Buying a Knitting Machine

So, you have decided you want to buy a knitting machine?

Before you go any further, read the page About knitting machines. If you are completely new to machine knitting, it may give you some context for this page. And even if you’re an experienced machine-knitter, you may find something there you’d forgotten!

Plastic bed machines are great starter machines for beginners. They are often cheaper than metal bed machines, but do not have the patterning facilities.

All machines are over 1 metre in length and can be as long as 2 metres when all the accessories are added. Japanese plastic machines usually weigh around 4.5kg, whilst metal machines weigh in around 16kg. European machines longer, and are heavier still.

A note on European machines (such as Passap): You may find this machine difficult to learn if you are already machine knit on a Japanese machine, as there are some fundamental differences. Things you would do automatically on a Japanese machine may damage a Passap. If you are new to machine knitting, you don’t have this previous knowledge to cause confusion, but there are fewer users of Passap machines and it may be harder to get help and support. You cannot easily see what you are knitting (it comes out underneath and between the two beds of needles) and their patterning is different to Japanese machines. The carriages (known as ‘locks’) are harder to move than the carriage on a Japanese machine, and many people invest in a motor. There is generally less information available for them. However, once you have mastered the necessary skills and techniques to work these machines, they produce excellent knitted items!

Step 1: Decide which gauge machine you are going to buy

The real question here, is “Why do you want a knitting machine?”

If you want to knit your own clothes, like the hand-knit patterns and yarns, but are short of time, you might want to consider a mid-gauge plastic machine.

If you are looking to knit heavyweight, thick garments with surface patterning, a chunky gauge may be for you.

But if you are looking to knit finer garments (4ply or finer), you definitely want a standard gauge machine (or maybe even a fine gauge).

Remind yourself of the different gauges and the thickness of yarns they knit on the About knitting machines page.

Step 2: Decide what method of patterning you want

The patterning methods you can choose from are also listed on the About knitting machines page, but some patterning mechanisms are not available for some gauges of machine.

For new machines, your choice is between punchcards and electronic patterning mechanisms. If you are buying a second-hand machine, it is possible to buy machines with other mechanisms – but information about them is more limited.

Step 3: Decide whether you are going to buy new or pre-owned

Silver Reed is the main manufacturer of new knitting machines sold in the UK.

There are companies in Hong Kong and China manufacturing machines which are occasionally available in the UK and can be purchased via the internet for delivery to the UK. There may be additional import duty, VAT and customs and handling charges on top of the prices you see on overseas websites.

You can find links to suppliers of new and pre-owned knitting machines and related equipment at the bottom of this page.

You can, of course, purchase your machine from a private seller – just be aware that many of these are not being sold by anyone with any knowledge of machine knitting but are machines that belonged to relatives that were last used some time ago.

(See the bottom of the page for knitting machine suppliers and dealers.)

Pre 1960s machines

These machines are often well made, mostly from metal with plastic being introduced into the later ones. They may not have a tension mast, or it may be attached to the carriage. The yarn may be carried in a ball holder on the carriage. It may not have a needle retaining bar like the ones used today, instead having either a metal strip or thick cord. Those machines with a needle retaining bar often have different dimensions to the ones used currently so no spares available. Some had movable sinkers and static needles. The gauges are often non-standard, and it is almost impossible to purchase spares for them. The earlier machines did not have any patterning mechanism so were great for stocking stitch, but any other stitch needed to be done by hand manipulation of the needles and controls. There were lots of different makes around at this time. Many of the companies did not survive as the machines were not as easy to use as others.

Sellers often think that because their machines are old, they are valuable. However, there are often essential accessories and instruction books missing. Unless you are a collector, they are not worth much at all. A new machine in the 1950s cost between £10 and £35 and you should not expect to pay more than half that for one of them today if it is in working condition.

The exception to this is the Victorian Circular Sock Machines. In working condition these are very desirable and can command fairly high prices. They are extremely heavy. Those that are not in working condition can be restored, but it is an expensive process. Beware buying a modern copy. Whilst these are good you should not expect to pay as high a price as for a genuine Victorian one.

Antique (Victorian)V-bed Knitting machines also occasionally appear. They are not usually as quite expensive as the circular machines but may also require extensive restoration.

Post 1960s machines

With the exception of plastic machines, most Japanese machines come with a purpose-built lid that closed the machine to make it convenient to carry and store when not in use. It was fitted with places to store the various tools that came with the machine, and boxes to keep the smaller accessories together. European machines were usually supplied in a cardboard box which has often been lost over the years.

