The Wonderful, Wooly World of Hacked Knitting Machines

Once upon a time, there was a warm, fuzzy hack. It was 2010 – Becky Stern and Lada Ada (Limor Fried) built on Steve Conklin’s disk emulator and knitting machine resources to allow their modern computers to work with the ancient microcontroller of a 1980s knitting machine. This meant that they could now knit designs made with modern tools, too complex or tedious to easily knit by hand. They shared their work with the world and since then, following an open hardware model, they and many others have contributed hardware and software improvements, smoothed the workflow, and allowed other models of knitting machine to be hacked. I went for a beautiful autumnal bike ride over to Wedding and caught up with Fabienne Serrière (FBZ), who has contributed a number of improvements to the original hack and has the wonderful woolens to show for it. We talked about the history of knitting machines, this hack, open hardware and Fabienne’s various projects, and started plotting to make an open source sweater to keep me warm in the winter months. We covered so many different things that I can only show you a brief introduction to her projects now, but there will be more to come!

EDIT: as promised, a second video: we made a hat!

There’s also an open source knitting machine in the works, thanks to Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet – it’s called Knitic.

Info related to the Brother knitting machine hacks can be found here. Check out Lady Ada & Becky Stern’s original tutorial, here’s the video:

Andrew Salomone is an artist who does amazing things with this technology, an infinite Cosby sweater, a drum’n’bass loop scarf…

At the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki I saw a talk on knitting machines and personal fabrication by Estonian artist Varvara Guljajeva – (from the Knitic project – she was in fact the one who put me in touch with Fabienne). Varvara makes wonderful things with knitting machines (spam poetry, anyone?) and during her talk she showed this little gem from 1988: a charming lady showing how she programs her knitting on a commodore 64.

I don’t think it’s open source, but while we’re on the subject…

So, suggestions for open source sweaters are very much welcome, and if you’re in town, come say hi to me and Fabienne at the summit, tomorrow and Friday! This is not the last you shall hear of knitting machines…

Author samoos Posted on November 14, 2012

13 thoughts on “The Wonderful, Wooly World of Hacked Knitting Machines”

Jack says:

November 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

What, are hackers illiterate now?
This site and the Varvara Guljajeva link are nothing but video.
Doesn’t work for me.
Where are the words and pictures?

samoos says:

November 15, 2012 at 9:00 am

As I said, I’m not done with this subject yet. There will be some writing at a later date as well.

samoos says:

November 15, 2012 at 9:09 am

but in the meantime, words:
Varvara’s slides
writeup of dinosaur banjo 2d extreme project
andrew salomone
technical info on this hack:

Varvara says:

November 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Hi Jack!
we are working on Knitic – the open source knitting machine and you can find more information here:
and download beta code and pcb design here:

samoos says:

November 16, 2012 at 10:44 am

Cool! Thanks Varvara, I’ll edit the post to include these!

Andy says:

November 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

this hack ties directly to the solenoid in the brother machines? I have a KH970 which has a computer attached still trying to figure out how to get it to talk to my computer.

Varvara says:

November 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hi Andy!
Yes, Knitic is about controlling solenoids of knitting machine directly. We are in beta version at the moment and waiting for Arduino Due. We have discovered that normal arduino is way to slow to do the calculation for every needle while moving the cartage over the needles.
If you are curious you can have a look at the code here:
i haven’t worked with KH970. So not totally sure that all the sensors are the same. But if you could open it and send some photos and descriptions. I could tell.
Does it have a manual INPUT mode? then you could simulate the keys through arduino like we were doing before making sense of 940 machine’s memory format.
hope it helps.

A.Lizard says:

December 17, 2012 at 6:49 am

Anybody doing services that enable uploading knit designs and getting back knitted fabric? Thanks.

samoos says:

December 17, 2012 at 10:09 am

Not that I know of, not yet, anyway… it would be a cool option for shapeways/ponoko etc. The problem with these Brother machines is that they’re not fully automated – as I understand it the machines still need a bit of babysitting, and in most cases the carriage needs to be hand-pushed – do-it-all domestic machines are also not as robust as single-garment industrial machines, so anyone doing large-scale production might struggle with parts breaking and wearing out. Then of course to make an actual garment you need to sew all the parts together, so it can still be very time-intensive to make things with a knitting machine, but it’s getting easier, and I’m sure once Varvara’s Knitic is in production we’ll start seeing more knitting machines in hacklabs.

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