Just a note that I started this post four weeks ago before I went to New Zealand so it includes both before and after thoughts if the flow seems a little odd.
I was thinking a few days ago as I was working on a sample for this post that for me sock knitting is where I find myself slipping into that meditative state where all my focus is on my knitting and everything else fades into the background. Knitting socks was really the project that got me back into knitting regularly and one of my goals for this year was to find my sock mojo again after it was buried under jerseys, shawls and baby knitting.
Socks (or stockings) also seem to be the project where the technology of the knitting needle is stretched. I picked up the Early Fall edition of Vogue Knitting (Designer Knitting in many other parts of the world) as there was an article on the history of knitting needles which caught my eye. One interesting point was that the need for fine needles to knit silk stockings was a key impetus for the development of steel DPNs.
While the first two or three pairs of socks I knitted where on double pointed needles – I really became a confirmed sock knitter when I learned how to magic loop. Magic loop uses a single standard length circular needle and depending on the length can be used to knit a single sock or two at a time.
Another technique uses two standard length circular needles, typically to do two at a time socks. One of my knitting friends here in Malaysia, Hanne is a prolific sock knitter with this technique and suggested this tutorial from The Spruce Crafts when some of us commented that we always get tangled up when we have tried this before.
In the last ten years or so sock knitters tended to be in the DPN camp or the circular/magic loop camp. My first knitting group in Lower Hutt in 2010 were all pretty much confirmed magic loopers, whereas the core members of my Brisbane Stitch and Bitch group were committed DPN users. Then recently a number of new products have come onto the market which have aimed to take the benefits of circular needles one step further. The first and most obvious was a mini circular short enough to knit continuously in the round, and now there are flexible DPN trios which have tried to take a best of both world approach.
DPNs and Circulars
Whereas wood and bamboo are a legitimate choice for larger needle sizes – needle fragility in wood is a much bigger issue once you drop beneath 3mm. Also the main benefits of wood at garment weights – warmth and flex, are much less of an issue when dealing with the finer needle diameters used for socks. Personally I find wood beneath 2.5mm just too fragile in circulars and having just tried a lace sock pattern on 2.25 wood DPNs, I can understand the rationale for developing metal needles for fine sock knitting as the Vogue article describes.
The majority of knitters who knit socks with standard circulars would agree that the cable join to the needle is the critical thing that influences our preference, followed closely by a sharp (but not needle sharp) point. Typically most brands didn’t use to have interchangeable options below 2.75/3mm due to the requirements of the cable screw. While this is changing I am personally not convinced of the advantages of interchangeables when it comes to socks as it adds another join point (and potential weakness) that can be annoying in techniques that require you to frequently pull a needle through a group of stitches.
In my experience knitters tend to use the fixed circular version (or DPNs) of their preferred interchangeable set, but not always. All the main brands do a fixed circular version and DPNs in sock sizes. The ones I am loving at the moment are my Addi Lace fixed 2.25, my new Knitpro Zing in 2.5 and 2.75 and my faithful Knitpro Novas in all sizes. I think the Addi is winning slightly as the join is just a touch nicer than KnitPro. My friend Alison loves her Hiya Hiyas for socks based on the point and smooth join, followed closely by the Chiaogoo needles she picked up recently. If you don’t like the high slip of metal needles with some fibres, Knitpro Zings are worth a try as the matt finish on the aluminium is just a touch more grabby.
If you are a beginner to sock knitting and depending on how tightly you knit – a good starter needle is a 2.5mm or 2.75mm needle on an 80 cm cable in a fixed circular. Please steer clear of the cheap grey metal needles with clear plastic cables that are available at most craft warehouses. The joins are annoying and the needle is usually difficult to knit with.
These needle sizes are a good starting point for DPNS as well and if you have a choice go for a longer e.g 20cm option as it is easier to manage a small number of stitches on a longer needle than a larger number of stitches on a short needle. If your technique puts pressure on the lower half of your needle tip you may find your needles (DPNs or circular) will warp slightly. This isn’t an issue for most needles – if you are having unusually fatigue you may want to try a ‘softer’ metal needle such as Knitpro or Addi rather than the firmer stainless steel of Hiya Hiya or Chaiogoo.
As I really struggle with short tip knitting so can’t do an unbiased review I am going to just drop in a great review by Kerryn on Facebook for the Chiaogoo mini interchangeable set . Kerryn was one of the first people to comment on my blog (thanks!) and the later part of her review is applying some of that thinking about how technique influences our needle preferences.
