Before I get onto the next needles I want to tell you about in this review series, I’d like to explore a couple of things to consider when you are buying needles. Obviously how many needles you buy is constrained by budget and availability, plus to some degree how you approach your knitting projects. If you always finish a project before starting another, then you can probably skip quite a bit of what I am about to say – but if you are like me and can have anything upwards of ten projects sitting around on needles at any given time, I have some thoughts for you about how you balance your needle collection. Following on from that, a needle that works well for knitting flat garments or larger in the round pieces may not always be as successful for small circumferences such as hats and sleeves, so having some alternative options is worth a light consideration here before getting into more details on the sock needle post.
And just a note as you read H+H refers to a massive textile trade fair in Cologne, Germany which Tash and I went to in March this year (accompanied by Elliott).
Interchangeables versus fixed circulars
Interchangeables needles let you swap cables between needle tips of different lengths and their introduction changed the scene for the use of circulars. Previously if you were a committed circular needle user you needed multiple sets to cover the different cable lengths, which discouraged many knitters. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a knitter read a pattern and say “Oh, I haven’t got a cable that length” and as circulars weren’t alway easy to find, that was a problem. Interchangeable needles changed all that – with interchangeables you can use your 4mm tips with a 60 cm, 80 cm, 100 cm or 120 cm cable, rather than needing four different needles. Plus there is the real advantage to being able to use a cable stop and leave the cable in a project while using the needles for something else. They also typically come in beautiful, enticing sets, and it has been very common for new knitters (and experienced ones) to chose a set of interchangeables around the time they decide they are committed to this new craft. Here’s the thing though – simply by adding in the interchangeable join and option to switch cables you have created both a new stress point and potential catch point to your needle.
Just a note here – circular needles are measured from tip to tip so typically an 80cm cable will be 70cm allowing for 5cm + 5 cm being added by the tips.
Now I have a massive collection of interchangeable needles (helps to have easy access to a yarn store) But about four years ago I picked up an 80 cm 3.25 Knitpro fixed wooden circular needle and discovered just how nice it was to avoid that extra join – it was so much smoother. It started me thinking about how and what I knit, and what actually were the benefits of an interchangeable needle over time in some sizes.
The strengths of an interchangeable needle set are that you pretty much always have the needle size you want, which is great when you are starting out or trying a new project in a yarn weight you haven’t used much before. It also helps a lot if you are swatching, although one caution would be that interchangeable sets will typically have either a 3.5mm or a 3.75mm, not both – if they have them at all. Another advantage is that you can increase your cable size as you go – which I just did on Jon’s Hearthstone when I started the yoke, as there were just too many stitches to comfortably be held on an 80 cm cable – so I switched to an interchangeable and 100cm. Obviously you can also change your needle tip without changing the cable and decrease the cable length. With Knitpro and I’m assuming between Chiaogoo and Hiya Hiya metal/ bamboo options, I can also switch tips to a different material if I have hand fatigue or want a different level of slip or point. All these things are useful and once you have decided on a brand you like I would definitely recommend that a set of interchangeables is a worthwhile investment.
Another note – do your best not to stress your cable join particularly on interchangeable cables. You can stress it both with either too many or not enough stitches so if you find you are pulling at the join as you move the stitches around trying going up (or down) a cable length.
However for me – in sizes I use a lot I am moving more and more to fixed circulars. Most of the sample needles I use in these posts are fixed circulars in either 3.25mm or 4mm with an 80 cm cable. That’s because between 4ply and double knitting/light worsted weight they are the main needle sizes I use. I avoid all the issues of extra joins catching and needles potentially unwinding part way through a project and also save stress on my interchangeable cables. Where in the past an 80cm cable could be used for multiple garments as it was switched from needle to needle ie the cable could potentially be used five times with 3 different needle sizes increasing the wear, now it gets about the same amount of project use as the needles.
