Machine Knitting myth # 1 - "Using a machine is cheating"

Machine knitting

This is the first in a series of posts aiming to de-bunk some of the myths that surround machine knitting.

The longer I have spent working in the dark craft of knitting by machine, the more I have come across a lot of preconceived ideas about what it does and doesn’t involve. A lot of these thoughts seem to have a negative slant and I’m really passionate about setting the record straight. So here goes!

One common theme is that if you use a machine you are somehow cheating; that what you produce is no longer handmade. Invariably this comes from people who have never seen or used a machine before in their lives. I’ve thought about this a lot and I think it partly comes down to the fact that there is the word “machine” in it. The knitting machine is simply a tool - just like a camera, a printing press or a weaving loom. There are very few crafts that involve no tools at all - that are purely 100% handmade. Whilst there are some amazingly advanced machines in industry that literally do everything without any supervision, these cost thousands of pounds and are for an automated industry. This is not what we are talking about when we say “machine knitting”.

The most common domestic knitting machines have no electric functioning at all. (Some of the newer ones do, but this only aids the patterning - the user still has to sit there and do all the knitting and stitch manipulation themselves.) Most machines are often 30-40 years old - positively vintage in comparison to most sewing machines that people use.

There is also a LOT of hand manipulation; asting on, casting off, increasing and decreasing, creating pointelle & cables and a lot of patterning all require you to use your hands (and brains!). If you have a punchcard machine, you can design your own punchcards and that requires mapping all the pattern out on paper before punching every single hole by hand. All the dexterity that is required is, to me, one of the things that makes it such a meditative and enjoyable craft.

Punchcards

The main benefit of the machine is the speed it brings to the knitting - a scarf can be completed in under an hour, a simple jumper can be knitted in a day. And I think that perhaps this is the other reason it’s seen as cheating. The fact that is doesn’t take as long as knitting a jumper by hand is seen as cutting corners - as though you haven’t put enough blood, sweat and tears into your garment. And yet we don’t say this about sewing machines and making your own clothes! Have you ever heard anybody refer to Machine Sewing?!

The easiest way to de-bunk the myth is to have a go! To see all of the benefits that the machine brings in terms of speed, stitch size and flexibility. But this doesn’t replace a lot of the benefits of hand knitting - the portability, lack of restriction and sociability. In fact, I love both. I just love knitting and somethings I prefer to do it by machine and other times in the pub, or on the train or even at the football! Why do we have to specify? I am simply a knitter. I have found through my teaching that often the best machine knitters are those that already knit by hand as they have an intuitive understanding of yarn types and how stitches are formed.

I hope this post has given you food for thought and convinced you that machine knitting is a craft in its own right - that uses as much skill, dexterity and creativity as any other creative practise. There is a really excellent podcast by Knit British that goes into a lot more detail - have a listen here.

And if you want to have a try for yourself I run a variety of workshops - a one day intro or a more in-depth two day Learn to Machine Knit class. You can find all the details here.