The decision to buy a domestic knitting machine usually comes at the point when a hand-knitter finds that knitting stocking stitch is far too slow and boring.
Stocking stitch (one row plain, one row purl) is the basic stitch structure for knitting machines and they knit it very well and very fast. So fast, in fact, that the making up of a garment can take longer than the actual knitting!
When it comes to buying the machine, the choice is either new or second-hand and which option you choose will probably be determined by your budget.
Second-hand machines can be bought on EBay or through classified ads for very reasonable prices, but before you invest in a 'sight unseen' machine, here's a few tips to guide you:
1. Machine knitters can do it on a single bed or a double bed. Single bed machines (Brother, Silver Reed, Knitmaster etc) can't knit rib stitches. You would have to purchase a separate ribber to attach to the single bed in order to do this or be prepared to knit the ribs by hand. Double bed machines, on the other hand, come complete with a fixed built-in ribber (Passap/Pfaff etc).
2. On single bed machines, there are different 'gauges' available, which knit different thicknesses of yarn. For example, a standard gauge machine has 200 needles on the bed and will easily knit 3 ply, 4 ply and soft double knitting yarn. A fine gauge machine has 250 needles on the bed and knits 1, 2 and 3 ply yarns. 'Chunky' machines knit chunky yarns and so on. Decide which yarn thickness you prefer to knit with and choose your gauge of machine appropriately.
3. Full-size knitting machines are approximately 45 inches (115 cms) long. To use them, they need to be clamped to a firm table. Clamping one to your dining table can have its drawbacks when mealtime comes round, so you may need to purchase a table specially made for knitting machines. If one is not offered for sale with the machine, these are fairly inexpensive to buy.
4. Patterning or non-patterning? Some knitting machines have no patterning device and therefore you're limited to knitting stocking stitch with perhaps some hand-tooled stitches to create more interest in the fabric. Alternatively, automated patterning can produce beautiful multi-color fairisle (jacquard), tuck, slip, woven and lace fabrics, just by setting some buttons and pushing the carriage backwards and forwards! For automated patterning, you'll need either a machine with a manual punchcard mechanism or one with a built-in electronic device. Electronic machines need a power supply close by and will be more expensive to buy than punchcard machines. One thing to remember - if the electronics in your machine go wrong, they are more complicated to fix than the manual punchcard machines.
5. The instruction book is a must! When buying a second-hand knitting machine, always ensure that it comes with the original instruction book. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, if there are no tutors in your local area, you're going to have to learn to use your machine from the book. Secondly, there's usually a page in the instruction book which illustrates all the accessories that should come with the machine. This makes a great checklist when your machine is delivered, to make sure that everything is included. Careful knitting machine owners always keep the instruction book and if your seller can't provide you with the original copy, be wary of what else may be missing!
6. Availability of spares. Knitting machines sometimes need parts replacing. When you're knitting with 200 needles, one of them is bound to bend sooner or later! The needles are held in position with a sponge retaining bar and this will also need replacing if the sponge loses its 'bounce'. Before you finally choose a particular brand of machine, make sure you can buy your spares conveniently, either from a local supplier or by mail order.
7. Love your knitting machine! Knitting machines don't respond well to force or neglect. If they won't knit properly, it's usually for a very good reason. Try to take some time to understand a little bit about how the mechanics of the machine work and ensure that you maintain it regularly - it's really not complicated.
If you decide to buy one, your knitting machine will give you hours of pleasure (sometimes a few tears!) and a whole new window on the knitting world.