I get asked this question often. It certainly is a different animal altogether from needle knitting. Truth be told, I prefer to knit on needles. However, the pace is obviously too slow if one wants to sell the work. Hence, the knitting machine. Invented in 1589, this technology is much older than many realize. Of course, the machine has come a long way since then, and now there are huge industrial machines (if you ever wonder where your t-shirts come from) and smaller electronic machines that enable a knitter to work off of a pre-programmed pattern. I prefer a bit of a slower pace, as I am often designing as I knit. I also want my sweaters to reflect a handmade quality, so I like to use my machine as an "acoustic" instrument -- unplugged. For any history buffs out there, or textile fiends, the following is an excerpt on the history of machine knitting. Enjoy.
In 1589, two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution "... a machine appeared which clearly foreshadowed the direction Industry was going to take: William Lee's Stocking Frame. Knitted hoses & stockings - of course made by hand - were an essential piece of clothing in Tudor England, between 1500 & 1600. Men wore them of course, but so did women, under the long skirts in use at the time - an enormous market, where the manufacture of a pair of woolen stockings, hand-knit, took around four working days. This is where William Lee, curate of the small town of Calverton, in England, comes onto the scene. According to legend, to free a girl he was courting from the massive hand-knitting work which took all of her time, more likely foreseeing the economic possibilities in the market, Lee developed, step by step, a machine which exactly imitated the knitters' hand-movements, but at extraordinarily improved speed - in the end, up to twelve times faster. The Stocking Frame could manufacture enormous quantities of woolen stockings, and later, silken stockings as well - paradoxically, this was the very reason which brought Queen Elizabeth the 1st to deny Lee a patent. The interests of the thousands of English Knitters & their Guilds would be severely endangered by a machine which could work so much faster, & the times, clearly, were not yet right. Lee had better fortune in France, where he subsequently moved, & managed to obtain a patent: unfortunately, though, his ambitions, & new factory in Rouen, were quashed by the growingly hostile local climate towards his nationality & religion. Lee died, in great distress, in Paris, in 1614.
Despite his misfortune, William Lee thus stands, with his Stocking Frame, as one of the immediate precursors of that world-shaking event that was the Industrial Revolution - the event from which much of our modern world stemmed, surely including our work with Automation. The hooked shape of the needles in his machine is still identical today, four centuries later, in modern knitting machines; & so is his guiding principle of inventing, & constantly improving, machines such as those which move our Industry, every day.”