Monday, August 3, 2009

Machine Knitting Tips for Beginners - Frustration Busters!

Every once in a while, I meet someone who tried to learn to machine knit and gave up in frustration. I recall my own tremendous frustration at trying to learn, on my own at first, from a manual that seemed to be translated from the Japanese by people who couldn’t quite speak English.

I was lured into hand knitting and crochet by the beautiful colors and soft fibers. I thoroughly enjoy hand knitting, a soothing, tactile activity which helps me keep hands busy and mind serene. As a hand knitter, I struggled to finish projects. It seemed that my projects dragged on for months with a lot of wanting to find time to knit and very little finished. The first time I saw a knitting machine burning up yards and yards of yarn in seconds and making something beautiful and complicated I was completely hooked.

Just because I had bought the thing and couldn’t work it didn’t seem like any kind of reason to give up, so I struggled through with the help of teachers, seminars, books, and friends.

Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to learn the hard way? Here are some tips I wish I’d know when I started, genuine frustration busters:

1. 1. Begin by making sure the machine is in good order. All these notes are about Japanese machines. Look at the individual needles. Are any bent? Do latches open and close okay? Getting a damaged needle out of the machine and replaced can save you a world of annoyance.

2. 2. Look at the gate pegs, and if any are bent, straighten them. You can crouch at the end of the machine and sight down the length of the machine bed, just to make sure that the pegs form a straight line like a line of soldiers.

3. 3. Oil the machine. Use light sewing machine oil. Lori Lynn machine lubricant in an aerosol can is great stuff, too (not to be confused with their yarn spray, also good, but it’s to spray on the yarn). You just dab a little bit on the needle bed and as you move the carriage, the oil gets distributed.

4. 4. Defuzz the machine. Use a brush to get bits of yarn off – and I like to attack my machines with the vacuum to get fuzzies out that have fallen inside after a project. There’s also a long brush you can buy from a dealer for cleaning out the inside.

5. 5. Make sure the sponge bar is okay. The needles shouldn’t just flop around – they should be held in place by a foam-covered sponge bar. You can order a replacement sponge bar. You can also learn all about them and how to fix yours very inexpensively at the wonderful, wonderful site: And, while you are over there, check out the terrific machines she finds by cruising yarn sales during the summertime.

6. 6. If your machine is in good working order, most problems you will encounter will come from the yarn! Use skinny yarn. In fact, use skinnier yarn than you think you have to use! If your machine is standard gauge (4.5 mm between needles), use fingering weight or finer yarn like lace weight. If you have a midgauge, use sport or finer; if you have a bulky machine, still use sport weight and only use worsted weight after you’re experienced. Sure, your machine will probably take heavier yarn, but do yourself a favor and get yarn that’s easy to use. As for that business of putting 4-ply (worsted) yarn on every other needle on a standard-gauge bed, wait until you’ve learned the machine with skinny yarn.

7. 7. Use cone yarn, if you can. Cone yarn is waxed to knit more easily and feeds beautifully off the cone, which you simply set on the floor. Besides, cone yarn is very economical, and I want you to make great piles of samples without much concern about the cost of yarn.

8. 8. If you absolutely can’t get cone yarn and use skein yarn, rewind it with a mechanical winder. Either set it on the floor with it wound around the yarn winder yarn holder, and pull from the outside, or else you can slip it off the winder and pull from the center. If you pull from the center it must be so loosely wound that you can pull yarn out without the ball of yarn lifting off the floor.

9. 9. Avoid cotton yarn, fuzzy yarn, bumpy yarn, and chenille yarn while you are learning. You’re going to be thrilled with the beautiful novelty yarns that your machine will take, but right now, go for the plain stuff!

10. 10. If you use skein yarn, use a wax cylinder on your wax holder. You thread the machine, then put the wax ring on top of it, and it turns slowly as the yarn feeds.

11. 11. Use light colors, which are easier to see. You will want your reading glasses and good light anyway.

12. 12. Take your time with the lessons. I hope you work through them methodically if you’re a true beginner.

13. 13. Don’t push the carriage too fast. First of all, rushing makes the tension uneven, and secondly, if you have an “oops!” moment and jam the carriage, you won’t damage it if you aren’t pushing too fast.

14. 14. If you get a chance to own a motor, you’re a lucky duck (wow! Do I love my motor!), but don’t use it while you are just beginning. This is the same issue as #12. I want you to learn your machine, how it feels, and how hard to push it, and not make a mistake and then have that powerful motor damage needles if the carriage jams.

Happy knitting! I hope someone sends me a project photo soon!



  1. Hi Diana.
    I would love to start but do not quite know where. Do notknow whatmachine to getandi am afraid ofmaking a costly mistake. Any ideas?

  2. Great question! I get that a lot. Sometimes, it just depends on what you can find and afford, but I did write about this a while back, here:

  3. I am looking for any advice on tuck stitch. I have set everything up as per the manual but the yarn is just making big loose loops over the top of the needles when I pass the carriage over them.

  4. Make sure that the pattern stitch chart or punch card you are using is designed for tuck stitch. On most machines, the pattern will be mainly black or punched out and the white stitches will be the ones that tuck. You do not want a pattern where the machine tries to tuck two needles next to each other. That situation will give you loops and mess.

  5. I am going nuts, I have attempted four times to start a tuck stitch baby blanket using basic punchcard No: 1 on my Knitmaster 700. Looping is occuring on the laft hand side of the needlebed, I have tried the following:
    1. Changed the yarn as I thought it might be too fluffy. 2. Examined the carriage to check for any 'bits' that might be caught in the wheels (none). 3. Checked the needles to see if any are bent (no) 4. Checked all the little wheels to make sure that they are turning properly. 5. Checked the tension of the carriage for 4-ply (4-7 correct), tension on the mast (5). 6. tried leaving out the end 10 needles on each side to see if it made any difference (none). 7. Spongebar is failry new-have rarely used the machine since putting it in.
    Any ideas would be helpful.