14 April 2000

Machine knitting is craft thats taking off

Knitting has rather gone out

of fashion but Pauline Baker

says machine knitting has

lots to offer the modern

craftswoman

I WAS introduced to art of spinning some years ago when I first kept a pet sheep. I accumulated oodles of hand-spun yarn and endeavoured to knit my husband at least one sweater a year from this harvest.

Hand knitting is wonderful but I found my progress mighty slow, so to encourage greater production my husband presented me with my first knitting machine.

The machine enabled me to thrash my stash of natural fibre into warm woollies and still retain that hand-knit look. Today, with three knitting machines in my workroom, I have become besotted with machine knitting and its amazing possibilities.

There is evidence that the craft of machine knitting started way back in history at the time when Mary Queen of Scots was having a little "to-do" with her illustrious sister.

It was at this time that the Rev William Lee of Cambridge found himself expelled from a Cambridge College and it fell to his wife to find ways of keeping them. She did this by taking in knitting, but was so overcome with the amount of work that came her way her husband set about inventing a device for the mechanical production of stockings.

The Rev Lee applied to Queen Elizabeth I for a patent, which was refused on the grounds that it would put countless numbers of her subjects out of work. He then turned his attention to across the Channel, where Henry IV of France expressed an interest, only to be assassinated before the Rev Lee was able to profit from his patronage.

By this time, the Rev Lee was hugely fed up and is said to have died of a broken heart by this apparent failure. However, his brother returned to England, set up manufacturing facilities of his own and by 1640 framework knitting had become a major industry in Notts and neighbouring counties.

&#42 Early wonders

Those early machines must have been wonders of their age. But even in the last 30 years we have travelled light years from what most of us remember.

Today, in addition to classy stocking-stitch, there is an infinite range of lace, textures, bubbles, bobbles, seeds, slip stitches, cables, jacquard, ribs, tuck stitches, fancy intarsia, glorious combinations of Fair Isle – even Arran styles – can be created on a modern knitting machine.

The sight and effects of yarns and materials available nowadays is incredible. Why trail around stores and browse through catalogues in search of cashmere undies, delicate lace fabrics, expensive mohair sweaters, tailored suits or special furnishing fabrics when with a lovely gliding swoosh of the machine carriage, the flick of a switch or lever and a cone of yarn the beginnings of a designer garment will appear?

The machines we use can be as basic and inexpensive as a wooden knitting frame, through the whole range of manual machines to 24 stitch automatic punch cards, electronic beauties with the capability of patterning over the whole bed of 200/250 needles. In addition, several British companies produce a wealth of software for pattern and stitch designing which can be downloaded straight into the machine, ready for knitting.

Help is also available from the Guild of Machine Knitters, which was set up in 1997 to encourage the spread and enjoyment of this craft.

From 200 members in the first year, there are now over 700, including myself.

Members provide help, support, advice and friendship and help our machine and yarn manufacturers to continually improve their products and service, and boost the often stunning output of our many British designers.

Inquries: Pauline Baker (01536-206770) or The Guild of Machine Knitters (01705-475251).

Hand spinning led Pauline Baker to machine knitting which can produce a huge range of stitches to be used for clothing or decoration.