Tools of the Trade – Needles

Quite often my knitting needles are tied in up projects on the go.  I have multiples of certain sizes of needles due to this habit!

Quite often my knitting needles are tied in up projects on the go. I have multiples of certain sizes of needles due to this habit!

I am very fond of knitting gadgets. I have quite a few different toys, many of them gifts from friends and loved ones. They all get used, some much more frequently than others. But nothing gets used more than my needles.

I have been knitting for about 35 years now….. and knitting approx. 3 to 4 hours a day for about the last 15 of those years.  Over those years I have tried out many needles, but I never really thought much about what needle I used for the first few years of knitting – I was too busy trying to figure out what was what I was doing with the knitting alone!  LOL!

If you are from Winnipeg and a long time knitter you may remember the store called “The Wool Man”.  It was owned and operated by a German gentleman named Gerhardt.  He was one of the grumpiest people I had ever met and as well, one of the most knowledgable knitters I had ever met!  We took a shine to each other though.  I had just become a mum for the first time and every time we went to Winnipeg (I was living in Northern Manitoba), Beth and I would stroller over to his store and sit and talk and knit.

His store was a cornucopia of yarns and tools.  Within its’ walls I discovered Filatura,  Irish Bainin and other fabulous yarns.  I learned how to knit cables and knit colourwork intarsia sweaters.  And I learned about needles!

Gerhardt’s favorites were made by Inox.  That was the only brand he carried and sold.  Everything else was “Rubbish”.  His theory was that you spend way too many hours with knitting in your hands to work with poor tools.  There are few things more frustrating than fighting your needles; yarn catching on the joins in the circs or yarn being split by rough, too sharp or too dull tips.  For years Inox was the only brand that I would use.  Nothing else would do for me either.

I learned a few years ago that “The Wool Man”  had burned down and that Gerhardt was no longer with us.  I carry my memories of him and his teachings with me every day.

With experience I have learned a great deal more about the tools that I use every day.  I have learned that Inox is no longer the best needle for me.  Sadly there are better needles.  Perhaps not better straight needles, but definitely better circular needles and double-pointed needles as well.  Sorry Gerhardt!


Some of my Addi's waiting for the next project.

Some of my Addi’s waiting for the next project.

The best circular needles available today are made in Germany.  The ADDI line of needles are perhaps the best in the Knitting World today.  Cat Bordi, in her book, Socks Soar on Circs, recommended “eating beans for a week”, in order to purchase the best!  The Addi Turbos were the first needle that they made, slick and smooth, these are my go to needles for good wools.  Since the introduction of the original ADDI there have been additions to the basic line.

The Addi Lace Turbos, sharp and just a little “sticky” are the best for silk and mohair and other slippery fibre’s.  I like the Addi Natura’s for wool as well, but they can have a little too much “grab” for some fibre’s and gauge – they are great if you are knitting a little loosely.  Now there are the Sock Rockets, a blend of the Turbo and Lace, these needles are both slick and sharp!

Every needle company makes circular knitting needles.  The old standards are Aero, Susan Bates and Prym.  New to the North American market are companies like Hiya Hiya, ChiaoGoo and Knitters Pride.  They are all produce circulars of varying surfaces and lengths.  When you work with them watch for the smoothness of the joins and the flexibility of the cords.  A stiff, curling cord can be tamed with steam or hot water but a bad join can’t be fixed.

My collection of interchangeable circs - in a Lantern Moon Fan case.

My collection of interchangeable circs – in a Lantern Moon Fan case.

Like anything in life the best advice when buying is to purchase the best that you can afford!  We spend a lot of time with our needles in hand, a bad needle can really make for a bad knitting experience.

One of the best things about knitting today are the variety of good tools out there.  If you are a new knitter there are many choices at varying costs.  Inexpensive is not necessarily “cheap”!

Interchangeable Circular Sets

Addi Click interchangeable sets.

Addi Click interchangeable sets.

The advent of great quality interchangeable circular needle sets is perhaps one of the best innovations in the knitting industry, Addi alone offers four different sets!  These interchangeable sets offer some of the best values in knitting tools.  The combination of cords and tips can create as many as 32 (or more, depending on the kit) sets of needles – which if bought separately could cost on average over $640.00 (for the Addi’s at least, not quite as much for other brands).

Inside the basic Addi Set!

Inside the basic Addi Set!

There are interchangeable sets in plastic – the Denise sets were first and there is now the Knitters Pride Spectra set as well; wood – Knitter’s Pride has both the Dreams sets and the Symphonie Rose  set in laminated birch; the Dreams set is beautifully coloured and each colour is a different size, the Symphonie Rose set has been stained to resemble rosewood and has gorgeous copper joins.

