The Needle Niche
Selecting the "Right" Needle
To some knitters, the "right needle" is simply the needle at hand. To others, the notion that "any needle will do" is entirely insufficient: different yarn qualities call for different needle qualities -- either to maintain tension or to accommodate the uniquely special characteristics of either a natural fibre or a designer yarn.
In days past, needles styles were many and various. Bone, ivory, specialty woods, sterling, pearl, tortoiseshell were all been known to be worked into knitting needles and crochet hooks. Needles, in most sizes, came in a variety of lengths for a variety of uses: 2 inch (for knitting the fingers of a glove), 4 and 6 inch double points are now only museum pieces or are rare garage sale "finds". Needles were fashioned in a variety of needle tips: the blunt point, the tapered point and the nipple point being the most common.
Similarly, sources of needles are as varied as the knitters themselves. Some knitters have been known to have never bought a needle -- having inherited complete sets from knitting mothers, grandmothers and other relatives. These knitters are almost symbiotically attached to their Heros and other defunct brands for good, as well as sentimental, reasons: the needles remain useful tools. Other knitters desire different needles for different uses, or different moods. Still others want the latest in needle technology or fashion. It is not unusual for most knitters to have a favorite needle -- as much for the material from which the needle is made, or its source, or for a style of knitting as for the brand of the needle.
Modern knitting instructions make selecting the right needle more convenient than in yesteryears. Unlike the knitting "receipts" introduced in the late nineteenth century, patterns today indicate a needle size -- often in both metric and American measurements -- for knitting individual projects. As any knitter, who has a variety of needle styles, knows, tension and other knitting characteristics can vary (even if only slightly) by the choice of a needle.
The Knit With offers the hand knitter an incomparably complete range of fine knitting instruments. Needles are stocked in tapered points in all standard American (and corresponding metric) sizes from 0 through 50, in a variety of styles (straights, double points and circulars) a variety of lengths (7, 9, 10, 12 and 14 inches for straights; 12, 16, 20, 24, 29, 32, and 40 inches for circulars) and a variety of materials (mahogany, bamboo, rosewood, birch, aluminum, brass). Blunt and nipple points are available as well, on a special order basis. In addition to this wealth of needles, every conceivable knitting aid, those specialized tools of the craft, can be had -- often in a variety of styles to match the diversity of knitters' needs and personalities.
The Knit With's founding proprietor, Marge Casale, luckily inherited needles carved by her grandfather from Newfoundland hickory wood and needles fashioned from tortoiseshell together with a myriad of bone and ivory crochet hooks, hole punches and early editions of today's Turbo needles--to Marge's grandmother, simply "German" needles. Through the years, Marge has added other "antique" knitting needles to her collection--for their composition, foregone lengths as well as their stylized points and heads.
Gauging Needles and Its Relative Importance
Until relatively recently, knitting needles -- even if gauged -- were not marked with gauge sizes. This however did not eliminate the necessity for knitters to have an understanding of needle gauge to work the variety of weights of yarns.
In knitting, gauge is an interplay of at least four, and sometimes five, factors: the diameter or size of the needle, the weight of the yarn, the knitter's own individual (and sometimes varying!) tension, and the characteristics of certain pattern stitches. These factors all have a role in working a knitted fabric with intended or desired characteristics. Generally, more finely spun yarns are worked with needles of a smaller diameter while heavier, or more bulky weight, yarns are knit with needles of a larger diameter; as every knitter knows, this general rule has oodles of exceptions -- all with good reasons. Any comparison of swatches, one in garter stitch the other in stocking stitch, worked with the same yarn on the same needles, indicates that pattern stitches affect gauge. Similarly, sometimes, a pattern writer's penchant for a specific, or favorite, effect is also a factor in determining tension.
