Toy Story - Nintendo Knitting Machine

Now You're Knitting With Power - advertisment showing a knitting machine with partially-worked knitting, a CRT TV showing some kind of guide or instructions, and a Nintendo Entertainment System


I first heard of the Nintendo Knitting Machine in a Machine Knitting discord where it was described as the truly unobtainable knitting machine. This is probably true, we only know of the existence of one unit, which “Gamemaster” Howard Phillips demonstrated in the late 1980s, and which was advertised in a trade magazine above.

But I was intrigued. Even from this one image we can see a few notable things about this knitting machine. First, it appears to be plastic. That’s not surprising, the plastic bed Silver Reed LK100 came out in 1985 and the first Bond machines came out in 1981. But if you look closer at the picture, it’s not just the bed that is plastic, it’s also the needles.

Plastic needles are most commonly seen today in the Sentro and Addi circular knitting machines. But when I realised it had plastic needles, I wondered if that meant it was made by a toy manufacturer, rather than one of Japan’s established knitting machine manufacturers (like Brother, Toyota, or Silver Reed).

You can still sometimes get toy knitting machines in Japan, both circular and flat. Bandai made a Pingu one and Takara Tomy has one covered in bows and one with “patterning”. Maybe whoever made this machine ended up just selling the machine on its own in Japan.

I also had a hunch that the maker of this machine might be a company Nintendo already had a relationship with. Maybe even one who had made some kind of Famicom software released before or after this collab. I did a check of the NES software catalogue, and found some knitting software.

The Famicom Disk System actually had two pieces of knitting software. “I am a teacher: Knitting Fundamentals” (アイアムアティーチャー あみのきそ, September 1986) and “I am a teacher: Super Mario’s Sweater” (アイアムアティーチャー スーパーマリオのセーター, August 1986). The former (attempts) to teach you knitting (the manual is more useful than the software on this front). The latter is a knitting pattern generator for some jumpers with stranded colourwork and intarsia designs for Mario-and-Friends. Both of these titles were made by a company called “Royal”. That name struck a memory feeling, and looking them up I remembered Royal also made knitting accessories like yarn ball winders. A likely target!

And then while browsing through auction sites for toy knitting machines, and products by Royal, I saw it. The Royal Knit System (ロイヤルニットシステム).

Royal Knit System machine Source

Royal Knit System machine - closeup of side of bed showing 25 needle count (per side) Source

Royal Knit System with pink carriage, in box with various packaging and VHS Source

The handle and stickers are a little different, and the Nintendo machine is 60 stitches rather than 50, but otherwise it’s exactly what we’re looking for. It’s a toy knitting machine with plastic needles, in two different colours, in sets of four. It even has the little window in the carriage so you can see the needles knit. And with these extra pictures you can see that the plastic needles aren’t like the ones for circular machines they’re actually latch-hook needles like the metal ones other flat-bed machines use. Facinating!

But how does the machine attach to the Nintendo? You can see in the picture that the Nintendo controller is held in a bracket on the machine, in much the same way a row counter might (it looks to me like the’ve kind of jammed it in to a row counter holder). If you look closely, you can see it’s positioned so that when the carriage goes past, it’ll hit a tab, which will hit the A button on the controller.

If you’ve tried either of the Famicom software titles things might click into place about now. When going through a sweater design in that software it takes you through row by row starting at the bottom, and working in flat piece. Just like the charting device for a knitting machine.

So all this “connection” is, I think, is the carriage hitting the A button on the controller to advance the pattern instructions on the screen. Sorry to disappoint anyone looking for something as cool as the Gameboy sewing machines.

All in all, I think you could round up the parts to make your own Nintendo Knitting Machine. You just need to find:

  • Royal Knitting System ~ ¥3,000
  • A copy of Super Mario Sweater ~ ¥3,000 (if you can find one, and more if you want it with the box)
  • Famicom + Disk System ~ ¥5,000
  • A TV that can take NTSC input from the Famicom
  • Something to hold your controller so the carriage hits the A button when it goes past

And there you have it! A Famicom Knitting Machine.