by Sonja Kathleen
Several optional accessories are available that can expand the range of what a knitting machine can do, or make it easier to do some things. These include ribbers, garter carriages, color changers, linkers, transfer carriages, lace carriages, and intarsia carriages. Before purchasing an accessory, it's important to determine if it's compatible with your brand and model of machine, since accessories can cost anywhere from $100 to $600 or more.
The ribber is perhaps the most versatile accessory you can purchase for the knitting machine, and also the most expensive. The ribber is a separate needle bed that attaches to the knitting machine so that the two beds are closely positioned, perpendicular to each other. It has its own separate carriage that attaches to the knit carriage so that both beds knit simultaneously. Stitches on the main bed are knit and stitches on the ribber bed are purl. A plain knitting machine is often referred to as "single bed", but with a ribber attached it's referred to as "double bed." The ribber can be easily lowered out of the way any time the knitter wants to use only the single bed.
The ribber can greatly expand the types of knitting you can do on the machine. Obviously, it's used to make many different ribbings, everything from 1 x 1 to 5 x 5 or more. By changing the settings, you can knit English rib or fisherman's rib, which are thicker, more textured fabrics. By changing the position of the ribber at regular intervals with the racking lever, you can create zigzag ribs. You can use it to knit multi-color rib fabric (jacquard), which looks like fair isle but without the floats. You can also knit a circular tube or a U-shaped piece of fabric twice as wide as the needle bed, although these can only be done in plain stockinette.
Still, the ribber is not capable of producing fabrics where the position of the purl stitch changes from row to row. This is because the knitter would have to hand transfer stitches from one bed to the other on every row, according to the pattern design, and this is too time-consuming to be practical.
The ribber will also come with several specialized tools, such as cast-on plates, large and small weights, wire-loop and claw type weight hangers, two-eyed transfer needles, needle pushers, work hooks, end stitch presser plates, and fine knitting bar.
The garter carriage is used to form purl stitches on single-bed, standard gauge knitting machines. It has a separate, opposing needle, which essentially places the stitch into a purl position before knitting it and returning it to its own needle. It has its own power supply and moves automatically, at a much slower pace than you can move the knit carriage. It has a tendency to jam and may drop stitches when using some types of yarn.
As mentioned in Part II, the garter carriage can produce a purl stitch at any position in any row, which means it can be used to produce ribbings, garter stitch, seed stitch, moss stitch, basket weave stitch, and other fabrics that depend on a combination of knit and purl stitches. However, the garter carriage can only be used with a single color of yarn at a time, meaning it can't produce Bohus-style knitting that combines both fair isle with purl stitches in the same row. Some repair centers now offer a conversion attachment that allows the garter carriage to knit with two different colors in a row, but I haven't used or seen this in operation.
The garter carriage can also be used to cast on and off automatically.
Single Bed Color Changer
The single bed color changer allows the knitter to thread up to 4 different yarns into the machine and easily switch between them without rethreading the machine, which can normally be threaded with only 1 or 2 yarns depending on the stitch technique. This is a huge timesaver when knitting multi-color garments on the single bed, and almost necessary when knitting multi-color stripes, fair isle designs with more than 2 colors, multi-color tuck stitch, or multi-color slip stitch. However, the single bed color changer can't be used on a double-bed machine, and vice versa.
Double Bed Color Changer
The double-bed color changer is similar to the single bed color changer, except it's designed to fit onto a double bed machine and work with the combined carriage. Some models hold 4 colors, while others hold 6 colors. In addition, some require the knitter to manually select the yarns to be used in each row, while others work with the electronic machines to automatically select the colors according to the design pattern. This color changer is necessary to knit multi-color rib, or jacquard, patterns.
The linker is used to cast off, or bind off, automatically. It doesn't do anything the knitter can't do easily by hand. There are several different methods of binding off manually, in addition to scrapping off with waste yarn. The linker gives a firm, latch tool type of bind-off, and can be difficult to master. When the knitting is finished, the knitter removes the knit carriage, attaches the linker to the needle bed, and turns the knob until all the stitches are cast off. Open stitches can be dropped if the operation is not performed perfectly.
The transfer carriage is used to automatically move stitches from the ribber to the main bed (or vice versa) when knitting only 1x1, 2x2, or full needle ribbing. Again, this is easily done by the knitter manually when changing from ribbing to stockinette stitch. To use the transfer carriage, the knitter removes the knit and ribber carriages, attaches the transfer carriage, and turns the knobs until the stitches are all transferred.
The lace carriage is used to transfer stitches according to the lace design, as described in Part III. In some brands, the lace carriage both transfers and knits, while in other brands, the lace carriage only transfers and the knit carriage knits. Some models will include a lace carriage, while it must be purchased separately for others. You should make sure your machine can knit lace and that the lace carriage is compatible before purchasing one.
The intarsia carriage is used to knit intarsia. It places all working needles into upper working position with each pass, so the yarns can be hand-manipulated easily. Some brands and models have an intarsia setting on the knit carriage, so the separate intarsia carriage is not necessary.
The knit leader is a charting device that attaches to the knitting machine. The pattern piece is drawn onto special paper, which feeds through the knit leader as the piece is knitted. It helps the knitter to increase or decrease at the appropriate time without having to make all the gauge calculations in advance.