So far, I’ve not talked about knitting tools. But as I was knitting and admiring my lovely casein needles last night, I thought that perhaps the time had come for a little discussion!
Knitting needles are the vital link between yarn and finished project. You need a whole bunch of them to knit various projects and yarn weights:
You may gasp at this image, like my family and friends do, and say “How many needles to you need!?” But I say to you that I actually need more. I don’t yet have a complete set of all the needle sizes. And I’m still coming to projects where I find I have to go and buy a needle. I have several sets of the most common sizes because I sometimes have several projects on the go, using the same sized needle. And I have one (or more) or each of the DPNs, circulars and straights. Because you need different tools for different projects.
This situation is aided by the fact that if I happen to pass a charity shop, I have to go in, just to make sure I haven’t passed a fantastic treasure trove of vintage needles that need my attention. At 20c a pair, it would be madness not to get some.
This train of thought was inspired by my meeting a girl whose newly purchased KnitPro needles snapped clean in two after only one use. Apparently, it’s a common fault because the wood is cut on the grain, making them prone to breakage. But these needles are coveted and highly valued by knitters. And not cheap! I had considered adding them to my ‘I want’ list, but have decided against it now. I don’t want to stress about my needles suddenly snapping mid-row.
Wooden needles are already on my “hmm, not sure about you” list. Even though they are very beautiful to look at, note this interesting phenomenon:
It appears I’m heavier on the needles either knitting or purling. I suspect knitting. The tips on some of them have worn almost clean away. After only one use! I’m very disappointed. The most badly worn ones are the cheap needles, but even the more expensive ones have suffered damage. Look how they’re quite a bit shorter than the other! I can’t be running off to the shops to buy needles every time I finish a project!
Here’s one of my luxury purchases:
I can’t remember the brand’s name, but they have very distinctive heads:
They were so pretty I couldn’t resist buying myself a treat. But because of that darn chip, I doubt I’ll be able to use them again without snagging my yarn.
I don’t think I’m a particularly violent knitter. I don’t chew my needles, or throw them around. They are stored very carefully in a nice case.
My conclusion after seeing that even expensive wooden needles have flaws is that wood is not a good knitting tool in general. If I was a continental knitter, it would probably be a different story. I suspect that style of knitting is less stressful on the needles.
So which ones do I like? I think my favourites would be these:
Addi needles get my vote because they have great connections, which allow the knitting to slip from cable back on to the needle with catching or snagging. The metal is very light and smooth, and projects seem to knit up very evenly using them.
Bamboo needles are light, and very durable. They’re great for chunky knitting, which is already heavy. So the less weight in one’s hands the better. They’re good for small gauge knitting too, because they grip the yarn (without snagging it or making it hard to feed along) so you get less stitches bouncing off the needles. You can also see that the tips have not suffered the same fate as my wooden needles. I’ve bought both Naturally and Clover bamboo needles, and like them both.
Swallow needles are another favourite. Made from milk protein (casein), and very like plastic. They’ve got this cool tortoise shell effect. I’ve heard that they are recommended by the Arthritis Foundation because they are flexible, and therefore gentle on the wrists. This is the major reason I like them – they’re so comfortable to knit with! The Wool Company sells them and I have seen them in a number of yarn stores too.
The only drawback to this needle is that it’s just a fraction larger than an ordinary sized 4mm or 3.25mm (for argument’s sake), which means that your tension could be a bit off what you normally get for that sized needle. However, it’s also a good thing for that yarn that’s proving tricky to knit to the right gauge. As you can see, I’ve bent one of mine a bit through pressure whilst knitting. Which can also happen in steel needles.
They are breakable, so do take care of them. I took mine on a road trip and foolishly threw them in the trunk. I think I may have slammed the boot on the tips… as one had snapped off when I arrived at my destination. And I didn’t have a spare pair. Guess who spent a few hours combing town looking for a knitting shop!
I also bought some Swallow circulars, but I do NOT recommend those. I think they have actually ceased manufacturing that particular needle, which is good. The connections are badly designed, snagged horribly and the cable kept popping off the needle. Disaster. Don’t let that put you off the straights though, which are very, very nice.
My ‘go to’ standard for circulars will always be CraftCo. They are good value, and perform very well. The join between cable and needle is done well, so you don’t get snagging. I can’t really say anything bad about them.
Aero and CraftCo straights are my “bog standard” needles too. Except that CraftCo has recently done a very silly thing by manufacturing large needles in extremely heavy metal (Inox). What were they thinking? I’d get an immediate case of RSI knitting with one of those!
Just because they were so sparkly and pretty and for the pure fun of them, I recently purchased some Birch plastics:
When I got them home, I was surprised at how bendy they were and wondered if they’d be that good to knit with. But they seem to be not bad at all. I don’t think you’d want to knit anything too heavy with them though.
And finally, a look at vintage. Charity and hospice shop finds that I am so grateful for:
These are an old English brand that I don’t think you can buy any more called Double Century. They are a steel needle encased in a thick soft plastic. Extremely comfortable to knit with, and great for people like me who are constantly piercing fingers on hard needle tips. These tips are pointy enough to slip easily through the loop but soft enough to prevent injuries.
Milward needles are very good. Light, with good tips and a nice coating, I think you can still buy Milward, but it’s not easily found new in New Zealand. I did buy some new Milward crochet hooks recently, but that’s all I’ve seen. But the mint-condition Milward needles that I’ve found in charity shops are fantastic!
I often think that needles are much like a chef’s knife. If the knife is good, the food preparation experience can be made so much more efficient, precise and enjoyable. I guess I’m a bit of tool freak. I can’t travel without bringing my professional chef’s knife with me either – those motel knives are enough to send me screaming to the nearest takeaway. And the tools in the various kitchens of my family aren’t much better!
So too, the humble knitting needle, often ignored, is a vitally important part to an efficient and enjoyable knitting process. You’ve gotta have the right tools!