Understanding the Knitting Machine Needle
The needles on your knitting machine tell you a lot about what kinds of projects the machine can handle. The number of needles on the bed of the machine, the size of those needles and the way the machine allows the needles to be adjusted for different stitches are the things that will limit your choice of project.
For hand knitting, the size of the needles affects the size of the stitch and whether the project will be tight or loose. The rest is up to the person working the needles. It only takes a bit of training and practice to adjust the stitches to create open lacework or bulky cables. The knitting machine needle is not so versatile.
Needle, Yarn, Pattern
Once a project is chosen and a pattern is selected, the most important determination is gauge. Any knitter knows that gauge is the number of stitches or rows to the inch. This determines whether the size set in the pattern will be the size of the finished project. Of course, this is more important for clothing than for afghans but if the gauge is wildly off, the project can use up a lot more yarn than you figured on. On a knitting machine the gauge is hard to determine.
The knitting machine needle is set at a fixed distance from each other. This allows for a range of yarns to be used by one machine. However, to determine the gauge, a swatch has to be knit then allowed to rest overnight so the stitches can relax into the shape they will take. If you are used to taking a measuring tape to work on the hand knitting needle and take a measure, you are in for some mental adjustment.
There are some settings that can be changed to adjust the gauge. If you are using a yarn you never used on that machine or a new stitch, make a swatch in all possible settings, remove them and rest them overnight to find the best setting to achieve the gauge on your knitting machine needle.
The size of the projects you can make on your machine is determined by the number of the knitting machine needle. The more needles you have, the larger the finished piece can be. If you have a machine with fewer needles than you will need, you will have to divide the project into sections and sew them together. Before you decide the type of projects you will make on your knitting machine, take a good look at your knitting machine needle.