I’ve seen this project flutter by enough times that I think it’s time to talk about it: the Kniterate Knitting Machine.
What is the Kniterate knitting machine?
Let’s talk about what this project is: It’s a knitting machine that aims to hit a sweet spot between the hobbyist machines and serious industrial production machines. Hobby machines, like the Passap 6000E or [discontinued] Brother KH930E, start around $1000. While they’re not as popular as they once were there is still a fairly active community for using and maintaining them. The Kniterate’s feature set matches or surpasses even the most expensive hobby machine setup. On the flip side, an industrial knitting machine starts around $20,000, so even at the full retail price of $7,500 this machine is going to be a serious knitwear designer’s cheapest entry into the market.
The biggest thing that sets this machine apart from a hobby machine is it’s ability to transfer stitches between needles automatically. Most hobby machines require you to painstakingly transfer stitches by hand between the ribber and main bed, or for decreasing stitches (like at the top of a hat). For this reason there are many projects that are more time consuming to do on the machine than by hand. The Kniterate knitting machine’s carriages transfer stitches for you, meaning you’re not spending hours hunched over moving stitches around.
The software for the machine is entirely custom, and it’s not clear from the Kickstarter documentation whether the Kniterate knitting machine will support existing software like DesignAKnit. Their machine-level instructions are a custom language called K-Code, and they have helpfully published the specifications online. This is great for the longevity of the project – it means that people outside the company can write software to use on the machine.
Who is behind the Kniterate project?
According to the Kniterate about page, Gerard Rubio is a design school graduate who started the OpenKnit project after seeing the sad state of knitting machines available to design students. OpenKnit eventually morphed into Kniterate. This project is the culmination of about 4 years of research and development.
In addition to Rubio the Kniterate team consists of 5 other members with backgrounds in fashion, hardware design and manufacturing.
Should I back the Kniterate knitting machine?
Maybe. Assuming you’ve got a spare $5k lying around, there are some additional things to consider before plunking down your credit card number:
Hardware manufacturing is hard, expect delays.
Kickstarter hardware projects have a history of running late or never shipping. The reasons for this are many but the short answer is that manufacturing is complicated. And while Kniterate has raised over $350,000, that’s actually not much money for a hardware startup. They may face issues with the production run not coming out at the same quality as their prototype, or other manufacturing delays. The fact that Kniterate was incubated at HAX means they may have a better chance of success than most, since they’re already in a network of hardware manufacturers. If the project, which is currently slated for April ’18 delivery, runs late they’ may end up scrambling to pay their staff in the interim. In short: delivery of this or any Kickstarter product is not a given. Most projects do eventually fulfill their promises or refund money, but are you prepared for the chance you might be left with nothing?
Ongoing support is a serious concern.
Kniterate is a new company. I have a number of Kickstarter’d gadgets whose maker has long since disappeared. For a $10 watch band or even a $100 hydroponics system this is an inconvenience. But for a $5000 piece of semi-industrial equipment this is a serious risk. Running a hardware company isn’t easy, I’ve watched plenty of promising companies fold in the last few years. If Kniterate goes under in a few years do you have the technical skill and desire to tinker with your machine and keep it running?
That said, the project looks great.
The Kniterate team already has a great looking prototype and tons of video of it actually working, so at the very least they have a solid proof of concept. This is clearly the fourth or fifth iteration of the machine over many years, so I’d expect the final product to be pretty smooth and polished. And there’s really nothing else like it, with the tools & features of an industrial machine but much easier to use, at a much lower price point, and smaller size. The team behind Kniterate has a great blend of expertise and interest – you don’t spend a year working on an open source knitting machine unless you’re really into machine knitting.
The market for the Kniterate knitting machine isn’t huge, not a lot of people have $5,000 to spend on something that will probably ship next year and hopefully meet all their requirements. But for independent knitwear designers who just can’t quite swing the cost of a serious industrial machine this may be just the thing they need. And if you’re a hobbyist with 5 grand burning a hole in your pocket it looks like a lot of fun!