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by Sonja

Automatic Stitch Techniques

Modern knitting machines can perform a variety of  interesting stitch techniques without a ribber or garter carriage.  These include fair isle, tuck, skip, normal lace, fine lace, thread lace, weaving,  plating, and intarsia. Some of these are identical to their hand knitting counterparts; others are unique to knitting  machines.

Each type of stitch is accomplished by using one of the four positions for each needle in conjunction with the different cam settings on the knit carriage. The four needle positions are non-working, working,  upper working, and holding. Most of the stitch functions  are fully automatic, meaning the machine places selected needles in either the working or upper working position  with each pass of the carriage, according to the design pattern. All the knitter needs to do is move the carriage back and forth to knit the  fabric. These stitch functions are all exclusive of one another;   that is to say, they cannot be combined in any one row  (i.e. you  can't knit fair isle lace, although you  can knit a fair isle body  with lace  sleeves)

Fair Isle

Fair isle refers to stranded knitting using two  colors, just like in hand knitting. The main color knits  on needles in working  position, and the alternate  color knits on needles in upper working position.  Although only two colors can be used in any given row,  these can be changed from row to row, giving you more options. As in hand knitting, the knitter will want to choose a design that minimizes the floats on the back of the fabric. However, the machine virtually eliminates tension problems with the yarn carried behind.

Tuck Stitch

Tuck stitch doesn't really have a hand knitted equivalent  that I'm aware of. In tuck stitch, the needles in working position  knit normally. The  needles in upper working position don't knit, but   an extra loop of yarn is laid over them with each pass  of the  carriage. When these needles are returned to working position, all  the loops on the needle knit in a single stitch, resulting in a textured fabric. Tuck stitch uses only one strand of yarn per row,  although it can be changed on any row for some interesting color effects.

Skip Stitch

Skip stitch is the machine knitting equivalent of slipping instead of knitting a stitch. In hand  knitting, it's also used to do mosaic knitting. As in tuck stitch, the needles in working position  knit  and the needles in upper working position don't.  However, no  extra loops of yarn are laid over the  needles in upper working  position, so when the needle finally knits, it's a single, longer stitch. As with tuck stitch, the yarn can be changed on any row to  produce mosaic effects.

Normal Lace

Normal lace is the machine equivalent of traditional hand  knitted lace. Also called  "transfer lace", it requires the use of a special lace  carriage in addition to the knitting carriage. When the  lace carriage is passed over the needles, stitches in upper working position are transferred or moved to adjacent needles. Then, when  the knit carriage is passed over the bed, needles with multiple stitches knit normally (the equivalent of "knit 2 together"),  and  needles with no stitch are cast on (the equivalent of a "yarn  over"), creating the  characteristic holes.

Fine Lace

Fine lace is a textured fabric that is probably  most similar to the effect you get when you twist stitches in hand knitting. It's  worked in exactly the same way as normal lace. However, when a  transfer is made, the stitch remains on the original needle while  also being stretched onto an adjacent  needle. Thus, when the knit carriage is operated, there  are "knit 2 togethers" but no "yarn  overs" since no needles are empty.

Thread Lace

Also called "punch lace", thread lace is essentially fair  isle done with a regular yarn and  a matching thread. Because the thread is so much  thinner, it barely shows, making it appear that  the fabric has lace holes in it.


Weaving is actually a knitted technique using a  backing yarn and a weaving yarn. The machine  automatically places needles in  either the working or upper working position according to the design pattern. The knitter manually places the weaving yarn  along the  needles in upper working position, and then passes the knit carriage  over them. The  backing yarn knits normally, but catches in the weaving thread on those needles, forming floats of different lengths on the surface of the fabric. The floats appear  as a woven pattern  on the wrong side of the  fabric.


Plating is normal stockinette stitch done with two separate  yarns. The main yarn knits normally, and the alternate yarn knits behind it simultaneously. This produces a "lined" knit fabric, which is useful if  your main yarn is scratchy. The alternate yarn  shows  through a little bit, giving subtle color  variations.

Manual Techniques

Some of the stitch techniques are completely manual, meaning that the machine doesn't select the  needles for you. The knitter must look at a graphed design, select the needles after each pass of  the carriage, and perform the manual operation before  passing the carriage again. These techniques include  intarsia, cables, and hand-manipulated  stitches.


Intarsia is the most labor-intensive of the  manual techniques. The knitter places each color yarn on  the appropriate needles before passing a special  intarsia carriage over them. The  yarns are  threaded through special weights that hang down from the  needle bed to help maintain good tension. On some machines, the knit  carriage has a special setting so a separate intarsia carriage is  not  needed.


Cables can be formed by manually transferring  stitches to  other needles on the appropriate row.  Although a complicated cable pattern can be labor intensive, cables usually work up quickly since  the transfer is made on a small percentage of the rows.  It can be difficult to work cables wider than 3 x 3, however, since the fabric  doesn't usually have as much give as hand knitting.

Hand Manipulated Stitches

Hand manipulated stitches include twisting,  wrapping,  weaving, lifting, rehanging and  transferring stitches to create textured fabrics. These techniques result in surface embellishments, puckers, relief patterns, gathers, ruching, bobbles, popcorn, pintucks, fringes, and trims, even beading. There is almost no limit to the variety a knitter can achieve.

Pattern Variations

Electronic knitting machines may also include  pattern  variation buttons that allow the knitter to change a design that's already been input, either by  the knitter or pre-programmed. These include reverse,  mirror image, upside down, reflection (vertical mirror  image), double width, double length, rotation, negative,  multi-color rib (jacquard), and single motif. Using double width and  double length together will  automatically make your design four times larger without having to re-enter it.