Buying interchangeable sets
Interchangeable sets are frequently things of beauty – I am often tempted even when I know I wont use the needles, I mean I have stash I’ll probably never knit so why not needles I’ll never use? More practically though, for most of us, one set is usually enough so its a matter of buying a set you will get the most use out of for the next five years or so – at least. Full interchangeable sets can range in price from around $100 NZD to over $300 or more so they are not a small investment for most knitters. It is worth doing some research first to help make sure that you will love it. So my suggested process for a successful choice is:
Look ahead at the projects you are likely to make and pick a needle size – as I said earlier for me that’s typically a 4mm or a 3.25mm. Chatting at knitting yesterday 3.75mm got two nominations and a 4.5mm was also suggested. Basically the sizes you never seem to have enough of and a spare will be useful 🙂 Buy a pair of tips in that size and a cable to match. If you knit a lot of toddler and small children things I’d probably go for a 60 cm cable – shawls and adult garments 80cm could be a better choice. If you have never tried a short tip you might want to get a regular size tip and a short one. If there is more than one material e.g. metal and bamboo maybe get one of each.
Please follow the instructions to attach the cable (YouTube if you need too), trust that the manufacturer wouldn’t tell you how to do it a certain way if it didn’t make a difference. There are some knitters who have a technique that unwinds the cable of an interchangeable (the theory being that the way they hold it in their palm interferes with the movement of the cable so it defers to the screw connection) but most knitters don’t have this issue if the cable is attached properly.
Now knit something substantial with it. You will not know if you are getting hand fatigue from a needle or the join will not hold with your knitting style from only knitting two or three rows using a friend’s or at a store/fair. That will give you an instant yes/no about what you might like but you need the feedback of sustained use. The advantage of using a 4 or 4.5mm for this test is that it’s getting thick enough that most materials will be starting to not flex as much and as flex is one of the things that can help protect your hands you will get a better indicator of how you handle the needle. For instance I only start to have issues with metal over about 3.25mm. You will also get a good feel for the weight and warmth of the needle as you knit.
When you evaluate the needle think of the tips from my first post.
- Is it sitting comfortably in your hand, is it supporting you to knit efficiently or do you feel like you are thinking about the needle too much.
- Is the needle material (and the cable material) working for you? Are your stitches moving smoothly? Are you noticing any signs of fatigue e.g fingers cramping, thumb joint pain, lower arm strain?
- Is the needle point the sharpness you prefer – could it be sharper or rounder, are any joins smooth, is the cable connection flush (flat) with the needle, is it easy to attach the cable (and does it stay attached)?
If you are happy with all those things then this set could be a great choice. If you are not sure – have a think about what are the aspects you don’t like so much.
PS once a needle is over 6 or 7mm its very common for any knitter to find their hands start to tire quite quickly – take frequent breaks. Garments grow quickly at bulky weight so resting your hands wont slow you down that much.
Small circumference knitting
My main comment about small circumference knitting is that there is a slightly different range of options. As well as magic loop on standard circulars, the choices include short tips on 40 cm cable, double pointed needles (DPNs) the new very short (sometimes called mini) circulars e.g. 23 cms, and a range of three needle options – NEKOs, Addi flips and now Denise also have a tri-needle set. I am covering all those in the sock post so wont talk about them here other than to say you may have a different needle preference for small circumferences compared to larger project knitting.
Firstly its important to understand there is a difference between bamboo and wood – as one needle manufacturer points out, bamboo is a grass. Secondly not all bamboo is created equal – there is a Japanese bamboo which is particularly good and then there are varying grades from other sources including China. Bamboo needles are typically smooth (although they have more “grip” than metal), light and have some degree of flex. Bamboo tips are an option for the majority of manufacturers of interchangeable and fixed circulars and typically tend to be cheaper than wood.
In deciding where to start on the list of bamboo needles I settled on my 6 mm Clover Takumi. This was one of the first circular needles I bought for a project when I was still knitting mainly on straights but beginning to experiment. I had to cast on something to remind me how it was to knit with and ended up with a cotton/acrylic blend to try some indoor house slippers. Clover use Japanese bamboo and the needle has a nice smooth finish – this is an older version and the cable join is smooth but slightly unusual – it has something like a tiny plastic cuff where the cable joins the needle. Clover in New Zealand are on the expensive side of knitting needle prices which is partially down to product quality. They used to be reasonably easy to find but have largely been superseded by KnitPro. I don’t think they do interchangeables at all (haven’t found any via Google or the UK stockists)
These are good needles – the needle tip is smooth, the stitches move easily, the cable could have a little more flex but I am magic looping the second section of my granny slipper OK. While they wouldn’t be my first choice I wouldn’t hesitate to buy them if I was in need of a specific size and they were the option available. I would certainly grab them (they have Clover written on the needle) if I saw them in an op shop as a good quality needle to share with a new knitter.
