Kniterate is essentially a clothing printer that allows an entire knitted garment to be designed and fabricated within a desktop space. It started as an open-source knitting machine, evolved into a fully automated machine, and now the Kniterate team has launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the first round of machines available for purchase.
Kniterate Co-founder and CEO Gerard Rubio says that the process of creating a mashup of 3D printer and domestic knitting machine, has led to a deeper understanding of the mechanics of knitting and the user interface of a 3D printer. “We’ve finally come up with a flawless integration between a computer and a desktop knitting machine and we’ve added a bunch of mechanisms to automate the whole process, from casting on and off, to shaping and making many different types of stitches.”
Like a desktop 3D printer, users can either fabricate their own designs, or download existing designs and create their own versions of them. “We are currently developing an online platform where people will be able to share their designs. You will be able to access it freely to get inspiration or search for what you want to create. We will be curating the best stuff out there,” says Rubio. And while a desktop knitwear printer might be especially useful to those with a background in fashion design, Rubio says that Kniterate is intended for anyone to use. “We are developing software in which, after some trial and error, you will be set to design your garments ready to knit.”
Those who choose to design their own garments will have the option of importing designs created with the software of their choice and converting them to Kniterate’s “K-code,” or using the free design app they’ve developed. “This allows you to design it in the Cloud, starting from templates. You can change measurements, add text or images, draw, load patterns and stitches from an existing library, etc,” explains Rubio. The garments may not come out immediately ready to wear, but Rubio says all that the user has to do is “cut the threads, make a few knots, and [you’re] done.”
One obvious way that a desktop knitting machine is different than a 3D printer is that a knitting machine uses yarn. And while the yarn may have to meet certain specification in order for it to be accepted by the machine, yarns are already readily available in a variety of different fibers and weights that allows users to further customize their knitwear designs. “These days new materials are constantly coming out for desktop 3D printers and the range of options widens. Knitting is a much more mature technology, which means a lot of research and development has been done already. The range of options is almost endless. There are yarn suppliers everywhere around the world and you will be able to use your own yarns,” says Rubio.
Kniterate’s first batch of machines are priced at just under five thousand dollars, which is a stark contrast to the tens of thousands that industrial knitting machines with similar capabilities typically cost. And although Kniterate is small enough to be used in a domestic setting, Rubio says that the machine is primarily intended for use by various groups of people and community organizations. “This is a machine aimed [at] small businesses to do short to medium production runs, companies that do research, and educational centers or spaces that offer a service to the community, like a makerspace or library.”
While the ultimate impact that a desktop clothing printer will have on the fashion and garment industries remains to be seen, it is certainly exciting to see something that brings together those with interests in both technology and traditional crafts. It gives them the opportunity to innovate. As Rubio points out, “It’s a machine that can be both used as a tool to scale a business and to empower citizens to create personalized and durable goods for personal enjoyment, or both at the same time!”