Several optional accessories are available that  can expand the range of what a knitting machine can do, or make it easier to do  some things. These include  ribbers, garter carriages, color changers, linkers, transfer carriages, lace carriages, and intarsia   carriages. Before purchasing an accessory, it's important to determine if it's compatible with your  brand and model of machine, since accessories can cost  anywhere from $100 to $600 or more.


The ribber is perhaps the most versatile accessory you can purchase for the knitting machine, and also the most expensive. The ribber is a separate needle bed that attaches to the knitting  machine so that the two beds are closely positioned, perpendicular to  each other. It has its own separate carriage that attaches to the knit carriage so that both beds knit simultaneously. Stitches on the  main bed are knit and stitches on the ribber bed are purl. A plain   knitting machine is often referred to as "single bed", but with a ribber attached it's referred to as "double bed." The ribber can be  easily lowered out of the  way any time the knitter wants to use only  the single bed.

The ribber can greatly expand the types of knitting you can  do on the machine. Obviously,  it's used to make many different  ribbings, everything from 1 x 1 to 5 x 5 or more. By changing the  settings, you can knit English rib or fisherman's rib,  which are thicker, more textured fabrics. By changing the position of the ribber at regular intervals with the racking lever, you can create zigzag ribs. You can use it to knit multi-color rib fabric (jacquard), which  looks like fair isle but without the floats. You  can also knit a circular tube or a U-shaped piece of fabric twice as  wide as the needle bed, although these can only be done in plain  stockinette.

Still, the ribber is not capable of producing  fabrics where  the position of the purl stitch  changes from row to row. This is because the knitter  would have to hand transfer stitches from one  bed to the other on every row, according to the pattern  design, and  this is too time-consuming to be practical.

The ribber will also come with several specialized tools,  such as cast-on plates, large  and small weights, wire-loop and claw  type weight  hangers, two-eyed transfer needles, needle pushers, work  hooks, end stitch presser plates, and fine knitting bar.

Garter Carriage

The garter carriage is used to form purl stitches on single-bed, standard gauge knitting  machines. It has a separate, opposing needle, which essentially places the stitch into a purl position before knitting it and returning it to its own needle. It has its own power supply and moves automatically, at  a much slower  pace than you can move the knit  carriage. It has a tendency to jam  and may drop  stitches when using some types of yarn.

As mentioned in Part II, the garter carriage can produce a purl stitch  at any position in any row, which means it can be used to produce ribbings, garter stitch, seed stitch, moss stitch, basket weave stitch, and other fabrics that depend on a combination of knit and purl stitches. However, the garter carriage can only  be used with a single color of yarn at a time, meaning  it can't produce Bohus-style  knitting that combines both fair isle with purl stitches in the  same  row. Some repair centers now offer a  conversion attachment that  allows the garter carriage to knit with two different colors in a  row, but I haven't used or seen this in operation.

The garter carriage can also be used to cast on  and off  automatically.

Single Bed Color Changer

The single bed color changer allows the knitter  to thread up to 4 different yarns into the machine and  easily switch between them without rethreading the  machine, which can normally be threaded with only 1 or 2 yarns depending on the stitch technique. This is a huge  timesaver when knitting multi-color garments on the single bed, and  almost necessary when  knitting multi-color stripes, fair isle designs with  more than 2 colors, multi-color tuck stitch, or multi-color slip stitch. However, the single bed color changer can't be used on a double-bed machine, and vice  versa.

Double Bed Color Changer

The double-bed color changer is similar to the single bed  color changer, except it's designed to fit onto a double bed machine  and work with the combined carriage. Some models hold 4 colors, while  others hold 6 colors. In addition, some require the knitter to manually select the yarns to be used in each row, while others work with the electronic machines to automatically select the colors according to the design  pattern. This color changer is necessary to  knit multi-color rib, or jacquard, patterns.


The linker is used to cast off, or bind off, automatically.  It doesn't do anything the knitter can't do easily by hand. There are several different methods of binding off manually, in addition to  scrapping off with waste yarn. The linker gives a firm, latch  tool type of bind-off, and can be difficult to master. When the  knitting is finished, the  knitter removes the knit carriage,  attaches the  linker to the needle bed, and turns the knob until all  the stitches are cast off. Open stitches can be dropped if the  operation is not performed perfectly.

Transfer Carriage

The transfer carriage is used to automatically move stitches from the ribber to the main bed (or vice versa) when knitting only 1x1, 2x2, or full needle ribbing. Again, this is easily done by the  knitter  manually when changing from ribbing to stockinette  stitch. To use the transfer carriage, the knitter removes the knit and ribber carriages, attaches the  transfer carriage, and turns the  knobs until the stitches are all transferred.

Lace Carriage

The lace carriage is used to transfer stitches according to  the lace design, as described in Part  III. In some brands, the lace  carriage both  transfers and knits, while in other brands, the  lace  carriage only transfers and the knit carriage knits. Some models will include a lace carriage, while it must be purchased separately  for others. You  should make sure your machine can knit lace and that the  lace carriage is compatible before purchasing one.

Intarsia Carriage

The intarsia carriage is used to knit intarsia.  It places  all working needles into upper working position with each pass, so  the yarns can be  hand-manipulated easily. Some brands and models  have an intarsia setting on the knit carriage, so the  separate intarsia carriage is not necessary.

Knit Leader

The knit leader is a charting device that  attaches to the  knitting machine. The pattern  piece is drawn onto special paper,  which feeds through the knit leader as the piece is knitted. It helps the knitter to increase or decrease at the appropriate time  without having to make all the gauge calculations in  advance.


©Sonja Record, 2003, all rights reserved.      

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