Confessions up front – I like Chiaogoo: I’ve got the “normal” interchangeable set, and a number of fixed ones. I’ve been using the fixed shorties for sleeves and socks already, so I am coming at this from the point of view of a Chiaogoo-convert already (though I like my Knit-pro for most things above 4mm).
This mini-set / sock-set has been great! I cast on at the toes using two circs (like magic-loop, only faster) with the required size on the leading needle and a much smaller size on the other end, and there were no snags or hiccups. Once I got the toes done, I switched to knitting on the shortest (23cm, tip-to-tip), still with a 2.75 on the active side, and a 2mm on the other end, and it’s been really quick. Having the multiple sizes made swatching a whole lot easier.
I did have to learn to hold the needles a bit differently, because I usually balance them lying along my forefinger, while this is sort of pinched between thumb and first fingers, but once I got the hang of that it was good. But this grip is something I have to do on short needles anyway.
I think I’ll be on-selling a lot of my mini fixed circulars now, because these are really good. However, if you struggle with short circulars, these will not change anything. If you have arthritis, I can imagine it would not be comfortable, because that pinching hold is a bit of a strain.
Since I wrote this section I have actually tried knitting with a mini circular and would now argue quite strongly that this is a technique dependent needle. I suspect many continental knitters and knitters who lever knit when they use straights, even if they have transitioned to circulars will have significant issues knitting comfortably with these.
Addi Flexi Flips/ CraSy Trio
My one issue with magic loop is the cable pull through as you change sides when you are knitting (which is why I would like to figure out the two circs method to see if its an improvement). While the very short circulars for socks have never appealed to me because of my issues with short tips I was curious when I began to see the Addi Flexi Flips being used by other knitters. I picked up a couple of sets in the UK while we were there and cast on a test sock on the train to Edinburgh.
The slightly confusing thing about these needles are that they are called different things in the United States (Flexi Flips) and the UK and Europe (CraSy Trio). However they are the same needles. Depending on how you look at them they are three DPNs which instead of being straight have a short length of cable in the middle or they look like a very short fixed circular. I would say the needle ends are slightly longer than a mini circular and the cable is definitely shorter. The fact that they are effectively three circular needles is reflected in the price.
This You Tube review is throrough and certainly reflects my thoughts plus gives you some good tips if you are trying them out. I felt as if the needle tips could have been slightly longer for my technique and that the ends of the third needle made them feel more like I was using DPNs than the contained experience of magic loop.
This was one of the needle options I was concerned about as an example of where they were being recommended as the latest greatest thing without perhaps sufficient attention to a knitter’s experience or technique. Particularly for a brand new sock knitter they felt like a bit of a stretch. Now I have seen them being used by in-experienced knitters I am not so worried – we had a sample at Knit August Nights and it was the newer knitters who were picking them up faster particularly if they had started/ experimented with DPNS. If you are an experienced DPN knitter and also are comfortable with shorter tips these are definitely worth trying out. It’s probably worth noting that they are replicating the magic loop pattern requirement of stitches split between only two needles so start with a pattern that can be used for magic loop (or has stitches split over 4 needles with a fifth for knitting in DPNs)
My helpful tip for newbies is to cast on your sock stitches on a straight needle and knit the first row before knitting the stitches onto Trio needles and joining to work in the round
When we were visiting H+H Cologne we came across Neko needles and bought some samples back with us. Neko are a small needle start up company who came up with the base concept most of the new three needle sets are based on. Their needles are made of a flexible plastic with a bamboo option in development and come in sets of three. Quite apart from wanting to support the underdog here I really wanted to love these needles. I actually like them more than the Addis as the needle in your hand is slight longer and because it is stable you don’t get the feeling of ends everywhere. Unfortunately in sock sizes they just don’t feel firm enough for anything other than plain stocking stitch. They were really nice in the 4mm size for knitting the sleeves of a DK baby cardigan in the round as at the size the plastic becomes much firmer.
Where did I get to?
There is that old saying about not messing with success. After my sock needle experiments I think I am happy sticking to magic loop. I prefer to knit my socks one at a time but am going to give the two circular technique another go. I’ll preservere with my Addi Trio/Flips and Neko projects for a sock in case my opinion changes but as I said at the beginning, I enjoy socks for the rather mindless knitting flow and don’t want to be thinking too much about my needles. I am going to try a Lykke needle in a sock size just to see if its a bit more robust than Knitpro but in so far as my hands are comfortable with metal I will probably stick with them for the time being.
As an aside – if you are looking to expand your sock repertoire check out the Sockalong Rachael has set up in the Holland Road Yarn Ravelry Forum She has found some great patterns both free and paid, beginner and challenging to develop your sock knitting skills with a different theme each month.