The gauge of a needle, in contrast, refers only to the measurement of the diameter of the shank, or fullest part, of the needle. The needle's gauge is generally accepted as the size of the needle. As far as can be determined, handmade needles were not gauged to any specific, or uniform, diameter measurement; the needle material was cut, carved or cast to a diameter which approximately "felt" right for general uses -- or a new needle, in another size, was made for a specific use. With the advent of the machine age, the manufacture of multiple needles of uniform (or closely the same) diameters became possible. Specialized needle manufacturers in various countries began producing lines of needles using their own accepted understanding of what the various diameters should be for various sized needles. As countries developed their own sets of national standards, and altered these standards to reflect wartimes and other changes, the number corresponding needle sizes changed and, sometimes, the very sizes of the needles changed as well.
Knitting needles made in America, no matter the manufacturer, are presently available in 20 "standard" sizes marked 0 through 50 with only two fractional sizes: the 10 1/2, and occasionally the 10 3/4; recently, the 10 5/8 needle has been introduced although few patterns are yet to be written specifying this needle size. Despite this uniform "sizing", small variations nonetheless exist between needles of the same size when produced by different manufacturers. Unbelievably, the United States Bureau of Standards lacks a standard for the uniform sizing of knitting needles. Compounding this seemingly chaotic situation is the prevalence of importing needles manufactured to metric sizing where metric needles are "converted" to American sizes; various metric manufacturers determine American sizes by approximation -- and variety exists within these approximations!
With the growing prevalence of specialty and designer yarns, whether spun in Europe, Japan or elsewhere, and knitting patterns from a host of international designers and publishers -- all specifying needles sized metrically -- and access to specialty needles produced throughout the world, today's knitters are knitting metrically even if needles retain traditional American sizes.
Metric needle sizing has three primary benefits for any knitter anywhere:
a. universal accuracy in sizing;
b. greater choice of sizes;
c. universal interchange between needles of the same size produced by different manufacturers.
These factors contribute to stitch uniformity. Like all needles made of natural materials, the more you knit with them, the smoother they become.
Individually hand-crafted in Australia, Timbergrain needles marry the characteristics of flexibility and rigidity for a needle which allows for smooth, effortless knitting. Produced by the Swallow Needle Manufacturing Company, which has a tradition of more than 100 continuous years making fine instruments for hand knitting, Timbergrain needles are made of casein -- an early, non-petroleum, non-thermo plastic derived from milk, a naturally renewable resource which is biodegradable.
Featuring the appearance of tortoiseshell, hand tapered tips polished to a smooth-as-glass finish, Timbergrain needles provide an effortless knitting experience allowing stitches to glide smoothly from row to row -- without the "fluffy" knitting caused by needles made of thermo plastics. These light weight, extremely well-balanced needles remain warm to the touch and are easy on the wrists --
a perfect needle for sufferers of arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Turbo needles are a premium quality knitting instrument and are the needle of choice of dedicated knitters the world over. Made in Germany by Addi, these precision instruments carry a lifetime guarantee. Soft, snag-free cords, made of nylon, are perfectly joined to nickel-plated brass points. Unlike the plastic cords of other circular needles, the nylon cord of the Turbo is flexible. The needle points are polished to an extremely smooth surface and are more quickly tapered than the tips of other brands; the shorter taper assists in maintaining gauge as the stitch travels a shorter distance before it reaches the main body of the needle. Stitches fly when knitted with Turbos.
Made by an old-world craftsman, whose woodworking skills have been passed down from generation to generation, in the American Upper Midwest, birch Lakewood needles are designed with knitting comfort in mind. Hand sanded and rubbed with natural oils, impressed with American sizes, Lakewoods feature the traditional big, ball head of a wood knitting needle. Because of the properties of birch wood, needles can be specially ordered with tips adjusted to fit your knitting style.
Crafted in India of furniture grade, whole rosewood with knobbed finials, Brysons Rosewood needles are available in sizes 4 through 17 in 10 inch lengths. Rosewood is an especially hard wood, producing needles which are creamy smooth for even the finest, and easily snagged, yarns. These needles are featured on our What's New, What's Hot webpage.