An instruction book or manual showing all the pieces that were supplied with the machine and its operation is an advantage. However, over the years things can get separated, and it is worth seeing if you can find a copy of the relevant manual online so you can obtain a list of parts. It is worth checking to make sure all the main parts are present and in good condition. Some parts can be sourced but replacing major items such as the carriage and tension mast can prove expensive and difficult.

Before purchase, check that the plastic parts are not cracked or damaged as this can indicate that the machine has been badly treated. The plastic may have changed colour due to UV light, but this should not affect the strength of the plastic or the working of the machine.

Check the machine carefully for rust, especially the needles. It may be possible to save a machine with a little light rust, but anything more should be treated with great caution. The photo below shows some rusty needles that weren't visible until they were pulled forward. Every needle in the machine was in the same state.

Rusty needles on a knitting machine that were only visible once they had been pulled forward.

Grime (often oil, yarn fibres and dust mixed) can often be removed with surgical spirit and a lot of patience. Re-oil the machine with light oil such as sewing machine oil.

Do not try to knit with a machine of this age unless the needle retaining bar is in good condition. This bar holds the needles in the correct position so that when the carriage passes over the bed, the needles can collect the yarn and knit the stitch. If the needles are not in the correct position it can result in damage to the needles, carriage and machine.

The optional ribbers were not supplied with a case but were supplied in a cardboard box with polystyrene packaging. This means that ribbers (if not stored properly) can bow, making them impossible to use. A set of tools, raising clamps, combs and weights, as well as a carriage and connecting arm, were supplied with the ribber. They are pictured in the instruction book supplied with the ribber.

Step 4: Decide how much you can spend and purchase your chosen machine

Prices vary considerably, depending on whether you are buying new or used, from a dealer or a private sale. Set yourself a limit on how much you want to spend and stick to it. Don’t be persuaded by a seller who is telling you it is the bargain of the century, and you are a fool to pass it up! Don’t be fooled by “it worked when last used” as this could be 20 years or more ago! An honest seller will be happy to answer questions and help you with your purchase.

When buying new or used from a dealer, you can be sure the machine is in working condition and is complete unless they tell you otherwise. A used machine may also have a short warranty as well. Be aware that some sellers do not specialise in machine knitting equipment and therefore do not clean and service the machines before they sell them.

Buying privately from an auction site or advert in a magazine or newspaper can be a bit of a gamble unless you can see the machine working before you buy. It may have parts and instruction manuals missing or that need replacing. Depending on how it was stored and for how long, it may be bent, dirty or even rusty. There are parts that deteriorate with age regardless of how well it has been stored. It will also need careful packaging if it is to be posted or couriered to you as it can be damaged through mishandling. Knitting machines are heavy, being typically in excess of 16 kg before packing.

If you have the option to buy a ribber and other accessories at the same time as the machine, and can afford it, then do so. You don’t have to start using them all to begin with, but you will have them them when you are ready and won’t have difficulty in sourcing the correct models.

With all purchases it should be “buyer beware”. If in doubt about what you are buying – contact us by email machineknit@kcguild.org.uk and we may be able to offer an unbiased option.

Step 5: Collect your machine

If possible, collect the machine so that you can check it over for damage or missing parts. You may also be able to see it working. But beware – trying to use the machine with a sponge bar that hasn’t been replaced in a long time may damage it.

If it isn’t possible to collect, the machine should be packed with great care. Wherever possible it should be in the original cardboard box plus additional cushioning material such as bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard inside and outside the machine and its box. It should then have an outer wrapping. It will also need ‘manual handling only’ stickers as the package will be approx. 1.5 metres long and about 16 kg for a metal machine. If it is allowed to travel on conveyor systems, it will be damaged unless extreme care is taken with the packaging due to the drops between belts and less-than-careful handling. Note that not all courier insurance covers knitting machines.

Step 6: Set your machine up and start learning how to use it

It is a steep learning curve, so expect to be frustrated when you first start. Take it slowly and read the instruction book. There are also YouTube videos that may help you. Practise regularly for a shorter time, rather than less frequently for a longer time.

Persevere.

There is help available if you need it – don’t hesitate to email machineknit@kcguild.org.uk and we will try to help.

Suppliers and dealers for knitting machines

This list is in alphabetic order – no priority should be assumed, and the information has been provided in good faith. These external links will open in new tabs.