Pony are a workhorse of a needle. Most of my newer straights are Pony and while I suspect they use cheaper bamboo the price reflects that. I wouldn’t have included them here except I bought a pair of bamboo circulars here in Malaysia on Friday when I noticed that the patent pending on the packet refers to the cable join. I have ended up with my first “wholly purchased in Malaysia” project (except the pattern) trying them out. While the bamboo needle isn’t as nice as Clover it is perfectly OK and the cable join is remarkably smooth. I’m impressed especially as they only cost me $10 NZD (29.90 MYR)
They were promoting this new cable connection quite strongly when we were at H+H but it may be a while before they make it to New Zealand. To give credit where its due while the needle itself isn’t quite as slick or sharp as Clover or other high end bamboo needles – the stitches are definitely sliding nicely over the cable join. In fact its probably better than some of my more expensive needles. I’m not sure about its durability but at that price point it could be a good introduction to circular needles and if you don’t want to risk your good needles in your carry-on will definitely work as a travel needle.
The back story of my getting this needle began with a conversation Tash and I had with Anna at Wild and Woolly in London. We were chatting about heading to H+H and how one of the things on our shopping list was a really nice needle. Anna suggested we check out Ka (Kinki Amibari) which she stocks and she gets a lot of positive feedback about from her customers.
Anyway with one thing and another we didn’t have much success engaging with the manufacturer at H+H and there are some unusual aspects to the sizing which we weren’t too sure about. But as I was writing this post I decided I would really like to try them and ordered some from Wild and Woolly. They arrived amazingly fast and mindful that I have a new great niece or nephew arriving in the near future I cast on a Vertebrae in some DK stash.
This is a beautiful needle – it is like silk to use. The finish on the bamboo is just perfect and the cable is a light nylon (?) which adds to the whole experience. Its like the knitting needle as an art form. The only thing stopping me from nominating it as my favourite needle is the need for the swivel cable to move freely within the brass cuff means it catches ever so slightly which is high on my last of irritating things. It is possible I wouldn’t notice it with a different fibre. There is something about the Japanese design aesthetic which is captured here. If you love bamboo needles this is definitely one to watch out for. If you want to indulge your curiosity please check out Anna’s lovely store – she specialises in interesting British yarns and her online sales help keep a wonderful small LYS in business. As well as the standard circular KA also come in straights, DPNs, and an interesting asymmetric short circular.
Price point they are sitting around to slightly higher to Chaiogoo and Knitpro. I offset the postage a bit ordering yarn as well and it arrived from the UK in a week.
Hiya Hiya, Chiaogoo, Addi
All of these brands do a bamboo tip – I’m working on getting some samples so I can add them in. I have heard good things about all of them, and am feeling a bit guilty I haven’t included a more detailed review. This section could be updated end of August once I have been at KAN.
Wooden needle tips are an interesting topic – because lets face it, wood breaks (somewhat more easily than bamboo in many cases) Is there anything more depressing than that crack sound when you inadvertently sit or stand on some knitting on wooden needles? I have already covered the main Knitpro wood options available in New Zealand (and Asia Pacific) in my first post. As a general rule good quality wooden needles tend to be more expensive than metal needles (with some notable exceptions at the very top end).
Addi Olive Wood
When I was having difficulty finding an alternative wooden tip to Lantern Moon Rosewood, I read a review of these needles by a knitter who thought they were the next best thing so I added a 60 cm 3.25mm circular into an order I was doing for yarn. The wood itself has a nice feel and the needle is similar in slickness to my Knitpro Symfonies but it annoys me the way the metal cuff is attached to the needle. While it smoothed slightly with wear the wood is not flush and there is a distinct edge. Addi are the top end of needle prices and so I was not overly impressed. Let me know if you have these and haven’t experienced this in case mine is a manufacturing issue.
