Thursday, 31 January 2013

Knit Magic Isn't

This is an old Family Circle ad from 1974 for a child's Knit Magic knitting machine.

And apparently a child can make all these items with a Knit Magic. I'm skeptical, to say the least. As well as somewhat aghast by the sheer aggressive ugliness of most of those items. Why on earth were seventies crafts just so horrible? It seems to be largely because of the ugly shades acrylics were dyed at that time, but the designs are often cracked-out too.

It's still possible to buy a child's knitting machine. Singer makes one, there's a Hello Kitty knitting machine, and Mattel makes a Barbie knitting machine. You could probably even score your very own vintage Knit Magic on eBay if you searched long enough. But I wouldn't recommend it. The online reviews of child's knitting machines that I came across on Amazon and other places while researching this post were unenthusiastic and qualified at best. People were saying that the stitches constantly slipped off the hooks, that working the machine could be an extremely frustrating and tricky process that was hard for even an adult to learn, and that the plastic gears wore out by the time they made a third item. And another problem I have with toy knitting machines is that they're mostly pink and otherwise targeted exclusively at girls, which will discourage boys and boys' parents from even thinking of knitting machines as a boy's toy, and by extension, knitting as a boy's activity.

My shopping experience has been that cheap special-purpose gadgets are generally not worth the money. They never work anything close to as easily or as well as their advertisements make them appear, and just end up taking up space in the cupboard. Or are donated to a thrift shop, and then bought by someone else who will also be disappointed in them and stick them in their cupboards. You see this principle manifested most often in cooking equipment. As any good cook will tell you, a good quality set of sharp knives will take you a long way. Hey, just look at David Duchovny's experience with the Chop-O-Matic.

Children's craft kits are a subset of the cheap gadget category. Those big, colourful boxes often hold just a few, poor quality items, such as plastic needles and small amounts of horrible acrylic yarn and plastic beads with badly drilled holes and the coating already flaking off them. You'll pay a premium price for that kit, and if you think about how frustrating it is for you to work with poor materials, just think how much harder it will be for your child, when she or he doesn't have the experience or patience or finer motor skills that you do.

So I'd avoid trying to entice children to take an interest in crafting, or in anything for that matter, by buying expensive novelty items, and instead give them less exciting but decent quality materials and tools to work with, invest the time teaching them the necessary skills, and/or enroll them in a school knitting program where they can have fun learning with their friends. If the child really wants a knitting machine, I'd buy her or him a very basic, good quality machine intended for adults, secondhand if possible. Then, if the child uses the knitting machine like an obsessed little prodigy or even just regularly and with enjoyment, I'd get him or her a better model some Christmas or birthday down the road. Alternatively, if it turns out that the child doesn't ever use the basic machine, I could use it myself, or sell it or give it away to someone who will.

When I was six I started asking my mother to teach me to knit. She'd told me she learned to knit when she was six so I figured I could learn at that age too, but she told me I wasn't old enough. I spent the next two years begging her to teach me, and she kept putting me off. She told me later that she dreaded teaching me because of my temperament — I was basically pure id as a child — and she postponed the evil day for as long as she could stand to have me pestering her about it. (This wasn't unjustified — some of her collection of knitting needles are still slightly bent from being flung across the room.)

I still remember the moment of utter joy I experienced when, one summer day when I was eight years old, she finally told me, "All right, go get some needles and yarn." I learned to knit with a pair of double-pointed needles and some remnants of pink Aran yarn. Genuine interest and natural ability can't be bought, but always manifest themselves if given a reasonable opportunity.


  1. I have one of these I bought at a thrift store. It's fun to use and kids can make the tubes quite easily (if they don't rush it) but I haven't tried the flat knit. My daughter used them as socks for a while!

  2. I had one of these! It was HORRIBLE! I could never ever get it to work. I'd forgotten that. I'm not very mechanically inclined/talented so it's no surprise it was a failure for me.