Creative Knitting Newsletter
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What's Needling You?
We knitters would be nowhere without our basic tools: the needles. The shape and variety of knitting needles would surely astonish the early knitters of the Middle East, who were lucky to use smooth sticks of the same approximate size! Visiting the wall of needles in a typical yarn shop these days is like being the proverbial kid in a candy store: we are hard-pressed to make a choice! Let's wander through a few of the possibilities today.
Straight As an Arrow
The first needles most of us experience are straight, and either short or long. Quite serviceable and useful, they accomplish the goal of making the stitches nicely. They can hold a somewhat-limited number of stitches along a smooth surface and provide a stopper at the end to prevent stitches going away without leave (AWOL). In my straight collection are needles made of aluminum, bone, bamboo, plastic, wooden dowel rods, coated metal, nickel-plated, vinyl, laminated wood, steel and faux baleen. The longer lengths can be a bit invasive to your neighbors if you are knitting in a narrow airline seat and would provide an ideal potential weapon if one's traveling companions had evil thoughts. These are the needles generations of kids in knitterly households have used when deterring imaginary pirates from the spoil of their plunder. My lovely collection of straight needles is arranged artistically in a vase on display in the living room. The last time one of these saw duty was when the hose of the vacuum cleaner was plugged the other day! Worked like a charm.
The Circular Choice
When KIP (knitting in public), people often inquire about the "new" needles I (nearly) always use. They are referring to my choice of circular needles, which I have been using for at least the last four decades! New? Hardly! The circular needle is a refinement of the double-pointed needles used for eons to make items which could be seamless, such as Fair Isle and Aran sweaters so popular in the United Kingdom. The cable allows the knitter to concentrate on the stitching rather than be concerned with the tendency of stitches to go AWOL.
Because of the way I knit, I prefer to use circular needles. The flow of the stitches is just right for the constant and almost machinelike flick of the yarn by my right forefinger. I can knit for hours without discomfort, although that seldom occurs these days. There is no need to prop the needle under an arm or against a leg, as some knitters prefer, so I just hold the tips and let the stitches fly. Although I never thought I'd want to purchase whole sets of new needles, I love the sets of interchangeable circular needles, with tips of laminated wood, nickel-plated metal or plastic. It's easy to take them along in their little cases and have whatever size needle you might need right at hand.
I also have scads (a number of indefinite quantity but close to hundreds) of the usual circular needles, with flexible cables and aluminum, bamboo, vinyl, plastic or nickel-plated tips. They range in size from zero through 17 and in lengths from 9 to 48 inches. Some have the coating worn off the tips from so much use! A few of the cables have become frazzled from years of bending near the joints, which is about the worst thing that can happen. Once in a while the tip of a wooden or bamboo needle requires the gentle use of an emery board to take off a burr, but these needles generally last forever.
I prefer a circular needle for all knitting with one exception: They aren't so great when using a pattern which involves extra wraps of yarn in one stitch. It seems the extra wraps all try to get off the needle first, resulting in a sort of Three Stooges rush through a doorway -- everyone gets stuck and no one can move! The Wave Beach Bag, page 58 in Creative Knitting's July 2009 issue is an example of this sort of stitch. The pattern is written for a circular needle, and I know readers have had success with that choice, but it does not seem to work so well for me.
The familiar sets of four or five double-pointed needles (dpns) are my go-to faves for socks, mittens, sleeves and the tops of hats. Now knitters can avoid them entirely by using circular needles in pairs or with the Magic Loop method, but I still prefer the dpns. When I learned that stitches (which had the bad habit of falling off aluminum needles with a loud clang) were more inclined to stay put on bamboo needles, I gradually purchased all known sizes. The #2 wooden sets did not like my tension, sometimes breaking at bad moments, but bamboo seems able to resist all that I can deliver. There is a noticeable curve here and there, but no breaks thus far.
We have more to cover on this topic; there's not enough space here to discuss the variety of tips on the needles, the best ways to house the multitudes, or which needles work best with what type of yarn. As Scarlett O'Hara was wont to say, "I'll worry about that tomorrow"