I can knit a hat in 30 minutes using this clever machine
Whether you can knit or (k)not, here’s why you might want a knitting machine.
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Like everyone else during quarantine, I’ve picked up a few hobbies. Crocheting, knitting, embroidering, and so on—fiber arts are my jam. I even joined a local fiber arts group that meets online every month to chat and work on our individual projects over Zoom. Throughout 2020, many of the members in it were working on sewing masks for local nonprofits and mutual aid groups to hand out. I knew I didn’t have the skills or tools necessary to partake, but I had a ton of yarn and wanted to use my newfound love of knitting to help out the community.
With the homelessness crisis in America getting worse, I decided I wanted to make hats for people who might be stuck out in the cold during the winter. Hats are relatively easy to make, don’t require too much yarn, and would help keep someone nice and warm. My only issue: With my beginner’s skill level, it would take me days, sometimes even a full week, to make just one hat. And that hat might have some skipped stitches in it and just look bad, so I’d want to undo it and try again. I was frustrated … there had to be a faster way to make hats. That’s when I discovered knitting machines.
What is a knitting machine?
A knitting machine is basically what it sounds like: a machine that knits for you. More technically speaking, you feed it yarn, crank a lever, and it does the action of knitting using its many hooks for you in a much speedier and efficient way. Knitting machines come in different shapes, styles, and sizes for making different types of projects. The circular ones are best for hats, which is why I sought one of those out. If you want to make baby-sized hats, you go for the 20-needle machine, but if you want a hat that’ll fit an adult, you’ll need the 40- or 48-needle machine—the needles indicate the number of stitches that go into creating the diameter of the hat. These machines are great if you are knitting items for a business or in bulk (ding ding ding!) as you can do it really fast, or if you want to make homemade hats (or scarves), but you don’t want to actually learn how to knit. It’s more mechanical than skill-oriented, but the resulting apparel is still technically made by you!
I was first captivated by knitting machines after seeing a video of one in action on TikTok, and how someone was able to make a seemingly perfect hat in under 30 minutes. There are a ton of knitting machines for sale online, but most of them are kind of sketchy, if you believe the user reviews lamenting yarn jams, snapped hooks, broken row counters, and immovable cranks.
What’s the best knitting machine?
To find one that might be worth it for my hat-making plans, I asked people in a fiber arts Facebook group I’m in (that has over 78,000 members!) which machine was most reliable. Everyone agreed the Addi King Size Knitting Machine is hands-down the best knitting machine. People prefer the Addi because it’s made of a sturdier plastic than others, has the capability to mount to a table for stability, is great for making hats and scarves as well as bigger projects like sweaters and, well, has a reputation for not breaking. Some people even get drill attachments for the crank arm so they don’t have to turn it manually, and while that would almost definitely break a cheaper one, various reviews and customer testimonials claim that it works just fine for an Addi machine.
But, unfortunately, the Addi has two major downsides. For one, it costs between $250 and $400, depending on where you buy it—and it is often sold out. Like seriously sold out. I couldn’t find it in stock at a single retailer worldwide (yes, the demand for it is that high). So many people, including me, tend to settle for one of the “cheaper” ones, which range in price from $50 to $100.
I took to—where else—Amazon to find myself a reasonable substitute. One popular model of knitting machine by Sentro earned 4 stars from 525 shoppers, but many reviews said that there was a 50/50 chance you might receive one labeled Santro, spelled with an "a," instead—a less functional knock-off. If you get one a legitimate one, reviewers say it works great and your hats/scarves/whatever come out perfectly. But if you received a bad one, it skips stitches, or the row counter breaks, or the crank is hard to turn, or it jams, or all of the above!
In fact, the more I investigated the offerings on Amazon, this seemed to be the case with most of these cheaply-made knitting machines—they all looked basically identical, but with different company names slapped on the side—and the reviews stated there was a solid chance you’d receive a broken one, or one that would break in short order. I was really eager to try one, though, so I did a bunch of research and settled for the next best thing I could find to the always-out-of-stock Addi: the (unfortunately named) Jamit Knitting Machine, a 48-needle circular knitting machine. With an average rating of 4.1 from nearly 800 reviews, it seemed like a reasonable gamble for $90.
How do you use a the Jamit knitting machine machine?
It's really simple. You feed the yarn into the machine by hand for the first row, set the tension, then crank the lever. The machine knits the yarn around and around, creating a cylinder that will become your hat. Once you get to a good length—based on my favorite YouTube knitting machine tutorial, I found about 120 rows makes a good-size cozy hat—you snip about a foot of yarn from the ball you’ve been working from. From there, you thread the new end of the yarn into a big plastic needle included with the machine, and poke it through the loops left on the machine's hooks, and slowly crank to collect the loops onto your yarn tail. Then you pull the needle, tightening the stitches together and cinching one end to form the top of the hat— voila!
