Monday, March 21, 2011

Ways to Improve Your Knitting - Fix Your Sponge Bar!

Some of you don't know that there's a sponge bar hiding inside your knitting machine.  This is a metal strip with foam rubber glued to it, and it's critical to your flatbed knitting machine working properly. 

I get mysterious questions about machines doing diabolical things to ruin the knitting, jam the machine, misbehave at the worst possible moments, and generally flummox poor, hard-working knitters.  I usually write back, guessing at what the problem might be, and nearly always mentioning the sponge bar as a possible culprit.  A worn-out sponge bar has caused the following problems with my own knitting:
  • Jams
  • Miss-patterning
  • Dropped lace stitches
  • Sloppy needles that don't stay put
  • Garter carriage chaos
  • Falling ribber needles
  • Misery and cussing 
Many of the knitters write later and say their problem went away after replacing the sponge bar.

In most machines, the sponge bar fits sponge-side down above the needles all across the needle bed.  It's under the metal plate just behind the needle number strip.  You can get it out by pushing on one of its plastic end tabs, and just for grins, if you never have taken it out, look for instructions in your manual and push it out partway. (WARNING:  do not ever remove the sponge bar with the garter carriage on the bed!  Never, never!  I have not stumbled into this problem myself, yet, but I'm told that disassembly will then be required to remove the GC from the machine.  Horrors!) 

Once it's sticking out part of the way, pinch the foam rubber and see if it has any bounce at all.  It should be puffy enough to squash the needles downward.

I tend to give my sponge bar the squish test whenever I'm about to begin a real project.  I might not bother if I'm running up a demo swatch, but an afghan, sweater, or anything lacy?  You bet, I'll take a moment to squeeze and see if it's squashed before I attempt any serious knitting!

It will probably be at least partly smashed down in each spot where there's a needle.  Sometimes you can get a little more life out of a sponge bar by moving it just a tiny bit so the un-smashed spots are pushing on the needles.  If it's too smashed, you will need to replace it.  If you can't find a sponge bar to buy, you can put new foam in (see http://www.knittsings.com/ for great instructions) or you can use weatherstripping to replace the foam. 

I know people (inspiring, organized souls) who get much longer service out of their expensive sponge bars by taking them out of the machine to rest whenever they're not knitting.  I hope you can do that, but I admit that I don't remember to do it, myself.  I could make the excuse that my machines never cool off, but it wouldn't be true.  The truth is that I'm just a rather absent-minded dreamer whose brain has wandered somewhere remote much of the time. 

Right now I've been knitting on the bulky and neglecting the standard, so I could do this if I were more mindful and organized.  So, do as I say, not as I do... 

I've also heard that you can revive a sponge bar with cleaning, but I've had no luck with that.  I've always had to replace the foam, or replace the whole bar when mine gets squashed.

Oh - didja know that Ultimate Sweater Machines also have a sponge?  You pop out the vertical gray horizontal pieces above the needles and there's foam rubber in there.  I tried knitting without the foam one day, because the lady at the Bond help line said it might help with short-row issues, but I couldn't stand knitting without it.  She said the original Bond machines didn't have foam rubber, but I notice that they also have a slightly different carriage design.  Just a side note. 

Passaps have a spring, not a sponge bar.

29 comments:

  1. I should have read your excellent advice yesterday! I removed the sponge bar while the garter carriage was still on the needlebed. Why O Why did I do that??? Thankfully I was able to painstakingly push all the needles out of the way from under the garter carriage, and to remove it, but I bent a couple of the main bed needles in the process, and spent several white-knuckled moments before I had everything back to normal. Just when I think I have made every mistake out there, I find another!

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  2. Yikes! I guess you got off lucky, if only a couple of needles were bent.

    This is the one mistake I haven't made yet. I'm not promising I won't make it myself, though!

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  3. I've just replaced the sponge bars on both of my machines. The instruction manual said nothing about replacing them in the maintenance section, so I wasn't aware of the need to do this until just recently. I didn't even know they were there!! I saw that everyone was talking about sponge bars on the Internet, so I decided to check mine. I hadn't used my machines in years, so they were really in bad shape. How often do you generally have to replace them if you use your machine on a regular basis?

