Thursday, December 10, 2020

Choosing a Brother Knitting Machine

 I was asked a really terrific question recently.  If I were starting out, what standard gauge model Brother knitting machine would I choose?

I'm going to limit these comments to Brother machines.  Even limiting to the one brand, this is a very tough choice and a long essay.  

Do think about what you want to knit and what gives you joy.  

The Variety Knitter:  Speaking for myself, teaching and designing is the most fun, and that dictates that I teach and design on a the most popular models so you will get the most out of my books and videos.  But even if I weren't teaching, I would still design.  I always have a thing in my head I want to make.  I do knit other people's patterns, but I nearly always change at least a few things.  And, I constantly chase new ideas and different patterns.  

Are you like me?  If so, my workhorse standard gauge machine is the 965i.  Why?

  • The electronics give me lots of flexibility, which allows me to change things like the stitch design without punching a card.  I can make any design size I want, even if it's a multiple of 7 stitches or an isolated 92 stitches.  Electronics allows me to get the prep done quickly and start knitting.  Oh, by the way, I don't like punching cards, especially the noise my card punch makes.
  • The 965 has a big, big memory.  You could have a humongous picture that you put in its memory, but in my case, the big memory is handy for holding a lot small designs with individual pattern numbers.  
  • My "perfect" setup also includes a motor, Knit Leader, garter carriage, color changer, ribber and Design A Knit plus cables.  
  • Why not the 910, 930, 940, or 950?  No real reason, I like them all.  The 940 has the bigger memory.  The 965 is quite good with several patterns across something, so it's excellent for personalized items where you put in names.  Do you sell things or make gifts?  People love personalized items.  It's also great when you want borders.
I'm fortunate in that my husband (aka Mr. Fixit) deals with electronics quite cheerfully and effectively.  Sure, he's rather work on an antique motorcycle than fix a knitting machine, but he's fixed plenty of knitting machines for people.  John tells me to go ahead and have electronic machines, since I like them so much, and if they break, he'll try to fix them.  If he can't fix them, he'll help me find a replacement. Truthfully, I've had very, very few problems with my electronic machines.  I don't move them around a lot, I keep them inside and covered, nd I avoid shipping them.

Comments on the 970:  The 970 was the fanciest electronic machine Brother sold in the US, and they are indeed very feature-laden.  These are more expensive than the other models.  My biggest gripe is that they are harder to learn, and I keep meeting people who never learned the 970 and find themselves still knitting on a previous model.  

Charlene Shafer has good materials to help you learn the 970.  I also like the information on the Daisy Knits website.  

I do have one, and it's very nice to use.  However, the tiny display is hard on my eyes.  Also, these displays gradually dim and the luminescent panel will need replaced.  John puts a brighter light in them than the original, and other people do the job too.  I know Michael Becker does them.  

It is a great machine if you really love double jacquard in up to 6 colors, for instance, turning photographs into knitting.  

I've been told about the new console for the 970.  I haven't played with one, but I imagine I would really like it because I'd be using a big screen.  Hmm, I should look for one of those, although I really should only teach on the console most people have.

The Punch Card Lover:  Not everybody wants to fool with electronics.  Knitting machines can be quite frustrating, and if you don't love electronic gadgets, perhaps you'd rather not add learning to "program" patterns into the electronics.

Some knitters prefer punch card machines because they will never have to cope with broken electronics.  One of my friend's engineer husband told her to always buy punch card machines because he will always be able to fix them.  In her situation, I would definitely do that.

Some knitters have fantastic punch card collections and favorite patterns that use the punch cards.  I admit I haven't used extra wide patterns nearly as much as I thought I would when I went from punch card to electronic.  What I use is the flexibility and speed of putting in new patterns.

Are you an RV enthusiast?  Punch card machines don't need electricity.  

Punch card machines are less expensive and widely available.  The 24 stitch cards fit in multiple brands of machine.   

