It depends upon what you are comparing it with. It is definitely more expensive than hand knitting, but perhaps cheaper than jewellery-making or golf. However most of the costs are upfront in obtaining your knitting machine. After that you mostly need an annual service and a good stash of coned yarn. If you are on a budget then accessories make good presents so write a wish-list and make sure family and friends are aware of it when it comes to your birthday.
I am based in the UK and so most of the information on this page will be based on what can be found in the UK.
Overall the costs of Machine Knitting will need to cover:-
table, tools and accessories, patterns, learning resources, yarn, maintenance and repairs
Knitting Machine: Today a lot of young people are getting interested in machine knitting (probably with accessories and some yarn) because they have inherited an old machine from a family member. This is good news the costs are reduced.
If you don’t have a machine then you can choose to buy a brand new machine (expensive and limited choice), a reconditioned and serviced machine (not so expensive but you need to check any warranty period) or a cheap second-hand machine (varying prices and conditions so might be risky).
Costs will range from £3000 for a full electronic machine package with ribber and software to £20 for a simple plastic bond knitting machine found in the local charity shop.
If you are on a budget, then I suggest asking around to see if anyone has one to lend or sell you. Put wanted adds in the local shop, or go round the charity shops with your contact details, asking them to contact you if they come across a suitable machine.
As a beginner I would suggest that you look for a punchcard machine to start with and might be looking in the range of £100 to £300. The main machines will be a Brother or a Knitmaster. New machines will only be Silver Reed. I will write more about what knitting machine to buy and where to get it in a later post.
Table: A Knitting machine needs to be clamped to a table. Whilst you might wish to use your dining room table (suitably protected with cardboard!) it is better to buy a proper knitting machine table. If you have transport then you can probably find a cheap second-hand one locally for about £20 or you can get a new one delivered for about £60 from Ebay or local dealer.
Tools and Accessories: Not sure if there is a clear distinction between the two so I am lumping these together. The knitting machine should come with a range of tools that will help you to knit. The operating manual will a picture and list of all the tools that you will need. If you damage or lose them you can usually find replacements on Ebay or your favourite online store. I will give more details in later posts.
It used to be difficult to find tools but in the last year or two, Chinese suppliers are now manufacturing many these at good prices. The quality is not always as good as the originals but are getting better. In particular they are now making cheap punchcards which were very difficult to get hold of.
More expensive accessories, like a ribber and colour changer, garter carriage and weaving arm only need to be purchased if and when you need them.
Additional accessories that you might find useful could be things like scales to weigh yarn, a good lamp, and plenty of storage and containers to hold things. I also have an old music stand to hold my instructions and a desk chair that allows me to move around my machine.
Patterns: There are far fewer patterns for machine knitting than hand knitting. There is only one surviving UK magazine called Machine Knitting Monthly. You can find copies or subscribe here for less than £3 per month. There are a number of other places that you can find machine knitting patterns but you usually have to pay for them. However I have found free patterns and I will give more details in a later post. I will also provide some free basic patterns on this blog so look out for them in the contents.
Learning Resources: There are a few online courses, and metropolitan.co.uk does some residential courses and the costs vary. There are plenty of second-hand books available, some of which I have found for very little cost. There are also a large number of useful videos that can be found on YouTube for free. FaceBook also has a number of machine knitting groups where you can get advice.
A very useful pdf online resource for finding free manuals, patterns and learning materials is the website MachineKnittingetc.com . Here you can download a wide range of useful material for most machines that were made.
As usual information can be found for those on a budget, but you do need to spend time looking for it. However, to save you time, I will write a post listing the best resources for learning. I also hope that my beginners guide will also prove to be a useful free learning resource.
Yarn: This is where you can spend a lot of money or not depending upon the quality and type of the yarn. It is now more difficult to find good yarn at a reasonable price as there are few suppliers. Most knitting shops only stock balls of hand-knitting yarn which are not really suitable because you need a lot of yarn on a cone that flows freely through the machine without any joins.
Yarn also comes in different thicknesses. You need to know which yarns will work with your particular machine. The most common machine yarns are either 1 ply yarns or thicker 4 ply yarns. These work with fine and standard gauge machines. Chunky machines need thicker yarn to work, although you can use a twisting stack to twist 2 or 3 strands of 4 ply together. Using thicker yarn will be more expensive, but some of the simpler chunky machines might work with balls of yarn if they are rewound into cakes or onto a wool winder hat. I only have experience of the cheap Bond machine but might consider using a mid-gauge or chunky punch-card machine in the future.
I was able to find a couple of job-lots of cheap acrylic yarn locally that I could pick up. This will serve me well for practice and for waste yarn. I also have found one or two online sources of affordable industrial yarn that I will buy in the future. BSK.co.uk has a supply of cotton/acrylic yarn that is affordable. As someone that reacts to wool, this sounds like a good solution if it works on my machine. I will write a later post with more details about buying yarn.
Machine Maintenance: You need to give yourself an annual budget for servicing and repairing your machine. At minimum you need to buy surgical spirit (vets have the best deals) for cleaning your machine and some machine oil and spare needles (Andee Knits and BSK). You also have to renew the sponge bar at least annually so you will need a sponge bar kit (I get mine from XenaKnits who has a good videos on how to do this). I also use GooGone to help get the old glue out (got from Amazon). Again I will give more details in a later post.
Andee Knits or Metropolitan and SilverViscount and Ebay can provide a range of spares for your machine. Videos are available on YouTube to help you do this. Otherwise I would join a FaceBook group and ask if there is someone not too far from you that could service or repair your machine.
I have found that even on a small budget there are ways to enjoy machine knitting. You do not need to have an expensive machine. As a beginner the joy is in learning to knit and finding out what machines can do. I hope that you enjoy finding out how I do this.