Agnes, an unusual mechanical guest

Last week's Outcasts knitting group had a special visitor. She was rather quiet, but we all found her just fascinating: Agnes, the knitting robot, courtesy of her maker Andy Noyes.

Reading Berkshire Jelly - Agnes the Knitting Robot
Casting on

Agnes knits on a round loom, similar to a scaled-up circular sock machine or French knitting spool. She manipulates the stitches with the help of hooks in her hands, wrapping the yarn, grabbing stitches and pushing them in place. She knit with us all evening, and by the time we were packing up she was partway through a scarf.

Knitting Robot working on a knitting loom
By the end of the evening, she had knit quite a respectable amount

I was surprised to learn that Agnes occasionally misses or drops stitches - 'human' errors by an inhuman machine. She (it? she?) is an amazing accomplishment - the result of many months of work on the part of her creator, who came into the project with little knowledge of knitting. The loom was easier for the robot to work with than a set of needles - even with a stationary loom, the movements of the wrapping and stitch-moving have to be very precise for it to work.

Agnes certainly sits deep in the uncanny valley - most especially when, every so often, she would pause from her knitting to look up around the room. A few times I could have sworn she was looking straight at me, and it was very disconcerting. Logically I know it's only a machine, but my lizard brain sees that it's something almost but not quite human - and kept going back and forth between being repelled by its inhuman aspects, and trying to anthropomorphize it from the human aspects. One minute "it" was a machine. The next, "she" was Agnes.

Robot wearing knitted hat she made herself
Agnes wearing a hat of her own making

Despite my ambivalence, there was also something endearing about our silent knitting companion. A tireless knitter, hard at work on her project, occasionally making a mistake, just like the rest of us. What a treat to have her join us for knit night!


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