Any doubt about the public demand for an automated desktop knitting machine was obliterated when Kniterate’s kickstarter finished at $636,130; a figure that’s over six times their initial goal. Those who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a machine at just under $5,000, which is significantly less than the expected retail price.
Kniterate had to fall in a tiny sweet spot to be successful. Industrial knitting machines may cost tens of thousands of dollars more, but they can perform the same processes as the Kniterate in less time. Buyers looking for a cheap version of the Kniterate could find other machines with similar capabilities on international auction sites for as little as a few thousand.
Considering the challenges that desktop 3D printer manufacturers faced as they attempted to satisfy expectations while maintaining a viable business model, it seems fair to wonder how Kniterate will navigate the market for what is essentially a 3D yarn printer. Will Kniterate’s smaller, more domestic scale, coupled with a user friendly interface, justify the cost when it’s made available to the public? A recent collaboration with a New York-based knitwear designer seems to provide some answers.
In addition to teaching knitwear design at Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and Rhode Island School of Design, Lindsay Degen is a technical designer and creative technician for Stoll industrial knitting machines. Her extensive background and penchant for integrating new technologies into playful garment designs have made her something of a knitting guru and the perfect candidate for Kniterate to invite to assess their machine. “There’s a disconnect in general between technology startups (which is essentially what Kniterate is) and craft. The more tactile and historical a craft it is, the less there is a relationship between the craft world and the tech world,” says Degen of the skepticism with which she approached her collaboration with Kniterate.
Because Kniterate’s machines are not yet available to the public, Degen wasn’t able to physically access a machine during her collaboration. Instead, she supplied the Kniterate team with what was essentially the programming for her designs. “I basically just sent them images and the machine automatically figured out how to do the shaping from the image file. The machine looks at an image pixel by pixel for the colorwork but also for the shaping. When you are creating the file the “background color” represents what you would like the shaping to do pixel by pixel. You have a lot of control,” Degen explains.
As a designer who already has access to industrial machines, as well as her own domestic knitting machines, Degen didn’t just want to have her designs fabricated, she wanted to see what Kniterate could do. “I wanted to give it a difficult challenge and Kniterate was able to execute that; it even was able to use multiple weights of yarn,” says Degen. According to her, the Kniterate team learned from the collaboration as well. “They sent me two rounds of knits for my first and seconds looks, so I was able to give them feedback on the first one that they were able to use for the second one.”
While Kniterate can do some whole-garment knitting, its capabilities can be limited by the scale and knitting technique used in a given design. This means that certain garments, like hats and scarves, might come off the machine ready to wear, while a sweater is likely to be made as separate pieces that have to be put together.
Even though some garments require assembly, the individual pieces are made to the proper shape and size to fit together into a finished garment. This process is similar to making a garment on a domestic knitting machine, but without having to manually make adjustments to shape each piece. “The two things it really can’t do are intarsia and short rowing in the middle of the row. But other than that it was a lot faster, I didn’t have to deal with specs because I already knew my programs were on spec, and they were not annoyed that I wanted to use a lot of colors,” explains Degen.
Degen says that she was impressed with the quality and accuracy of the fabric that Kniterate was able to produce from the images she provided. According to her, the real advantage of Kniterate is the opportunity it gives designers to create garments without the help of a technician to translate their designs into a programming code that an industrial machine can understand. “Kniterate is much more intuitive than normal industrial knitting machines. It’s really intended for designers – there isn’t any real programming. With industrial digital knitting machines it helps to know sintral (the knit programming language) and is proprietary. So if you know programming for one brand of machine you don’t necessarily know it for another,” she explains.
“Right now kniterate is only available in one gauge. I guess that also makes it different but it’s the same gauge as the domestic knitting machine I work on, meaning I can work back and forth between the machines which is great.”
It will be fascinating to see what Kniterate will be used to create once it becomes available to the public, and how satisfied the public will be with the results. For now, Kniterate seems to have won over at least one knitting machine enthusiast. “I definitely think it could pay for itself with just a few samples. So to me that makes it worth it based on my incessant sampling,” says Degen.