If it sounds confusing, don’t worry—there are a ton of YouTube knitting machine videos that break it down super easily. You can also find a plethora of patterns and projects, like scarves, socks, and even gloves, if you want to get more advanced. For bigger projects like sweaters that have more parts, you knit panels of the different sections and sew them together using that big plastic needle. Just make sure to use a light-weight yarn—nothing past a 3-4 weighted yarn—or it won't fit in the machine properly and get all clogged up.
What I like about the Jamit knitting machine
I absolutely love my knitting machine. It’s so cool, and honestly, a great arm workout. The last needle in the row is a different color from the rest so you always know when you hit the end of a row, a nice visual cue, especially when you’re making something flat, like a scarf. The row counter keeps track as the project grows, which I relied on to count each time I went around a loop when making the cylinder that becomes a hat. All you have to do is crank the lever and keep an eye on things to make sure the yarn is being caught by the needles, which look more like a crochet hook at their tips. Once you get the hang of the action, it becomes almost mindless—you can listen to a podcast, chat with friends, even watch TV, and make a hat in less than an hour.
Within my first week of having it, I made five hats. Granted, some of them weren’t the prettiest as I was still figuring things out, but it was such an improvement to when I was knitting them by hand. It’s so easy to use that I showed my roommates (who don’t knit) how to use it and they had fun helping me crank out a hat, too. I have a giant stash of yarn in my room I’ve collected over the years and telling myself that I’d use eventually but never did. Now I can! I’ve donated 10 of the hats I’ve made so far and plan to make a ton more throughout the spring and summer to give out to local homeless shelters once next fall comes around and it starts getting cold again. If I get really good, I could even start selling them—or at least giving them to friends and family as gifts.
What I don't like about the Jamit Knitting Machine
While I love my knitting machine and the results I’ve had, it has not been without some serious issues. For starters, the first machine I received in the mail was one of the "bad" ones I mentioned earlier. It started its downward demise after just two sessions of me fiddling with it when my first project was about the equivalent length of just a headband: The row counter just stopped working, so when I would go around a loop, the numbers wouldn’t go up and the crank became really hard to turn. I figured that I could just eyeball the size of the hat without knowing exactly how many rows I made, and I was able to, er, crank out two hats. But as I kept using it, the crank got harder and harder to turn, and every round it would make a horrible screeching sound when the row counter tried to turn but couldn’t. I felt like it might snap off with every turn of the crank. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, until on my fifth hat, one of the needles just snapped off. I guess it could technically still knit, but I went from 48 needles to 47 so there would always be a gap where that stitch was skipped in every row of any future hat I made. You can buy replacement needles in case this happens, but as my machine was less than a week old, I was still well within the time period of being able to return it. I requested a replacement from Amazon (for free), hoping that my new one would be one of the “good” ones.
The new one arrived only two weeks ago. I’ve used it to make three hats so far; it’s much better and probably not a lemon—but it still has its hiccups. The mechanisms crank more smoothly, but the needles get stuck with the yarn at times, so I have to push the yarn over it with my fingers to prevent the needle from becoming tangled (which could lead to breakage). But the row counter is working great so far ... fingers crossed it stays that way.
Other complaints: The suction cups on the feet that are supposed to stick to the surface of whatever I put it on (table, floor, desk) for stability never worked on either machine. So when I’m knitting, I have to use my right hand to crank it and my left hand to hold the machine in place, which gets annoying and tiring. What’s more, there’s no real way to switch hands while cranking (lefties, take note!). I don’t want just my right arm to get jacked from making hats, but it’s really hard to use your left hand with the crank located on the right side of the machine. You could theoretically turn the machine around and crank from the backside with your left hand, but then you wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the tension as the yarn feeds through, which is crucial to get even results on your project. If your ball of yarn doesn't leave enough slack or unwind smoothly enough, the yarn will snap out of the tension holder and potentially break the machine, or at least botch up your project a little. As you can tell, there's a lot of little nuances to watch out for to make sure the machine won't break—but honestly, to me, it's worth it.
Should you get a knitting machine?
If you love the idea of knitted items but don't want to go through the effort of actually learning how to knit, then yes. Even if you do know how to knit already, if you have any reason to make hats or socks or any tubular knitted items in bulk, this is perfect for you. That seems kind of specific, but think about how much easier making gifts for friends and family around the holidays will be (not to mention the donation potential, which of course was my main reason for taking the plunge). But if you’d prefer to knit by hand and don’t really care about how long it takes—you’re just doing it for the relaxing meditation of it—then you may enjoy the traditional manual method better. A knitting machine is meditative, but I definitely wouldn't call it relaxing (though you get the benefit of a slight arm workout).
If you go for it, be aware of the potential issues of the non-Addi models out there and make sure that whichever machine you order, you can return or replace it if it doesn’t work. Then once you receive it, try it out right away to see if it’ll break—you don’t want to wait until it’s too late to realize you have a badly made one and the return period has lapsed.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.