Electronic Knitting Provides Endless Possibility for Customization

by Elizabeth Meiklejohn

The relatively recent innovation of electronic knitting machines has made it possible for manufacturers, designers and independent artists to create knitted textiles with an incredible amount of detailed and varied patterns, much more efficiently than would otherwise be possible.  A step up from previous “mechanically controlled” knitting machines, which use physical pattern-programming devices (such as paper punch cards or peg drums), electronic knitting machines store data on a computer or external drive, automatically moving needles to create the correct pattern.  Many aspects of computer technology are well-suited to knitting, such as the binary (0 or 1) system being applied to two-color patterns or knit/tuck stitches.  Since the carriages on many (although not all) electronic knitting machines move automatically, instead of being moved back and forth by hand, textiles and garments can be created much more easily and quickly, although there is less opportunity for hand-manipulated details.  Software also exists to aid in the shaping and formation of garments, working alongside textile pattern data to produce (for example) a sweater with a repeated motif.  There are multiple types of electronic knitting machines – some, like the large machine in RISD’s textile department, move completely automatically and are capable of many complex functions including jacquard, intarsia, lace and cable-knit designs.  Others are more like traditional knitting machines with a hand-operated carriage, the only difference being that they can connect to a computer or data-storage drive.  The latter type is often used by independent artists or crafters to create knitwear and textile art that takes full advantage of the computerized aspect of these machines.  Artist Andrew Salamone and craft blogger Becky Stern have both utilized “hacked” Brother knitting machines that have been upgraded from their basic functions (knitting fabric from stored data) by adding a computer cable.  This allows the artists to input literally any pattern they can find or create, and creates room for a greater degree of intricacy.  (Andrew Salamone created a “recursive” sweater with an image of Bill Cosby wearing a sweater with a picture of Bill Cosby wearing a sweater, continuing into infinity).  This type of DIY customization or “hacking”, common in many creative and computer-based fields, has now spread to electronic knitting systems.  No longer confined to larger and more expensive machines, this type of complicated knitted pattern is now possible for anyone with a basic machine and a certain amount of technological savvy to create.

Photo:

andrewsalamone.com     Andrew Salamone’s project knitted on a “hacked” Brother machine: a balaclava customized with an image of the wearer’s face.

Sources:

“Chapter 12: Electronics In Knitting.” Knitting Technology. 134-144. Woodhead      Publishing Limited, 2001. Textile Technology Complete. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Stern, Becky. “How-To: Hack Your Knitting Machine.” Video blog post. CRAFT. O’Reilly Media, Inc., 5 Nov. 2010. Web. <http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2010/11/hack_your_knitting_machine.html&gt;.

Montgomery, Angus. “Create Your Own Christmas Jumpers with a Hacked Knitting Machine.” Design Week. Centaur Media, 23 Nov. 2011. Web. <http://www.designweek.co.uk/home/blog/create-your-own-christmas-jumpers-with-a-hacked-knitting-machine/3032158.article&gt;.

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