Hand Versus Machine Knitting

The process of knitting, whether by hand or machine, allows the designer to take total control of the type of fabric they wish to make. Fibre, yarn, colour, pattern, stitch and structure are all fundamental components of the resulting cloth, which provide endless opportunities of inspiration and variation. So, how does hand versus machine knitting compare? What are their similarities and differences, and why might you choose one over the other? 

This is a topic I am going to continue to delve into! To get started, I’ve included responses to initial thoughts you might have about machine versus hand knitting. 

‘The machine does all the work’. 

Machine knitting is incredibly hands on – you are operating and controlling every part of it in order to create a fabric. Although automation brings regularity and consistency to the stitches, knitting by machine still shares the same tactile qualities that make hand knitting so appealing. 

‘Everything is quicker on the machine’. 

Knitting by machine is undoubtedly more efficient than by hand. Many fabrics, from simple stockinette to stranded colourwork can be knitted incredibly fast. There are however, plenty of stitch types (such as cables and lace) that require a more hands on approach and therefore take more time. And on the extreme end of this, you can certainly create very involved fabrications where each row takes just as long or even longer than a hand knitted fabric. 

‘Machine knitting is easier if you hand knit’. 

Yes and no! You don’t need to have any hand knitting knowledge in order to machine knit. However, it is an advantage if you have (even a very basic) understanding of the knitted fabric structure. This will allow you to ‘read’ the fabric and understand what you are seeing. A notion to keep in mind is that something that can be created very easily with hand knitting, might be more complex with machine knitting (and vice versa). For example, garter stitch is the simplest fabric to knit by hand, but is very complex to knit by machine. The simplest fabric outcome from the machine is stockinette. 

‘One method is more creative than the other’. 

Both hand and machine knitting are equally as creative. The key is to use both approaches to their best advantage. For example, machine knitting allows for extra experimentation, simply due to the speed in which ideas can be executed – you can develop concepts and see the outcome of a swatch more quickly. The machine does have some limitations, for example you cannot use every weight of yarn on the same machine. 

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