Why can’t machines crochet?

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Why can’t machines crochet?

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Crochet is, at its core, simply pulling loops through loops. A plain, simple crochet probably _could_ be done by machine, but I’m not aware of one that does so. The part of crochet people like though are designs, which is where crochet really has a leg up on knitting, and it can get complicated fast. Having a machine to do every type of base stitch (half, single, half double, double, triple…) would be hard, but having a machine that can do every stitch in the complicated sequences needed to achieve more complex stitches? It’s not impossible, but would be very difficult.

In crochet you also work into the same stitch multiple times a lot, which I imagine a machine could easily mess up, and if you mess it up once and don’t catch it the whole thing could unravel

A lot of people in the replies are confusing crochet and knitting (probably because they are the same word in many languages). I think understanding the difference between them is key to understanding why we’ve had knitting machines since the 1500’s but still no crochet machine. Both are made by pulling loops of yarn through other loops to make fabric, but the methodology is different.

When you knit, you have a number of live stitches (open loops) all held open at once by the knitting needle (or by individual hooks on a knitting machine or knitting loom). The number of loops is the width of your finished fabric, and each time you work all of them, you make the fabric one row longer. You make patterns by adding new loops in different ways (increases), removing loops (decreasing), changing the order of loops (cables), skipping working loops on some rows (slipped stitch patterns, mosaic knitting), by pulling the yarn through the loop in different directions (through the back loop, purling), among other ways. However, with knitting you are working in two dimensions and the next stitch in the row is usually the next stitch worked. It is very easy to mechanize.

Crochet is not limited in this way. When crocheting, you work one loop at a time. The next loop can be pulled through in any direction you choose, from anywhere you choose. You can use the front or back of the loop or both the back and front – and any of these options can be approached from the front or back of the fabric. You can use the “neck” (post) of the old loop rather than the loop itself – and you can use it in counter-clockwise or clockwise direction (i.e., “work around the post”). You aren’t limited to working each stitch that is open, because each loop is “closed” after it is stitched – you don’t leave “live” loops on the hook like you do with knitting. So you can skip loops (as many as you want), use the same loop over and over, or suddenly make a long chain of stitches going off to nowhere, to be reconnected (or not) wherever you choose. You can change direction wherever you like without having to deal with all the knitting techniques for “short rows”. You can make a single stitch nearly flat (slip stitch / single crochet) or very tall (treble / triple stitch). Crochet is a truly 3-dimensional craft – you can make hyperbolic shapes trivially easily.

So a crochet machine – to fully replicate handmade crochet – needs to be able to manipulate the piece in 360 degrees on every axis, and accurately insert the crochet hook into the next intended target… which could be any point on the worked piece. This is not trivial to mechanize, though easy enough to imitate a more 2-D version of it (as others have noted) with weft-knitting machines.

This is a topic that comes up on r/crochet pretty often, and I usually see [this video](https://youtu.be/jecATRwHQP8) shared as an explanation!

There is a textile production method called [warp knitting](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warp_knitting). My understanding is that it is closer to crocheting than actual knitting. With it you can produce all kinds of interesting patterns and designs which can not be achieved with [flat knitting](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_knitting). For example lace – which is traditionally associated with crocheting – is nowadays usually produced in the warp knitting process. It can also be used to achieve mechanical properties of the fabric which are otherwise very difficult or even impossible to create with other methods.

Why do i know this? I work for a company which does business in the warp knitting industry.

If you made a machine that was just hands you could, right?

I love this explanation, it makes me remember how excited my high school geometry teacher was to read an article about representing hyperbolic geometry using crochet.

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With knitting you almost always work from “live” stitches and once a stitch is completed you can forget about it.

With crochet you only have one “live” stitch at a time which makes it sound simpler… but you can use any previous stitch – or no stitch at all – to create your next live stitch. That means you can’t just focus on what you are currently doing but you need to keep essentially the whole piece of work “active” at the same time.

So the machine needs to either physically or programmatically hold all of the potential stitch locations “open” in order to direct the hook into the correct next location.

With knitting that is trivial because even when a person is knitting with needles the needle physically holds the stitches that are next in line to be used.

I think that a machine which created very simple crochet patterns would probably be possible to create. Something with a tooth-like pattern holding the stitches for the whole row at once so that the machine could crochet into each one… but the thing is that any crochet piece which was simple enough for a machine to replicate could be much much much easier to create with knitting so you might as well just use a knitting machine.

I’ve always thought fiber arts are under-credited for the amount and complexity of math and engineering they can require

Every old knit loop has a stick through it, and you use another stick to make the new loop. You can feel where the two sticks bump as they do this.

Every old crochet loop is just a loop, looped around other loops. You have to look where to stick the new one.

Loops with sticks stay put.

Loops without sticks are wiggly.

Machines are good at feeling where two sticks are.
Machines are bad at looking at something wiggly.