Brother KH581

Brother KH581 was released to the market by Brother in 1969. It was probably targeted to the Japanese market only because the writing on the carriage is in Japanese. I am yet to see the KH581 model with English writing on the carriage. Nevertheless, the manual in English can be borrowed from similar machines, like KH585 and KH588. Just search it online and you will find pdf files free of charge. I was lucky to get my hands on one Brother KH581 so far and I liked it very much (check a video of me testing it).

Brother KH581 is a metal flatbed machine with 200 needles, positioned 4.5 mm apart, which makes this machine so-called “standard gauge”. The needles are of interesting shape and can only be purchased on the used market. I have some in my store. Additionally, the end-caps are not plastic (like later Brother knitting machines) but metal, which makes them more robust and less prone to breaking (especially during shipment and transport) and UV-exposure damage.

This beautiful blue-colored machine comes with a standard set of minor assesories (like needle selection tools) that fit nicely into a separate storage box with a lid. The claw weights are blue to match the nice blue shade of the machine. I also like how a tool storage unit hugs the tension mast – tool boxes are always handy because the knitters tend to misplace these tools all the time!! 😊

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The row counter is somewhat old-fashioned. This is the only Brother 8-pushbutton model that I encountered to come with such vintage row counter.

The pattern center includes eight needle selection buttons, a reset button (the blue button right before the button #1), a reverse lever (controlled with the A/B knob), a slide dial (controlled with the L/R knob), and a set lever (controlled with the ratchet tool). The role of the set lever (the one that is rotated with the ratchet tool) is to bring the needles forward: you push the corresponding buttons and then rotate the set lever with a ratchet and the needles move forward to C position. By rotating the ratchet to off position, the buttons return to unpushed position. Another option is to push the reset button to deselect the working pushbuttons. The role of the reverse lever is that: for example, you want to select needles 2 through 8. So, you simply push button #1, turn the reverse lever to B and rotate the set lever: all but needles in position 1 will be brought forward. The role of the slide dial is to shift the needle selection. For example, a pattern requires the selection of needles 1 and 5, then 2 and 6, then 3 and 8. Instead of pushing and unpushing the corresponding buttons (like what you would do on earlier 4-pushbutton models), you simply push buttons 1 and 5 and then simply move the slide dial to the corresponding number of places. If you move the dial only once, needles 2 and 6 will be selected even though buttons 1 and 5 are still pushed in. If you move the slide dial two places, then (even though the buttons 1 and 5 are pushed in) needles in positions 3 and 7 will be moved forward.

Standard KH581 setup comes with a lace carriage. Extension rails are included as well. Other optional assesories that can be fitted with this machine are pretty scares. I have not personally tested but ribbers KR580 and KR586/587 might be compatible with Brother KH581. There are some indication in the manual that a knit leader KL111 might be compatible with this and other 8-pushb button machines.

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The additional patterning is accomplished by moving and holding the cam lever in positions I, II, or III and by pressing pattern selector buttons. If your carriage does not seem to be working correctly, you can refer to this article on common problems with the Brother knitting machine carriages. Details of fair-isle knitting for this machine, especially how to insert the second yarn into the side yar guide, are very similar to the KH800 knitting machine, which is described well in my video and blog.

The handles for main and lace carriages are removable (screw-on) and can be placed inside the case into a specially allocated space. Mast, sinker plate and cast-on combs also have allocated places inside the lid. The storage box sits on the left-hand side of the bed.

Table clamps are S-shaped unlike later Brother knitting machine models. The head of the “S” is smaller than for similar ribber clamps.

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The retaining bar needs a sponge strip, which needs to be replaced every 6-12 months depending on how often the machine is used and how vigorously it is oiled. The retaining bar is 41 x 0.5 inch and can be purchased new.

Pros and Cons of Brother Profile 581 knitting machine:


(+) The bed is narrow which makes the overall setup compact, very light and easy to handle.

(+) The carriage is very easy to slide across the bed

(+) Excellent for beginners and those who transition from hand-knitting to machine-knitting.

(+) Relatively easy to deep clean – all parts are mechanical and straightforward, so it is easy to assemble and disassemble if deep cleaning is needed

(+) Nice green color, which makes it stand out.

(+) More advanced than just a manual/basic model since the needles can be moved forward in a predetermined pattern.

(+) The presence of the pattern center offers many combinations of needle selection to make the knitter’s life easier

(+) Standard setup comes with a lace carriage. I heard from some knitters that knitting lace on 8-pushbutton machines creates one of the best-looking lace patterns…. Just heard – have not knitted enough lace to compare myself…

(+) Compatible with several ribber models and with KL111 knit leader, also available in my store.

(+) A significant advantage of this machine relative to its later counterparts (pushbutton, punchcard and electronic knitting machines) is all metal parts (with the exception of some small knobs and levers). Thus, no UV damage and discoloration to the main parts of the machine (unlike later models, in which UV damage, aging and the resulting discoloration of carriage plastic panels, end-caps and top panels can be quite significant).


(-) Parts are only available on the used market.

(-) Unique needles that can only be purchased on a used marked

(-) Two- and more color fair isle knitting as well as other patterning requires a lot of manual manipulation and color switching. It is, however, typical for manual and push-button knitting machines.

(-) Some might find the machine too simple – yes, it has only limited patterning capabilities. However, with manual needle selection and yarn manipulation, the possibilities are endless, which is kind of a big plus to artists and hand-knitters who just transitioned to machine knitting and not ready yet to give up the feeling of satisfaction of hand-manipulating the stitches.

Overall Brother KH581 is a very robust mechanical machine that will continue to serve knitters for years especially if kept indoors with humidity and temperature control.

Brother manufactured also other standard-gauge 8-push button knitting machines: Profile 552, KH560, KH561, Profile/KH583, Profile 585, KH587, Profile/KH588, and Genie KH710. Brother 8-pushbutton knitting machines are very often available in my store for purchase.

If you like this type of patterning mechanics but would like versatility, check out the Brother KH800 knitting machine: it has the same ratchet-based needle selection mechanism but it is actually punch-card based (thus, more unique needle combinations with 12-stitch repeat).

Some might find the machine too simple – yes, it has only limited patterning capabilities. However, with manual needle selection and yarn manipulation, the possibilities are endless, which is kind of a big plus to artists and hand-knitters who just transitioned to machine knitting and not ready yet to give up the feeling of satisfaction of hand-manipulating the stitches.

Read more: Brother KH581

Don’t forget to check out the fun and beginner-friendly projects that can be done easily on any machine.