myths about machine knitting

I’ve noticed for a while that machine knitting is not well received by a large portion of hand knitters. Why is this? If I mention that I’m a machine knitter, I get everything from silence to confusion to outright contempt. It usually turns out that some of the bad opinions of machine knitting are based on misinformation.

Let’s take a look at some of the common myths about machine knitting, shall we?

  • knitting machines are cheating

This is the biggie. Either knitting machines are cheating, or the people who use them are cheaters, take your pick. I guess I just don’t understand this one. First, how is it cheating? I wasn’t aware that knitting was a contest.

Second, let’s take a look at the definition of cheating:

cheat, v. tr.

  • To deceive by trickery; swindle: cheated customers by overcharging them for purchases.
  • To deprive by trickery; defraud: cheated them of their land.
  • To mislead; fool: illusions that cheat the eye.
  • To elude; escape: cheat death.

Unless someone is taking a knitted item and trying to claim it was knit on two needles, there’s no deceit involved in machine knitting. Aside from that, would you say someone who uses a sewing machine to make clothing or quilts (or whatnot) is cheating? A sewing machine? That’s cheating! No, it’s just a tool that facilitates doing more of the craft that one loves and finishing the items quicker. Ditto for knitting machines.

Ok, then, you ask. Isn’t it cheating because you’re misleading someone into thinking it’s hand-knit? No, I say. One, I wouldn’t lie about how I made it, and two, I don’t think machine knitting is inferior to hand knitting. I do both, and both have their merits. When I machine knit, I choose a pattern (or create my own), customize it for the recipient, and craft it with care. Just as I do for hand knitting. That hardly qualifies as ‘cheating’ in my book.

I’ve also heard that it’s cheating because it’s faster than hand knitting. So what? Is the time that a knitted item takes its sole merit? I should think not! (If you think that yes, it is, answer me this: is a scarf that takes a slow hand knitter 3 weeks to knit worth more than the same scarf that takes a fast hand knitter 1 week? I can’t imagine anyone making such a ludicrous claim about hand knitting, and yet the issue of time is hurled around at machine knitters as an insult.)

  • you can only do stockinette on knitting machines

While it’s technically true that a flatbed knitting machine produces stockinette, in terms of finished product, this isn’t true. Knitting machines are capable of a multitude of textures and patterns, some of which you actually can’t do by hand.

  • you just push a button and it makes the sweater/project for you

This is another of the biggest myths about machine. Machine knitting is not some mindless activity where the knitter is entirely divorced from the knitting. While the machine makes the knitting faster, it’s still a very attention-demanding process and the knitter is still quite involved. It is possible to get a motor to drive certain models of machines, but even if you had one, you’d have to be present for shaping and anything other than plain ol’ stockinette. (Most people I know who have the motors report that they’re not necessarily quick, but useful because they have arthritis or some other condition that makes repetitive motions painful.)

(Note: I’m talking about machine meant for home use. Industrial knitting machines are capable of a lot of things that home knitting machines are not.)

  • “I couldn’t ever do machine knitting, because I’m a process knitter”

I can’t think of any method of knitting that’s more process-oriented than machine knitting, in fact. Most machine knit patterns, for example, are diagrams, and all the techniques and shaping are left to the knitter to decide. You control the process, from start to finish.

The wonderful thing about it, though, is that it’s also good for product knitters like myself, because you get results faster than with hand knitting.

  • knitting machines can’t do fancy stuff like lace

Oh yes, they can. Quickly, too.

  • you can’t do circular knitting on a machine

This one is untrue for two reasons. One, there are circular sock knitting machines out there (all antiques, as far as I know, but functional). Two, flatbed knitting machines can knit in the round as long as they have a ribber attachment (which most do).

So, any more machine knitting myths running around out there? And can’t the hand knitters and machine knitters coexist without insults flying?

This is not to say that machine knitting is superior to hand knitting, of course, or that machine knitting doesn’t have drawbacks. I enjoy both machine and hand knitting, and they each have their place. Machine knitting will never beat hand knitting for portability – can’t lug a machine around on the bus, for example! – and hand knitting will never beat machine knitting for speed.

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3 thoughts on “myths about machine knitting

  1. Hear, hear! I was making small talk at a scarf stand at the local craft fair, and said I was a machine knitter. “Ooh, I like to handle my yarns, I wouldn’t like that!” the stall owner said. How does she think I get the work on and off the machine? Levitation?!

    I work full-time, and although HK is nice in front of the TV, ya can’t beat MK for speed!

  2. You don’t levitate your yarns? You should, it’s so much easier that way! Bwahahaha!

    I get that reaction, too, though. Usually with an aghast tone of voice: “But I like to TOUCH my yarn!” as if machine knitters don’t. The one I hear the most, though, is with a sneer and “But I’m a PROCESS knitter!” (Note: I’m not saying all process knitters are snotty, just that I hear this comment a lot.)

    Could anyone who knows how to use a knitting machine possibly think it’s *not* a process? I doubt it! In fact, I think all those process knitters who go on and on about how superior they are (’cause let’s face it, those types are out there) should be required to learn how to use a knitting machine. And never be allowed to complain, either, because they’re supposed to be all about the process, right?

  3. I wish machine knitting was called something else so that people thought of it as a completely different craft, do people expect quilters to weave their own fabric? no, that would be stupid.
    I enjoy both hand and machine for different reasons, and it’s not just the speed of the machine, it’s about working with a machine – working within its confines and limitations.

    and thanks for the comment on my website, I will be selling machine-knit patterns soon, and the Firefox issues will have to wait until I change servers.

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