Luciferins Material Explorations

Helloooo Knitting Machine!!

After working on the last iteration of Luciferins, I love texture of the surface and uniformity of wet felting. Yet, laying out the wool fiber on such a huge piece, is incredibly time consuming. This is problematic considering the scale that the piece needs to cover to meet the project goals. I need find a way to make faster or to make far more within the same time frame.

I heard about knitting machines through research and web surfing. I was lucky to see a few in person when I was out visiting University of California Davis’s Design Department. My curiosity grew as I learned that many models were mechanical machines, and not strictly digital machines. I was drawn to this, as I want my hand to be directly connected to the development of the fiber forms. In contrast, 3D printing is more distant with the hand. A file is created on the computer, then fed to the smaller computer in the machine which controls the motors and printing of materials. Don’t get me wrong, 3D printing is sweet and wonderful for a plethora of things. It’s not the direction that I’m moving in, with reference to fibers.

I found models on Ebay and Craig’s List for sale, but I was hesitant to buy an older model (from the late 1980’s – 90’s) when I had little experience with operation, let alone evaluation.

Living in a big city has it’s perks. One here in Brooklyn is the Textile Arts Center, a resource for the textile community. They offer all kinds of classes, including Machine Knitting. Woo-who! After taking a class, I was comfortable with basic operations and I began hunting for my own model. I wanted a metal bed as it would last longer. It wasn’t long before I scored a good price on a machine that was well looked after.

I was over the moon to finally have my own!! There is so many possibilities with this, as it opens a new vocabulary of making. But before I could start experimenting, I had to clean the machine, as it had been sitting for 30-35 years. This was a project in and of itself.

After digging and researching, I came across some fantastic videos made by The Answer Lady and her husband, Jack. Apparently, she’s a professional machine knitter and he’s an expert machinist, with a penchant for repairing broken ones. They have made some wonderful videos documenting care and repairs. It’s an amazing resource which has helped me figure out a variety of issues, in addition to proper upkeep on such machines. This is critical, as these models are not in production anymore, nor is there an abundance of repair folks out there.

cleaning knitting machine bed
cleaning knitting machine bed
Cleaning the knitting carriage
Cleaning the knitting machine carriage

After lots of soaks, wipes, rags, fluids, video watching, breaks, forum posts, readings, searching, I was finally able to get it back together and working like a charm! Such a wonderful relief! I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but everything worked out and this machine is ready to hum!

Testing knitting machine
Testing knitting machine
Knitting Machine Demos
Knitting Machine Demos

Now, I’m off to recap the basics and start experimenting with the construction of surface and structures.

My immediate goal beyond mastering the basics, is to knit a structure for Luciferins with wool. I’m thinking I can get it to shrink to create a uniform surface, after which point I can manipulate the surface before the final shrinking.

Lots to do, lots to do….. but I’m super stoked to see what I can do on this machine!