat the purpose of knitting - which is the relaxation that comes from working the yarn and the needles with my own two hands. And I know that there are those out there who might consider such a machine 'cheating'.

So today we all headed over to one of their houses for a demonstration on the knitting machine - to find out just what the heck all the fuss is about. And I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out that it is nothing at all like what I was imagining.

Over the course of an hour the daughter walked me through how the contraption works. It's not electronic at all - it's just a big narrow board with 100 individual needles, and a paddle that slides over the top back and forth (How the paddle creates the stitches on the needles is still a little bit incomprehensible to me, but no matter). She showed me how to do basic knitting - solid colors, stripes, how to work in waste yarn and a special cord that allows you to leave open stitches on the bottom so you can just slide them onto your regular needles to finish the piece later by hand. She then moved on to fair aisle, increases and decreases. She showed me how to make yarn overs that turn out perfect on the finished product (unlike the ones I do by hand which are always kind of raggedy). She showed me how to make cables, and how to work in pattern stitches. It is an amazing little gadget.

So now I have to admit that I am just a little tempted. I tend to prefer patterns with solid colors that incorporate detail from stitchwork instead of multiple colors, but I can see how easy it would be to whip up basic garment pieces with stripes and lacework in far less time than it would take me to do it by hand. One of the reasons why I'm hesitant to make anything more complicated than hats and scarves for the niece and nephews is that little kids grow so fast that I would spend 3 months working on something they'd only fit into for about as long as it took me to knit it up. But with something like the knitting machine I would whip up sweaters for the small fry in just a few hours over a weekend.

I like the fact that you can take the piece off the machine, slide it onto your own needles, and do all the finishing yourself. And I also like the fact that the machine is still very much a manual process, even though it does make the knitting go much faster than doing each stitch individually by hand. But I'm not sure if I do enough knitting of the type that would make the purchase worth the money.

So now I am pondering, just a little bit. The good thing is that they're not going to stop selling these things any time soon, so it's not as if I have to suddenly make up my mind one way or another. But at least now I know what a knitting machine actually is, and what it can do, and I don't see how it could possibly count as 'cheating' to do all the boring stockinette parts on a machine if you're still doing all the fiddly bits by hand.

Posted by Jenipurr at January 15, 2005 10:54 PM

I have a ISM/USM machine, and it's great for what you said, rows and rows of stockinette. Manipulation of stitches for patterns can be as easy or as difficult as you choose--I made a baby blanket that required a fair amount of manipulation every so many rows, but it was still much faster than hand knitting. What I don't particularly like about my knitting machine is that it confines me to one room. Speed vs versatility vs portability. To me, those are the trade-offs. Here's a URL to the baby blanket if you want to take a look:

Posted by: JK at January 17, 2005 10:55 AM

Oh, that's lovely! Now I have one more reason to think about getting a machine of my own - I'm amazed by everything I could do with it!

Posted by: Jenipurr at January 17, 2005 09:42 PM

how do i know what a stockinette stitch is

Posted by: mrs.raz-b at February 23, 2005 02:36 PM

Stockinette is when you knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side; the 'right' side will only have little V's. Any basic knitting book will have some lovely pictures and better explanations of how to tell the difference.

Posted by: Jenipurr at February 23, 2005 02:42 PM