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  4. I've been told about a year, but I usually get them to last longer than that.

    Weatherstripping from the hardware store holds up better than cheap foam rubber in sheets from the fabric store.

    I really should remove my sponge bars when I'm not knitting and save myself lots of money and time. They don't deteriorate so much that way.

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  5. It IS possible to extricate yourself if you try to replace the spongebar when you have left the garter carriage on - ask me how I know! I used a dinner knife (not sharp) to hold the needles down so I could remove the carriage. Tricky, but not impossible! :)

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  6. Great tip, Steel Breeze! Hope I never have to do it, though. :)

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  7. Oh! Why did I always read diagonally ... (I am regularly follow you, Diana) ... it just happened to me, because I'm in "period testing" with my robot recently acquired. It skips some stitches after 3 perfekts rows ... Everything was advised: Check: needle-robot damaged? sponge-bar worn? needles-machines damaged? hooks knit misaligned? ...
    I removed too quickly the sponge-bar... with the robot on the needles ... OOPS!
    What a pity ... robot stuck!!!! I panicked, removed the robot-needle, and supported by my husband, I used a knitting needle-hand to belittle the needles under the robot.. to slide-up absolutely the sponge-bar! AWFUL time ... J.A. (France) Erka40+KG88

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  8. Thinking on making my own sponge bar, thanks for all the info will definitely be careful

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  9. I figured my sponge bar needed replacing on my Singer 360 machine that I just bought on e-Bay. So I elected to go the weather stripping route, since there don't seem to be any knitting machine parts suppliers in my area (Northern Ontario).
    I took out the retainer and it was all dark brown and crumbling. I removed all the old stuff and put in a strip of weather stripping.
    I thought I was so smart...finally something going right the first time.
    However....
    I put it into the machine, sponge up, needles running over it. I tried to put the needles into hold and they popped out at the back.
    I read above and saw that you say "most machines" go sponge down. So I tried it sponge down on top of the needles and the stripping just started to peel off as it ran across the needles.
    When I first took the retainer out, it was face down under the needles so that they were running on the metal back. Is that right? The only mention of the needle retaining bar in my manual is in reference to replacing the needles. Nothing about replacing it at all (which someone above mentioned as well).
    Argh.
    If you have some advice, I would really really appreciate it. I am excited to get back on and get knitting.
    Thanks...Kim
    PS: Thanks to your videos, I have managed to make a shawl and two hats within 2 weeks of receiving my machine. I have used the garter bar with limited success (hopping the sponge bar was the problem) and did short rows, cast ons, bind offs, etc. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to make them.

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  10. It has been a yr since I last used my Brother 970 & I took the sponge bar out because of moving. Now I see where the sponge bar is suppose to be down on the needles but when I took the bar out I wrote on the bar that the medal goes over the needles of which the medal would be facing the needles & the sponge up. Which way is correct??

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    1. Metal side up, spongy side down! The needles are held down by the sponge.

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  11. hello, do you know much about SK120 spongebar?? I thought when I took it out it was sponge up...my manual just shows sponge down, and it seems the way I can insert it back in is sponge down. I am testing new material for spongebar...machine is jamming after a few rows and dropping stitches....not sure if material is issue or I am putting spongebar in wrong....

    thank you for any insight...Kathy

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    1. Missing My Machine!October 30, 2016 at 10:31 AM

      Hello Anonymous and everyone! Did you ever get this problem resolved and figured out why it was doing it? My SK120 is doing the same thing. I've tried everything including replacing retaining bar with multiple options of materials/felts/foams. It goes just perfect for about 2-1/2" and then jams when going right to left, but always just fine going left to right! Can't figure it out and really want to use my machine! Thank you for any help!

