machine knitting for a yoke

IMG_4053As promised in my last post, this is all about how I knit a body and sleeve on my machine in preparation for hand knitting a yoke. I have knit myself four yoke jumpers in this way: my puffin cardigan, heritage puffin, fair isle yoke and my birthday yoke and without blowing my own trumpet, I have been quite pleased with how they came out. Its quite hard to explain and I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail, machine knitting very much has its own language (some of which I still don’t understand) and I am very much a visual learner so to try and explain what I do it a bit tricky!


Fair isle yoke jumpers and cardigans have become a classic in Shetland knitting culture over the last 50 years or so. I have quite a few in my collection and although they are beautiful to look at (in my opinion) what made them so popular was the fact that they were easy to make and therefore many were made. Shetland knitwear was big business and a yoke was an economical thing to make. The body and sleeves could be knitted on a machine then the stitches picked up and the yoke hand knitted, Many family’s in Shetland would knit bodies for yokes in their spare time for extra income and there was a huge demand, in relation to the kinds of machines people would and still do use there is two types: the more industrial machine and the more typical domestic machine


These Dubied kntting machines, also know as V-bed machines were used both in the industrial setting (here at Adies in Voe) and the domestic setting in peoples homes. I did learn to use these machines at college and they are serious pieces of kit. A V-bed is named because their are two beds of the machine arranged in.. you guessed it.. a v shape! A knitting machine with one bed can only makes knit stitches so when you are going back and forth on the machine every row is knitted, this is where you need a ribbing attachment for the machine. This makes it possible to do all manner of ribbing as the two beds are what makes it possible to make a purl stitch with a knit stitch. This blog is great for seeing a modern knitwear designer using dubied machines.

The machine that I have and use for most of my machine knitting is a Silver Reed SK840 with a Knitmaster ribbing attachment. This is a standard guage knitting machine suitable for 4ply yarns. My icelandic yoke body was knit on a Zippy 90 chunky knitting machine suitable for aran and chunky yarns, it is worth looking on ebay as knitting machines turn up a lot on there, thats where I bought my zippy and my ribber.


for some people, knitting a body and sleeves is fine as you have the excitement of the yoke coming to keep your momentum going but for me and perhaps because I was mainly a machine knitter before I did a lot of hand knitting, I can’t see the point of all that plain knitting when you could do it on a machine a lot quicker! The way I knit my bodys is I knit the back, front (one or two depending if your making a jumper or cardigan) and the two sleeves flat and then pick all the stitches up and knit the yoke.

if you hand knit a jumper in the round, you knit the body and both sleeves individually then join them together to knit the yoke like so..


So by doing it in flat pieces it looks like this when you pick it up, you can of course seam the pieces together before you pick it up which is what Kate did for the Cockatoo Brae cardigan we made. I usually use a 100cm circular needle for this and then go down to a smaller needle as the decreases go.

Untitled-1The first thing you need to do when planning for making your body on the machine is do do a tension swatch, I just cast on about 20 stitches and do a generous sized swatch. You can do different levels of tension on the main carriage, but make sure to mark between them


By doing this you will know if you need to knit extra rows for length (which I usually do) The next stage is to take your pattern and rewrite it out for you knitting it on the machine. This sounds like a frap but once you do it, it makes it a lot easier. A knitting machine has a centre point marked with a Zero with it marked out in 5 needle increments so I write everything out as either side of the zero. For instance this is how I wrote out the sleeves for one of my yokes:

  • 54 stitches – 27 either side
  • knit 1/1 rib for 28 rows, transfer all stitches to main bed
  • knit 18 rows straight
  • increase 1 stitch either side
  • k4 rows
  • repeat 22 times until 50 stitches either side
  • slip 7 stitches either end to waste yarn
  • knit 10 rows in waste yarn
  • remove from machine


I have found that by knitting a few rows on waste yarn takes the stress out of picking up the stitches when you come to put them on the needle to begin hand knitting. I have found that by picking up the loop before removing the waste yarn makes for a very tidy pick up.. like so:

IMG_4059 IMG_4060 IMG_4062 IMG_4065 IMG_4066

And from that stage you just join everything together and follow the pattern as is, if you are doing a cardigan just cast on about 10 steek stitches or if its a jumper slip stitches til you get to the point in the pattern marked as the beginning of the round!

heritage puffin in progress
heritage puffin in progress

I plan on making myself a Cockatoo Brae cardigan this winter, (after I’ve done all my Christmas orders of course) so I will do a post with a bit more of a stage by stage process for you.

I’ve been struck down by a horrible festive cold – definitely not helped by my going out on Saturday night (ahem ahem) so apologies for not getting this post up til today. Speak soon,

Ella xx

oh also.. thank you all for the lovely comments on my last post, very appreciated as always :)


34 thoughts on “machine knitting for a yoke

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have put Kate Davis new book Yokes on my which list for christmas, and I’m looking so much forward to knit a Yoke in the way you describe. I have a Knitmaster knitting machine with a Silver Reed ribber attachment. In the fact I don’t use it very much, because it is not easy to get any pattern for the machine I think. But now I’m really excited to get started. I have a little question, do I have to order more yarn for the body, than recommended for hand knitting?
    Thanks again, kind regards

    1. Hi Inge, all the machine patterns ive seen are quite complicated so its much easier to plan it out yourself with a hand knit pattern i find! Its hard to tell but I usually use coned yarn for the body which i get from j&s in 500g cones. Im using coned wool for my cushions anyway so I have a lot of it around! Thanks, xx

  2. Thanks for this post. I am an accomplished hand knitter but new to machine knitting. I am looking forward to trying this with the yoke. I have a Brother machine & ribber, but I have no idea about the yardage for this kind of sweater. Do I go by the yardage in the hand pattern, or increase it because the gauge is not quite the same. You mentioned that you always used more yardage. Is this to add length or because the machine gauge is always different from hand knit (tighter I would presume). Thanks for a reply!


