Many of the domestic knitting machines contain a needle retaining bar also known as a sponge-bar or sponge bar. Passaps, Superbas, some plastic bed machines and some really old machines do not have a sponge bar. Check if your machine has one.
The sponge-bar is a long metal metal bar that contains a strip of foam that holds down the needles. The needles will not knit properly without a sponge-bar in good condition.
The manuals do not seem to mention anything about the sponge-bar. The sponge-bar on a Japanese metal bed knitting machine is found in a channel near the front of the machine. You need to pull or push the bar out of the channel. In the picture above, I pushed from the left side using a wooden chopstick until it was long enough to pull from the right side. You need enough space to do this. You can then check the sponge. Does it still have some height in spring in it? If not then it is time to replace the sponge. Remember to replace the bar with the sponge side down on top of the needles (use a ruler to hold down the needles as you push it in).
The sponge in these bars will decay with use, contact with oil and with UV light. This means that you will usually get between 4 – 6 months of use from a sponge depending upon how much you use the machine. You should not knit with a collapsed sponge as you can damage the needles and the carriage.
A good sponge should still have a good depth above the metal bar.
This bar shows how the sponge has collapsed down to the bar and needs replacing.
Word of warming! My cat Jenson looks cute lying on my clean covers but heavy objects can collapse a sponge bar. My sponge bar lasted 24 hours!! nothing knitted. It was flattened. It took a week to get a bit of spring back into it, but I have replaced it with a new one. Lesson learned. I am now putting lightweight, empty cardboard boxes on my covers to see if that stops him! If you have any other ideas, please add them in the comments.
Replacing the Sponge
There was little information on how to do this when I started looking a couple of years ago. Fortunately I found a site that not only sells good quality kits, but also provide detailed information on how to replace the sponge.
You can buy Zuusco sponge kits for Knitmaster/Silver Reed, Brother and Toyota machines from XenaKnits here. I made a mistake the first time I bought a sponge and had to start again. I recommend buying a double pack just in case.
There is text and video information on this page details how you remove the old sponge and fit the new sponge. There is text, images and a fantastic video that I recommend watching.
You will need a flat-head screwdriver, some sticky tape glue remover (I use goo gone from Amazon), scissors, an old rag, cotton buds and a steam iron.
I do this on my ironing board which has been covered with plastic, newspaper and an old duvet cover… it can be messy. It can take a while and a lot of effort to get the metal clean.
Remember to put the sponge bar correctly. The sponge bit should be facing down, metal on the top. Hold down the needles using a ruler and slowly push the bar back over the needles. Not too far. Then hold down the next set of needles and push a bit more. Without a sponge-bar, or with a collapsed sponge-bar, the needles are not held down and come up. This causes dropped stitches etc. So you need to hold down the needles and push the sponge-bar into the machine over the needles.
Long-life Sponge Bars
n the UK there is also another option for machine knitters who do not want to or cannot change the sponge themselves every 4-6 months Robert Fountain runs a small company called Smartco, based near Manchester, that produces covered sponge bars that will last about 4 years.
As UV light and oil from the needles increases the decay of the sponges, he has developed a covered sponge-bar, that will not rot. The cover protects the sponge thus enabling it to have a life close to 4 years. It is not recommended to keep the bar in for more than 4 years as the sponge will wear out eventually.
The bars cost £16 for a fine/standard gauge machine and £19 for a mid-gauge/chunky machine. Postage costs about £8 in the UK and you can get up to 4 sponge-bars for this cost, so you might want to consider getting one with another knitter. Thus, although the sponge-bars cost more initially, they are cheaper in the long run. And they save you all that mess and hard work and the cost of the glue remover. They do not have a nice plastic end to grip the bar, so you might need some flat pliers to help you.
Robert (also known as SpongebarBob) does not have a website but he does have a Facebook page. Robert also sells knitting machines, parts and accessories so it is worthwhile giving him a ring to find out more. To place an order ring Robert on 0161 624 0757. He is very friendly. I have just ordered one and will keep you updated on its progress, although I need to use my old sponge-bar first. A good excuse for lots of knitting!