The one mistake I made at H+H was saying I was with Tash when we visited the Lykke stand. The guy was all set to give us each a pack of sample needles before I said that and so he only gave one to her! Which is where my Lykke test needle came from after we shared the contents when we got back. This is not the first time I have had my hands on a Lykke needle but the first time I have had a decent time knitting with them. I used them to finish a project in Germany and have cast on a new one in the past week (this blog is not helping my number of WIPs!)
So as I know you have all been waiting … this is my perfect needle so far in my replacement hunt. It’s light, smooth, the joins are perfect and it’s lovely to use. Both in my first project which was in wool and this second one which is a bamboo/cotton blend it feels like effortless knitting. The bamboo blend is one of those very loosely plied multi stranded yarns and so far I haven’t have any real issues with split stitches and the slightly rounded point is handling it well. I often find my hands tire faster with plant based fibres such as cotton and bamboo, probably because of the lack of give in the yarn but that hasn’t been so noticeable with this project.
This sample isn’t an interchangeable but after 7 years it will be my new interchangeable set – I have the Indigo set on order in Holland Road’s first order (you wont find them there yet but they are on their way) The price point will likely be on the slightly higher end but if you like wooden needles and want something a bit special I recommend checking these out.
I put a bit of a shout out about Hiya Hiyas and Addis in one of the Ravelry groups I belong to, asking if anyone could give me some review words. Thanks to OzLorna for sharing the following which touches on Addis and tells us why she loves Hiya Hiyas:
“Addis are OK, better than most. they click together and don’t come apart. But I really love, love the Hiya Hiyas. They have a screw fitting but have these dapper little holders to put on both sections so I can get a really tight join. Then they come out again to get it apart. They has a ball in the base of the metal bit that allowed the needles, cord and yarn to move round and round in a natural way. I do twist a bit after a couple of rounds and theses suit my knitting style best. I have the long lace tips (I mostly do lace on them), the bamboo set and the large set. They are my preferred set. Love them. Oh and I am tall with matching hands, so the longs fit better in my hands than the shorter one.”
The journey continues…
In summary for garment knitting my preferred needles are:
- Lykke for wood – followed by Knitpro Symfonie (Royale is a close runner up if pattern is involved)
- Kinki Amibari for bamboo but I am just ordering a Chiaogoo Bamboo tip and spin cord from Vintage Purls to try with my languishing Myrtle.
- Knitpro Zing for metal – my hands seem to deal with these reasonably Ok, they come in pretty colours (this is important to some of us!), you can get a nice flush join with the cable and I like the brushed finish. Having said that – if your hands are ok with stainless steel, Chiaogoo are beautiful needles and while it is not as clear as I’d like in that photo the cable/needle join is amazing.
All of these needles are available as straights, DPNs, fixed circulars and in varying needle lengths as interchangeables. Needles make a big difference to how you enjoy your knitting. When it comes to circulars if you possibly can save up for a pair of good tips and a cable rather than struggling with a cheap version. Fewer and better quality is the way to go here.
When I started this series I wanted to widen the horizon on the range of needles that are available and encourage knitters to think a little before just jumping in with a recommendation. Maybe be prepared to lend a pair of needles to a friend to try properly before their partner buys them a full set for a birthday present only to find they hurt their hands or don’t feel comfortable with their technique. All the needles I have talked about are reputable brands with a quality product so this is about personal preference.
But wait there is More…
In the process of writing I keep finding more options and so I have to confess there will probably be a follow up post. There has been a bit of explosion in knitting needle technology over the last few years and also a move towards “luxury” needles. So I have ordered a Prym Ergonomic which I should have by KAN (Knit August Nights) , I am expecting a Signature interchangeable (which made me gasp slightly at the price) to arrive in the next day or so and I am contemplating ordering a sample Kollage needle as well. I plan on having all the needles I have talked about there (with yarn) so if you are there and would like to check any of them out I’ll be around the Holland Road table.