Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Choosing Your First Knitting Machine

I thought I’d attempt, for the beginners, to discuss the various brands and models of knitting machines that can be acquired.

I recommend that you think about what you’d like to knit, since one key decision is probably going to be between a standard machine and bulky machine, and here are some pros and cons:

Standard Machine Great for baby wear and kids’ wear as well as general fashion knitting, like slinky dresses. If you live someplace as hot as Texas, you will find most of your knitting ends up being on the standard machine. For instance, I make myself quite a few light tops and shells on the standard machine. Also, there are lots of standard machines available, and even the older ones usually have some patterning capability and available ribbers. The Brother standard gauge machines had a garter carriage which made both knit and purl in the same row, automatically. Cons: The needles are small, which makes all your maneuvers smaller, so it’s harder to see when you’re learning.

Bulky Machine Much easier to see the needles and manipulate them as a beginner; handles thick yarn for making warm clothing and warm jackets. Yarn seems to be available everywhere. Cons: Many bulky machines had very limited capabilities that you will find quite confining as time goes by. If this hobby excites your creativity, you will find yourself wanting a punch card bulky or an electronic bulky, more scarce and more costly.

The next important decision is whether you will want to purchase a new machine or a used machine.

New machines: I hope someone will help me out if I’m incorrect, but as of this moment I am aware of the following brands of new machines: Silver Reed (Studio), Artisan, and Bond.

If you buy a new machine, you know it’s complete and that it will knit. You should buy from someone who will stand behind the product and offer supplies, parts, classes, and service. That support and service is absolutely invaluable. New machines are expensive, but they are sturdy and will last a long, long time.

Available new, we have Singer/Silver Reed/Studio, different brand names on the same box. I understand that they’re still producing and selling new Silver Reeds! I learned on Brother machines and am much less familiar with Silver Reed. I own one of their machines, and they did some terrific things. Many of their models are exceptionally smooth and easy to push. In recent years, they had a separate computer box that you could use with either the standard, bulky, mid-gauge, or fine gauge machines. What a fantastic idea, in view of so much of the expense being the investment in the computer. Plus, there’s the simple fact that once you’re hooked, at least if you’re as crazy as I am for fiber arts, you will want all the computer capabilities and all the different size machines! Silver Reeds are very high-quality, reliable machines, and the only reason I never did go hog wild with Studios was my extraordinary brand loyalty to Brother, which intensified when they developed the garter carriage. Nobody else had a garter carriage and I find a great many uses for mine. If you have the opportunity to buy Silver Reed from a reputable dealer who will give you service, lessons, and support, I think that is absolutely a smart way to go. Whether you buy new or used, you are investing a lot of time and money, and good service and support is invaluable.

Also available new, Artisan, which seem just fine, but so far I haven’t seen any high-end models.

You can also purchase a Bond machine (aka Incredible Sweater Machine) new, and it’s a “hobby” bulky. You can pick them up at a Michael’s craft store, for instance. There are groups on the Web devoted to the Bond, so if you do some Google searches you can get a good idea what people do with these machines. They are slower to operate, and all patterning is manual. I have owned a Bond – I picked it up to learn it enough to help new knitters at our club. It’s very basic, and a perfectly good way to get started.

Used machines: You might acquire a used machine because it was cheap, it wandered into your life, or because you wanted one of the machines that is no longer produced and imported.

From Europe and only available used is Passap/Superba. There are plenty of Passap machines around, and you can easily find one. You can’t get brand new parts, though, so be ready to hunt if you need something. The Passap machines I’ve seen are the DM80 and the E6000. These machines are from Switzerland, were very expensive new, and are true double-bed machines with joined knit and purl beds. The technology is rather different from the Japanese machines, using “strippers” to hold the yarn down instead of relying on weights (but you can use weights with Passap), and using “pushers” for patterning work. Passap machines do extremely deep tuck stitches for thick, fluffy fabrics, and did quite a few variations of double jacquard.

The DM80 was a mechanical machine and the E6000 was electronic. Both were wonderful, reliable machines. The E6000 came with a couple of different computers, and the more recent models have a much bigger memory. I have an E6000, and it’s a very nice machine with some remarkable capabilities. I do not think of it as a beginner machine, though, and without a teacher and additional manuals, videos and books, I don’t see most people figuring it out. Passap never marketed their equipment to the learn-it-myself crowd; machines came with lessons and the manuals weren’t written with beginners in mind. There were other Passap models, but they’re a bit rare, and I haven’t the space here.

Next, we have Singer/Silver Reed/Studio, always popular, and many are available used. I talked about them a little, above

Then, there were a group of other brands that came in from Japan, Juki, for instance, which are also just fine.

Brother has always been my favorite brand of Japanese machine. Knitking was an importer of Brother machines, and they put their name on a number of Brother models. Brother is the line I know the most about – I was a Brother dealer, for one thing, and I’ve had a whole parade of Brother machines, every one of which has been a fine machine. I’ve also taught on a bunch of different Brother machines. Even the old punch card Brother machines did a great job on multiple-transfer lace (I am a lace nut! How odd it is that I haven’t done any lace videos yet!), and Brother had the wonderful garter carriage which does knits and purls in the same row, automatically, if a little slowly. You start the thing and let it knit all night. The g-carriage works with a lot of models, but not all.

Brother had quite a few different standard gauge models. Generally, models in the 800s were punch card machines and models in the 900s were electronic. Higher numbers are newer models! My very first machine was a Brother 820, which had a 24-stitch punch card and a good lace carriage.

I used to be a Toyota dealer, too. Toyota had very nice machines. When Brother went electronic, developing the garter carriage about the same time, I gradually moved entirely to Brother. In my part of the country, there aren’t a lot of Toyota knitters around, but I do run into people who have picked up nice Toyotas like the 901 that still knit just great. Toyota had a very cool feature, Simulknit, with their ribbers that knitted pattern on one side and plain on the other.

Whew! Not exactly an exhaustive treatment, but plenty of information to think about. I own a lot of machines because I’m fascinated with them and because every manufacturer had its own unique strengths and features that nobody else had. I recognize that most of you aren’t as wacky as I am, so I hope this information is helpful when you’re narrowing down what sort of machine to purchase.


  1. Tracey Lewis HC68 #1 Penn Monahans,Tex 79756June 14, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    I do a lot of hand knitting and my husband has decided that he wants to buy me a knitting machine,"so you can speed through your projects.". I am now looking for one and I found your essay quite interesting. What is your personal opinion as to the best beginners machine for me to purchase? Can you also give me an address (closest to Odessa) that I can call or write to inquire about a purchase.

  2. Odessa, Texas?

    Tracey, email me and we can explore some ideas about what to choose for your first machine. diana_knits (at) sbcglobal.net

  3. hello diane i live in the uk finding it very hard to find a dvd on toyota knitting machinces the ks950/kr 506 ribber if you do these dvds do u ship to the uk.as im a complete novice and really wont to use these machines ty very much help or suggestions.....sue neale

  4. Check with Angelika's Yarn Shop. She was a Toyota dealer for a while, I think. You can also check with Newton's Knits in Anaheim, California.

    If I see anything, I'll let you know. Toyota made good machines; too bad there isn't more info out there.

  5. i have recently came across a brother kh 810 knitting machine is there a built in row counter on these and could you tell me what genral equiptment would have came with these models?thanks

  6. I have never owned an 810, and the model is not listed among the Brother manuals available for download at their .ftp site. What you need is a manual - with that, you can see exactly what it came with originally and make sure it's complete.