A SWEATER that is knitted in one day? With no errors? With the high-tech knitting machines that are available today, it's entirely possible. ``There's no excuse now for the back being two rows longer than the front,'' says Mary Ann Wedlock, owner of The Knittin' Kitten in Cambridge, Mass., as she points out the row counter on one of the 10 different machines displayed in her shop. In hand knitting, a wrong count means pulling out stitches and redoing them - very time consuming to say the least.
Comparing the device to a sewing machine, Mrs. Wedlock remarks that most people don't sew clothes stitch by stitch any more, and that neither is knitting by hand practical to meet the needs of a family these days. This is the main reason behind purchasing a knitting machine, she says.
Choosing the machine that is right for the individual generally requires deciding whether it will be used for fine knitting or bulky yarn apparel. Most models have one of two sizes of needles, but are not able to accomodate both styles. And machines range from basic models able to perform only simple functions, to ones with computer memories and a wide range of pattern choices.
The Brother KH930, for example, an electronic model that was just recently introduced, has over 550 preprogrammed patterns available for recall by their identifying number. This machine can accommodate up to four colors in the design, plus it can alter the pattern in several ways. For instance, you may want two smaller flowers on a sweater instead of just one large one.
A knitting machine looks like a keyboard with an antenna - actually a tension control for the yarn. These keyboards, called beds, are really rows of latch needles similar to little knit pickers, used for pulling in stray threads.
In her motherly manner, Wedlock demonstrated how one of the models worked. First, she cast on. As by hand, there are several different ways to do this. Mainly, each latch needle is wrapped with a loop of yarn. Next, the carriage moves the knitting function across the bed of needles - making a sound like a child gently running a stick along a picket fence. ``It's similar to ironing,'' Wedlock points out, as she glides the carriage across with the handle. A motor or garter carriage can be added, so that the knitter doesn't have to sit there all the time. It stills bears watching, however, as the yarn could run out. And the cost of this additional piece could also discourage the buyer from going automatic.
After about 10 rows, Wedlock pushes several selector switches into position and adds a second color. A pattern begins to emerge. This all takes place in a few seconds, rather than several minutes. Instead of choosing each row's pattern by hand, there is a punch card available that automatically sets the design. When the card is set to run continually, the operation resembles a player piano musical roll. So far, the product that emerges is all in a smooth stockinette stitch. To get the more nubbly garter stitch, another bed of needles is pulled up perpendicular to the first bed. Ribbing is accomplished in this manner also.
Increasing, decreasing, cable twists, and casting off are all done by hand with small, specially designed tools. This, along with sewing up the seams, takes as long as knitting with just two needles. Knitting row upon row is where the machine is superior to hand work.
Bonnie Mitten is pleased with her $250 Bond machine. It's durable, she says - in fact, ``the cat sleeps on it.'' The only problem is that it's not an expandable machine. All purl work has to be done by hand with a single latch needle. Mrs. Mitten will most likely be moving up to a Singer 700 before too long to increase her knitting possibilities.
Helen Stone, another New Englander, purchased a Brother machine with both beds and a garter carriage for around $1500 over three years ago. She's made many sweaters, scarves, and hats since then, she says, without ever having to take it in for repair.
Could knitting this new-fashioned way make knitting by hand obsolete?
``If I'm on a plane, have a bus ride, or a car trip, or something exciting happening - I'm off with my knitting needles,'' Wedlock concedes. When she's at home though, it's another story. Her machine is the best way to go, she says.