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  12. Hi, just reviving my KH860 last used 20 years ago. My husband has just replaIed all bed of needles for me. Have purchased yarn and ready to run! My problem is that for some reason when knitting yarn is randomly getting hooked on the 'gate peg's and causing bunching up of knitting from previous knitting. I can unhook this but more often than not Am dropping the stitches - very frustrating. Should the needles be flat down on the bed. ? Mine are all cocking up a bit and I can press them down. Do you think I need a new sponge bar as I have never replaced it.thank you Rosey

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  13. Hi, I am also resurrecting my Brother KH860 and also never heard of replacing the sponge bar except for replacing broken needles. My problem has been that when moving the carriage it bends the needle over the gate peg and either bends or breaks the needle. I have tried loosening the carriage and lifting it slightly but this doesn't always work. I think I shall have to do a deep clean and get new sponge bar. Is there anything else you can think of? Many thanks linda

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    1. Fix the sponge bar first. Put in a good, new one. They aren't that expensive. You can tell you need one if the needles are up at all and not against the needle number strip. They need to be down, flat. There's a spring inside the machine holding them up, and there's just the sponge bar to keep them down. Then see how the carriage does. Do not baby the carriage across - get it repaired if it still does this.

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  14. What can you do if it is jammed in and won't moveat all

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  15. what can you do if it is jammed and won't move at all

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    1. There are some very good repair people around the country, and if you email me and let me know where you are, I can make some suggestions about who to contact. You may have to ship the machine.

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    2. My email address is jsroach@twc.com I would love to find out where I can get my Chunky Knitting Machine repaired. I live in Louisville Ky. During shipment my machine got damaged, I've attempted to put in two new spongebars and it's bent inside and the sponge comes dislodged and stuck inside. Thanks in advance

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  16. I inherited a Brother KH830 machine that is pretty old and had sat in a basement for a few years. I cannot even get it to cast on. The needles just don't make the loops for some reason. All the latches are loose and open and close properly. I'm in normal mode and the tension is set to 5, all the buttons are disengaged. Could it be the sponge bar? Or is something else the culprit? I have ordered a sponge bar just for good measure. But I haven't seen anything around the internet that describes this issue.

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    1. The 830 is a terrific model. You absolutely need a sponge bar. There's probably nothing left on the old one. You need to start with thin yarn, sock weight or thinner. You need to hang a comb and weights; do not expect it to knit with noting pulling the loops downward.

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    2. HI Diane,

      I did that. I tried casting on using the comb, e-wrap with comb, crochet, weave method and nothing worked. And I am using very thin yarn, a 1 or 2 (inherited that too).

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  17. Email me - there's a link at the left side of the blog. I can provide some more ideas to try.

    Here's my first - take the sinker plate (metal part where you thread the yarn) off so you can watch the carriage move needles. Does it move needles in B position out and back as it goes across?

    Carriages can get dirty and stuck if they're stored a long time.

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  18. would the sponge bar be the culprit if it is new (never been used other than a few trial goes) then packed away for 4years when we moved? I now have a "studio" (the family rolls their eyes) & can put my brother knitter up but tried it today didn't get any further than run the cartridges (plain & ribber) over the needles a few times to get them into the correct B position & the cartridge jams it doesn't jam when I run them over individually just when they are together

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  19. The sponge bar has foam rubber, and it can deteriorate simply from age or from being squashed for four years. It might be the culprit. Just take a minute and see if it's still got a little puff and still holds the needles down.

    However, I think something else is wrong, since it only jams with the ribber in place. Check the ribber position, brackets, clamps, etc. Make sure it's in the slots on the ends correctly, as well. Get one of those "how to adjust your ribber" things (a good one is in "Make Your Knitting Machine Sing," which another teacher wrote some years ago and is just great to have on hand. You'll be able to tell that everything is positioned correctly.

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  20. I inserted the retainer bar with a new sponge and it went in easily with the needles pushed to the front, but after the bar was inserted my needles will now not move back. I have tried numerous times and the same thing happens. I don't know what I am doing wrong. Please help.
    Pauline

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    1. Make sure you are inserting the sponge bar above the needles with the metal side up (sponge against the needles), and that the needles are pushed down firmly as you slide in the bar. The needles must be underneath the bar and compressed by the foam rubber.

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    2. Success! Many thanks for your help which I appreciate. I tried a different way and pushed the needles all the way back before inserting the bar. Holding about 4-6 needles at a time down lightly, I pushed the bar in very slowly until it was in. Easy!
      Pauline

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