    1. I find Tara that usually my stitch gauge is spot on but the row gauge is usually a lot shorter than i need. As long as you swatched in a similar yarn you should get a good idea of how close you are, hope that helps xx

  3. What a timely post as this long-time handknitter trawls ebay for my first, nervous foray into machine knitting – hmm should I, shouldn’t I ? . Please, please do follow through with the Cockatoo Brae idea of going through the stages. I, for one, will find it invaluable ! Thanks – & hope you feel better soon ;)

  4. Have you ever worked backwards on a yoked sweater, that is, yoke first (like in those vintage kits that have the yoke already pre-knitted), and then knit downwards for the body?

  5. Nice. I find I can deal with some machines (as a nurse at work) and others (like a knitting machine) give me the screaming ab dabs :) I look foreward to your next blog also. Maybe you will inspire me beyond my wildest dreams haha

  6. This is so cool! I’m more of a machine knitter myself and the though of hand knitting plain knit for so long is depressing. I have never though of doing this, I have to try. :)

  7. Thanks so much Ella! I have 2 machines gathering dust that I am inspired to haul out. I learned to machine knit before I learned to hand knit but it has been a while. Your post has made me eager to find some videos and give myself a refesher course :-)

  8. As a longtime hand knitter, I find this absolutely fascinating, please keep going! I have always felt that hand and machine knitting techniques should go hand in hand, it makes good sense! Thank you.

  9. Many thanks for your post. You give knowledge about machine knitting to those who believe that the hand machine knitting is not a craft. One question: do you wax the yarn on cone from J & S before knitting?

  10. Hi, Ella. I recently bought a knitting machine and I’ve been a keen hand knitter for a long time. Tell me, how do you calculate which needle size to use for the yoke? Do you make swatches to compare with the machine knitted fabric or is there a reference comparative table that can be used? Thanks for the lovely post.

    1. I do a tension square on the machine to match the hand knitting tension then use that size. I’ve only ever used J&S which I know my tension for so its usually 3mm needles, hope that helps :)

  11. Hi Ella, Thanks for inspiring me to root out my Knitmaster from the boxroom and start machine knitting again after about a 30 year break.

      1. Thank you Ella for the answers. It is really helpful. About the J&S yarn, I have some skeins which I recieved just one week ago, and they don’t seems to be oiled. Maybe it is only the cone yarn that is oiled. It is no problem, I can wax it.

  12. uh, you cited my blog ( in your post? thanks! I never know if people read it. I have a few pieces of side ways/ short row knitted skirts knit on dubied but using flat hobby machines rather than v bed seems to be easier. great post!

  13. I’m so glad I found this post! I’ve been wanting to knit a Puffin sweater for years but have never hand knit a sweater, which seems quite tedious if just knitting stockinet – so getting my knitting machine in gear to help speed up the process sounds like a great compromise. I had heard that this was how yoke sweaters were traditionally done in the Shetlands, but it is great that you provided directions on how to do it – thanks! :)

  14. Hi Ella,

    I came across this because I’ve bought a machine for exactly this purpose. However, I was wondering about the size of the stitch. When they come off the machine they are very small. I’m predominantly a hand knitter (I now own a knit master 360), and wonder how the settings equate to a 3mm needle? Hope that makes sense!

    1. Hello, you will need to swatch, I have my tension at 8.2 and i can hand knit from that with no obvious change in tension :)

      1. Thanks Ella, much appreciated. In the mean time I have worked out that with the lambs wool I have, tension on the machine at 7.2 I get the same tension as with 3mm needles hand knit! Currently knitting the bottom hem, going on to machine knitting the sleeves later and then the yoke!

  15. I keep coming back to this post. I bought a knitting machine a few months ago, but need to start swatching and practising first! Knitting the plain parts of yoked garments is just about the main thing that I’m aiming for.
    So many patterns seem to have to down yokes these days. I’m wondering what you would advise for working these? Reverse the yoke hand knitting and knit as those above? Join the machine parts then graft to the yoke? Or transfer the stitches somehow and knit with the yoke attached?
    Thanks, Claire

    1. Hi Claire, lots of Fair Isle patterns don’t lend themselves to top down (decreases look better than increases for example) but you can easily do the yoke top down and graft onto your pieces. I just usually change it to bottom up :)

      1. Thanks Ella – that’s what I’ve been tempted to do. So many patterns these days are top down, but I prefer to do the fun part at the end.

    2. Hi Claire, I’m new to this too. I have knit the front and back on the machine and have picked up the stitches from the machine. I use a small needle (1.5mm) to pick them up and then transfer to the needle size I want.
      Hope this helps!

  16. Hi Ella! Thanks for your post. I love yoke sweaters and have done a few (Including the yoke) on my brother 950i. Do you cast on the same amount of stitches as the hand kit pattern suggests?

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