If you want a punch card machine, try to get one with pattern isolation.  Brother had little cam strips you put on the bed only where you wanted a pattern.  That was a very nice feature.  It's also really nice if you get one that works with a garter carriage - the older ones don't.  

The Prolific Knitter:  You might be doing some craft shows or knitting some volume for charity.  What machine you need will depend on what you make.  If you are running machines hard enough to wear them out, you would want to keep an eye out for a spare machine in great condition.  Most of all, I think you would want to use a machine you find easy to use.

I have never worn out a knitting machine.  I knit a lot, but not all day or every single day.  With a little care, these machines last a long time.  

The Beginner Knitter:  Many beginners make one of two humongous mistakes:

Beginner Big Mistake #1 is to purchase a cheap but awful machine to save money. Here's an example:  a knitter I knew purchased an old-time metal knitting machine from Germany with sinkers.  These were curved teeth that pulled down on the yarn as you went across with the carriage instead of using weights or a more sophisticated sinker plate.  I could not work that machine!  I really tried, but it constantly jammed.  

Now don't fuss at me in the comments that you loved that machine and you could have taught her.  At the time, I couldn't find a person who could teach her.  How could she, a beginner, manage that machine?  She tried incredibly hard over a period of time, but became discouraged and gave up the hobby entirely.  

I don't want to bad-mouth any particular machines here, but I urge you to avoid old, old machines, especially pre-punch card models.  Get a "modern" punch card or electronic machine.  I greatly dislike some of the new cheapie machines.  You want a machine that knits quickly and smoothly and has a proper upper tension unit.  If you want a plastic bed, get an LK150 or a Brother 350.  Are you a beginner considering some model or other?  Send me an email asking about the model you're considering, and I'll tell you what I know if I'm familiar with it.  I am NOT a dealer.  As we say in Texas, I don't have a dog in the fight.  I am focused on your knitting success.

Beginner Big Mistake #2 is to try to go it alone.  I prefer to learn things on my own, at my own speed and with nobody watching me fumble, but I didn't really master my machine until I found other knitters.  This isn't a good hobby to learn on your own.  There is just too much information that is not in the book.

Do yourself a huge favor and buy from someone who will will help you start or join a knitting club.  If you generally don't like to join groups, you might be quite surprised at how pleasant it is to be in a group of machine knitters.  Most groups are meeting virtually now, which means you can join a club thousands of miles away if you want.  I'm very happy with my remote membership in the San Francisco Bay Area Knitting Guild. I recently had an email from a knitting friend asking if there were a club near her.  It turns out she lives near one of the best clubs in the country! They will really help her out. 

You can learn from videos, too.  You can watch my instructional videos on YouTube at my channel, dianaknits.  I have hundreds of brief video classes, where I try to show and explain each step, and they're free!  I was one of the first people to do this, but LOTS of other knitters are doing it now, and they do good videos.

Finding a Machine:  I've written about this before, but a few fresh thoughts come to mind and a few things are well worth repeating.

Did you ever buy a lemon car?  Remember how expensive that was?  Well, on a knitting machine purchase, keep in mind that your biggest financial risk is buying a bad machine.  If you do find a deal at a yard sale or a thrift shop, don't spend more than you can afford to lose.  Some great machines have been found this way, and some had to be discarded because they were broken or the missing parts cost more than replacing the whole machine.  

Brother machines are getting quite old, and you don't know what they've been through with their prior owners. That's why I recommend buying from a dealer if you can.  Some of the dealers have amazing used Brother equipment for sale at very affordable prices.  A dealer who wants to stay in business cannot afford to sell you a bad machine.  That's why they go over used machines thoroughly, ensure that everything works and the parts are all included.

If you are hunting for a good machine, try searching for a local machine knitting club.  Most clubs have people who need to sell machines and some clubs have a person or two who loves to find homes for machines.  Here in Central Texas, we have no dealer, but if you contacted our knitting machine club, our members could help you find a good machine quickly.  

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