I love hand knitting. I love the way it feels when the yarn flows over your fingers, the texture of the fibers, and the thought of creating something with a twist of your fingers. Every now and then however, I feel the need to pull out one of my machines and just whip something up. The KAL boxers that I am currently working on have given me a reason to do just that (thanks Chris)! You see, as much as I like putting my brain on hold from time to time, I get terribly bored knitting plain stocking stitch if the fiber is ordinary as well. The boxers in question are knit in stocking stitch with sock yarn! 6.5 stitches and 8.5 rows to the inch sock yarn! On 3mm needles! Am I complaining? Okay – sorry – no more of that. I like to think of myself as a pretty quick knitter, but after about 7 hours of knitting and only having half the front panel done, I thought I’d give these a try on my Passap Vario. That lead into doing a blog post about machine knitting. So here I am …
Now there’s obviously pros and cons to both types of knitting, and despite what the title say, I’m not really here to compare the two and decide on one method for everything. The truth of the matter is, I do enjoy knitting by hand and I also enjoy knitting on a machine – sometimes. Machine knitting (while not my preferred method of knitting) does have its place and certainly comes in hand at times. I have a coat that needs to be completed that was done entirely on a machine in about 3 hours (and that’s because I wasn’t very experienced and going slow) that would have taken about 50 by hand. It was also done in stocking stitch. No way, Jose would I have done that by hand. If you are a hand knitter and you make the pieces on the machine and finish it by hand, you can make a great sweater in a day and only you would know that the majority of it was done on a machine. If you have a double bed machine, you could do the whole thing in half a day and nobody would ever know.
What’s a double bed you ask? Well, most knitting machines have just a single bed – this is where the needles that do the knitting are stored. Machines like this can only produce stocking stitch fabric (yes, I know this isn’t entirely accurate, but we’ll get to that). With one pass of the carriage from left to right, you will knit x stitches (however many are in position to work with). When you return the carriage, those same stitches get worked again, being purled, and giving you 2 rows of stocking stitch. You can manually manipulate stitches and change them from knit to purl to create other textures, but this is time consuming and dexterous work. Stitches on a machine are under constant tension and when you drop a stitch on a machine, it’s a much bigger issue than when you do it in hand knitting. You also have to do a swatch with machine knitting because you don’t have different sized needles like you do in hand knitting. You have a dial that controls the tension on the yarn and therefor the stitch size, and you can adjust the spacing between stitches, but that’s about it. There’s no way to measure your work while it’s on the machine, so you have to count rows and do some math to know when you’ve got the length you want (this is a good way to do it by hand as well). Luckily most machines come with a row counter. Preparation is also key when machine knitting. You need to know just about everything before you start because it’s a pain in the butt to be calculating mid way through the work. And if you have to frog in machine knitting, well, let’s just say that the learning curve is not as favorable as with hand knitting.
So why use a machine? Well, besides the reasons above (mostly speed) it also allows you to do some experimenting because of the time factor. Which is what I’m going to do with these boxers. Yes Chris, I do plan on finishing my first pair by hand, but I want to do them on the machine first and make sure I have it all right. I also want to make a stretchy pair but I just don’t see myself spending 20 – 25 hours per pair and making more than one of these. So tomorrow I’ll work on them as I’ve done a swatch and need it to relax to measure it and make whatever adjustments are necessary. I’ll take some pics and show you how they came out! There’s the finished swatch on the right. You’re looking at over 3600 stitches done in about 15 minutes!