The knitting machine adventure is on indefinite pause. The machine in question is an Elna EK2300. If you are up on your knitting machines (and I knew nothing about them until my recent, self-imposed, crash course), the name Elna is not usually associated with knitting machines. You probably associate it with quality sewing machines. For me, Elna conjures up (for unknown reasons) the phrase, “German engineering” but of course it’s a Swiss name, and this particular knitting machine is actually made in Japan. It is, more accurately, a Toyota, which it was also briefly named. Elna’s foray into knitting machines appears to have been short lived. Their “about us” page, although it gives a thorough timeline from 1940 to present, doesn’t even mention knitting machines. It appears the Elna EK2300 has been reincarnated at various times as a Toyota, a Singer, a Studio, and a Silver Reed. It’s current rendition is the Silver Reed SK155 I think.
So why is the adventure paused? I have wanted to try a knitting machine for a while, just to see what they could do. I watched a video on the Martha Stewart website, featuring Karen Allen, who is known for being the first Indiana Jones girl (and the best, obviously) but also for being a knitwear designer. In the video, she builds a sweater with fine cashmere for Martha (who later is seen wearing it on the show, but I’m not sure she looks appreciative enough of pure cashmere for my taste). What intrigued me about Karen Allen’s process is that it seems more like designing a large swatch of fabric, which can then be cut and sewed, than shaping pieces to sew together for a sweater.
But the EK2300 is a 9mm machine, AKA a bulky machine. The 9mm refers to the “pitch” of the needles. (The knitting machine experience has largely consisted of my reading a few words, then looking it up, reading a few words, looking it up, etc). The pitch is the distance between the needles. Unlike hand-knitting, where the diameter of the needles is a main player in the size of the stitches, in machine-knitting, the stitch size is decided largely by the distance between the needles. This is because in machine-knitting, the yarn isn’t wrapped around a pair of needles, it’s pulled through by the special hooks at the end of each fine needle (there is a needle for each stitch in a row). The needles on a 9mm machine are as slender as they are on a 4.5mm machine, but much farther apart.
The other reason I’ve paused is because of the machine’s sponge bars. (Another term that sent me to google: “what the hell is sponge bar machine knitting Elna help me”). The sponge bar, perhaps-more-accurately-but-less-quaintly called the needle retainer, is a long metal bar with a strip of sponge. The sponge puts a little bit of tension on the needles, holding them in position every time they move. The needles move a lot in any given row, and if you are knitting something in pattern (two colour knitting for example) the needle position is crucial. Without a good sponge bar, the machine lacks precision.
And, in machine knitting, the needle hooks can only face one direction. This means they can only knit or purl but not both. They can’t, as a hand-knitter can, move the yarn to the front or back and pull the yarn through from the opposite side of the loop. If you want to do ribbing, you need, yes indeed, a whole other machine! It’s called the ribber, and it adds a second set of needles, which work from the opposite direction as the main bed. So one set of needles can be in charge of the knits and the other in charge of the purls, allowing you do all sorts of ribbing. (Including brioche, which I wanted to try out but…) I was lucky enough to have acquired the EK2300’s matching ribber, the ER2350. I got the whole beast set up up (and these things are very solid) and prepared to cast on. This brings me back to the sponge bars. The ribber’s needles are almost vertical. In order to stay in position, they need that sponge applying pressure. If the sponge is flat, the needles just flop down. That’s what you can see in the top image: the ribber, with the row of needles, sitting in the lowest position.
After much research and cursing, I decided that I could A) spend several more hours/days/dollars replacing parts or B) quit while I was ahead and put the thing away for the next person.
I chose B. It’s a worthy project, but I’ve decided not to get sucked in for the moment.
A little shot of some swatching I’ve been doing. More on that later. I’ve also been exploring the wonderful simplicity of granny squares. You can’t believe how refreshing a square is after a massive project all about sweaters.