Knitters Pride has just recently introduced a new set of Interchangeable circulars, Karbonz created from carbon fibre and nickel-plated brass.  This is my new favorite surface, carbon fibre.  I have used all of the sets above and the plastic needles are the only ones that I have reservations about – I simply do not like the feel of the plastic surface.

Truly a Box of Joy for most knitters!

Truly a Box of Joy for most knitters!

My first experience with Carbon fibre was with the Blackthorn Needles.  They were dpn’s that came out a few years ago.  I purchased a couple of sets when I went to Vogue Knitting Live in January 2011.  While I loved the feel of the needles – they were wonderfully light and flexible, the tips just felt funny to me, perhaps they were too sharp or I wasn’t ready for such a sharp needle.  I was interested to see that Clara Parkes had recently reviewed the Karbonz and Blackthorn needles. After reading her review, I found myself in perfect agreement with her assessment and comments.

Short set for hats and other small projects.

Short set for hats and other small projects.

Perhaps the only downside to the interchangeable circular sets of needles is that the basic sets are not set up for hats and other small projects.  The needle tips for the small circs need to be shorter than the basic needle.  The shorter needle tip is necessary to make the circle small enough.  A separate set is needed for the small size projects.

Double Pointed Needles, DPN’s

For some knitters, even the mention of a double-pointed needle can send them screaming out the door!  Socks knitting and dpn’s in the same breath could be considered cursing.

I was one such knitter until I discovered wooden dpn’s.

I had no real problems with metal and plastic dpn’s for the sleeves of sweaters or the finishing off  the crown of a hat; but socks, that was another story!  I tried many times to knit socks – I wanted to knit socks – that would make me a “real” knitter!  Don’t ask me where I got the idea that only a real knitter could knit socks – a chance comment or remark overheard – I am not sure where we get some of our stranger ideas!

I can remember one attempt at sock knitting that sent needles, yarn, and pattern hurtling across the room and into a convenient corner.  The air was blue and I was practically in tears – the bloody needles kept falling out – I couldn’t even get the cast-on done!  In those days I was a very loose knitter and metal needles are heavy and would slide right out of the stitches.

I gave up the idea of knitting socks.

About a year or so later I was reading my new Vogue Knitting and it was an  article on sock knitting – Have Socks Will Travel – I read it and the point that was made about the use of wooden double-pointed needles resonated in my brain like a shockwave!  I rushed out to find wooden dpn’s and try socks one more time!

What a difference!  What a difference the right tool can make!

Karbonz Dpn's!

Karbonz Dpn’s!

Nowadays we have so many choices in our double-pointed needles.  You look at our wall at Mad About Ewe Fine Yarns and can find a selection of bamboo, birch, laminated birch, plastic, aluminum, stainless steel, and carbon fibre.  They are mostly round in shape, but there are some square ones as well!  They come in all lengths; from 4″ and up to 10″.  We even have a few 14″ set in with the long straight needles!

2mm Karbonz dpn's with Malabrigo Lace yarn, smooth as silk with no picking or fuzzing - lovely needles!

2mm Karbonz dpn’s with Malabrigo Lace yarn, smooth as silk with no picking or fuzzing – lovely needles!

If you don’t find the right needle the first time, don’t give up – try a different surface, shape or length!  And then if you really don’t like them – try some of the circular methods for small tube knitting.  They include “Sock’s on Circs” or the “Magic Loop” method.  There are even very short circular needles – 9″ or 12″ long – for those who want to knit the small tubes in the round.  Impossible for me to knit with, but I know many knitters who swear by them.

Happy Knitting with the Right Needles!


1 Response to Tools of the Trade – Needles

  1. Lyne says:

    Hello Lynette, I have just “landed” on your site through Google and I am amazed at all the information it contains! I am from Gatineau, QC and happy to find an experienced knitter that is canadian! I have been knitting scarves since I was 11 (which means almost 40 years ago 😉 I have started to crochet and knit more seriously (meaning other projects than scarves…) about 3 years ago.
    I just finished reading your needles review and had to write to you, I actually lol when I read that you thought you had to knit socks to be a real knitter! I think the same but in my case I have to knit a pair of socks with dpns before I consider myself a real knitter!!! I’ve crocheted some and knitted some with 2 straight needles but that didn’t count. And like you, I have no idea why, I have imposed this on myself! I never read anywhere or heard a comment stating that this is how it has to be lol!

    Anyway, I’m actually knitting my first pair of socks with bamboo dpns NOW! And have finished the first one, I’m very excited although it is far from being perfect (I have lathers at my 3 needle joins) and some mistakes here and there (definitely not gift worthy!) And now I’m seeing all these beautiful multi colored yarns and sock patterns!!!

    You make beautiful and absolutely fantastic pieces Lynette, a great inspiration!

    A new follower, Lyne ☺

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