I recently purchased a Toyota 950 knitting machine from Craigslist. The only machine I’d ever used before was an old Bond, and Bonds are low tech and low maintenance. (They’re basically the same as contemporary Ultimate Sweater Machines.) Once you move beyond the basic models, knitting machines get complicated fast. Add in a punchcard system, and you have cams and rollers, pins, plates, maybe belts — basically, lots of moving parts. Machines with electronic patterning are complicated in further ways.
Used machines have more potential hurdles. There are very few knitting machines still in production, so many of the machines you see for sale on Craigslist and Ebay are at least twenty years old. You can bet the reason they’re up for sale is because they’re no longer being used. Meaning they’ve probably been hanging out in someone’s closet or attic for quite awhile.
Enter my Toyota 950. She’s a cool old machine that can do lots of things that I have yet to explore (lace! ribbing! simulknit!). My main mission at the moment is to get her up and running so that I can translate my tessellation designs to knitted fabric, and make more yarnbombs. After giving her a tuneup, I was able to knit some lovely stockinette stitch. However, I could not for the life of me get the patterns to work – the appropriate needles would not select.
A little more detail on what this means. A Toyota 950 is a punchcard knitting machine. Yep – really old school. It reads in cards covered in holes and allows you to knit the design punched on the card. In fact, it does all this for you automatically. You place two different colors yarns into the carriage; the machine reads the card to see which holes are punched and which are not; as you move the carriage back and forth it “selects” the needles corresponding to the punched holes; and the selected needles are moved out a little bit more to catch the second color yarn. How does the punchcard move the needles? Magic. (Aka, I’m still trying to figure that part out.) For some reason, my machine was advancing the punchcard one row for each of the swipes of the carriage, just like it’s supposed to, but it was not selecting/pushing out the needles.
How does a newbie machine knitter troubleshoot these kinds of problems?
Well, the easiest option:
Get someone else to repair it. I accidentally discovered a knitting machine repair person nearby in Oakland. This is quite lucky! Many people have to ship their machine to a repair place far away, which is expensive, and you risk damaging the machine in transit.
One of the first things I did was email the repair man, describe my problem, and ask him if he thought he could fix it. He gave me an estimate which ended up being at least half the price I paid for the machine. Now, if push comes to shove, I would pay this. But I’m stubborn, and curious, and want to know more about my machine, so I’m determined to give it a solid go before offering the machine up to someone else. A few repair places (both in CA):
DIY repair leads to some other options:
- Internet searches.
- Yahoo groups.
- In person groups.
- Service Manuals.
Internet searches. There are actually quite a few videos/tutorials about troubleshooting your knitting machine. Unfortunately, my machine is not super common and there was nothing specific enough to be helpful. However, if you’re looking to fix your knitting machine, maybe one of these sites will help you:
- The Answer Lady and her YouTube Channel
- Knitting Machine Museum
- About Knitting Machines
- Toyota Knitting Machines
Yahoo groups. There are also several Yahoo groups dedicated to knitting machines, including one specific to Toyotas. Searching the archives can lead to posts regarding similar problems, and you can always post yourself. The main issue with these groups is that there are so many possible causes for particular problems that it’s hard to diagnose without actually seeing the machine. I got a lot of ideas from the Yahoo groups, but no real leads.
In person groups. If you’re lucky, there are other people in your area that have knitting machines and meet regularly. I was amazed to discovered such a group that meets within 10 miles of where I live, with other machine knitters who are willing to help troubleshoot. While we weren’t able to figure out my specific issue, I got a lot of great firsthand advice. I was able to see some members diagnose and fix one another machines, and seeing their approach and methods was incredibly helpful for working on my own. Some groups in the SF Bay Area:
- Machine Knitter’s Guild of the SF Bay Area
- South Bay Machine Knitting Meetup
- Concord Machine Knit Meetup
Service Manual. In addition to a regular instruction manual, knitting machines also have a service manual which is an instruction booklet specifically for repair technicians. If you can get your hands on one of these, I highly recommend it. They give troubleshooting flowcharts for all kinds of problems, and talk about the mechanisms that make the machine work. Lots of detailed pictures and instructions, often really technical and hard to understand for a beginner, but nonetheless, very valuable. You can find these for free! Check before you buy one.
- Toyota/Elna specific manuals
- All types of machine manuals
- About Knitting Machines has a ton of machine related docs on their sidebar
I have not solved my problem yet. But I’ve made some definite progress! My goal is to document my steps and post it here on the site. There’s not much out there on Toyota 950s, so hopefully my tinkerings will help others with similar issues.