The Difference Between Machine Knitting and Loom Knitting, With 12 Free Patterns
Although hand knitting is usually what is referred to when we talk about knitting, machine knitting and loom knitting are also hand crafts that use similar techniques to produce a knitted garment.
In this article we’ll look specifically at machine knitting and loom knitting, how they differ, what tools and yarn you need to do machine or loom knitting, and we’ll also give you some patterns for these methods of knitting.
What is machine knitting?
Machine knitting is a type of knitting that is done, not with two to five needles (depending on whether you work in the round or not), but by many needles that make up part of a machine. The knitted fabric or knitted item is then made using this knitting machine.
Most knitwear these days are made by machines, but in this article we’re not talking about the vast industry of clothing manufacturing. Rather, we’re only looking at knitting machines made for home use – the so-called domestic knitting machines. The end result of hand knitting and this type of machine knitting is often indistinguishable from one another.
Although “machine knitting” may sound like you push a button or two and a machine knits the item you want without further input from you, this is not true. Many of the stitches and patterns need active manual manipulation of stitches to create an item.
For example, knitting machines are well set up to knit stockinette (jersey) and rib fabrics, garter stitches, cables, etc. need manipulation of some kind from the person working the knitting machine (see also the article by Olgalyn Jolly on Modern Daily Knitting for more details). Machine knitting, therefore, may be faster when knitting certain patterns but it’s not “cheating” at knitting.
But where did knitting machines come from in the first place? you may ask yourself. For that, we have to travel several centuries back in time.
How machine knitting started
By the end of the 16th century, England alone needed some 10 million pairs of stockings and, at the time, only hand knitting was possible. William Lee saw an opportunity and created the first knitting machine in 1589, consisting of a frame with adapted, barbed needles. Initially, yarn was placed by hand, until about two centuries later when this was no longer necessary because of improvements in the design of the machine.
As fashions changed, the need for longer mens’ stockings became bigger and knitting machines were soon adapted until tubes of knitted fabric could be produced using a round setup. (This is almost like the loom knitting setup – but more about that below, in the second part of the article.)
The need for socks for troops soared during the First World War and although many socks were hand knit, machine knitted socks were also made on the knitting machines of the day. The Red Cross, amongst others, made use of knitting machines.
Using a knitting machine at home really came into its own after the Second World War. Since then, the use of knitting machines have waxed and waned as the popularity of knitting and machine knitting came and went.
For an in-depth look at the history of knitting machines, see the article “A Short History of Machine Knitting” by the Knitting History Forum and “For the Love of Machine Knitting” by designer Olgalyn Jolly.
Free patterns for machine knitting
3 or 4 ply gloves for men and women – A vintage pattern, this easy-to-master pattern can be adapted to different sizes, making it the ideal pattern for gifts or for practicing your colorwork!
Fingerless mittens – These fingerless mittens are a breeze to machine knit and will give beginners a good feel for making smaller projects on the knitting machine.
Shawlette with Leaf Edge – A delightful shawlette that has a lace knit border. This project is sure to help you master your knitting machine.
Harvest Shawl – (Scroll down; the machine knitting pattern is given last) For this simple but beautiful shawl, the hand knit and machine knit patterns are given. Why not make one of each and practice your hand knitting as well?
Tuckerboard Tuck Stitch Baby Blanket – Although this pattern is for a baby blanket, the pattern can also be adapted to make larger blankets if you want to. We absolutely love this tuck stitch pattern.
Machine Knit Racked Full Fisherman Scalloped Baby Blanket Pattern – Talk about a beautiful pattern! This scalloped baby blanket with its fisherman pattern is sure to become an heirloom.
Jessica Tromp’s Patterns for sweaters and more – This site has oodles of patterns for different machine knitted garments. The garments are also available in various sizes. You’re sure to find your next machine knitting project here!
What is loom knitting?
If you know – or have done – spool knitting (also known as French knitting), then you have seen the basic method of loom knitting as well. Loom knitting, like spool knitting, is done on a loom of different shapes and sizes to create a knitted-type fabric.
Unlike the four or five pegs on a spool knitting “knitting nancy”, the many pegs on a loom knitting loom allows the loom knitter to create different stitch patterns, cables, lace, and basically any type of knitting that can also be done with traditional hand knitting.
The first knitting machine – the 1589 machine by William Lee that we mentioned in the first part of this article – can be seen as a loom knitting “machine” rather than just a knitting machine as the needles were static.
Knitting looms are now available in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes; from those used to knit socks, to those used to knit afghans and other blankets. These knitting looms are also widely available online and in yarn and hobby stores.
Free patterns for loom knitting
Aria Messy Bun Hat pattern – A classic messy bun hat that’s quick and easy to make on a loom. Why not make some for gifts as well? Or make one in your favorite colors.
Chain Lace cowl – This simple lace stitch is great for beginners to learn more than just the basics of loom knitting!
Loom Knit Feather and Fan scarf – The feather and fan is a traditional hand knit lace pattern that can also be knit on a loom. Make this fabulous scarf to show off the dainty pattern.
Loom Knit Cat plushie – Cute as a button, this soft kitty is sure to delight children and adults alike.
Loom Knit Oven Mitt – This oven mitt is a great way to use up cotton yarn or to make as a quick and easy, practical gift for a housewarming or birthday.
Serving Up Stripes loom knit table runner – A classic runner has received a funky makeover by making it from loom knitted fabric. It’s easy to match to your decor and even easier to make!
(PAID) American Paris Shawl – We’ve included this pattern as this exquisite shawl doesn’t look at all like it was knitted on a loom! It clearly shows the variety of stitches that can be made with a simple loom. The pattern may be a paid one, but it’s worth every cent.
If you haven’t tried machine knitting or loom knitting, why not make this the year that you start a new knitting hobby? Have fun and don’t forget to show us what you make on the KnitPal Facebook group!