Choosing the Right Needles, Part 2

In my previous post I talked you through the first two steps of choosing the right needles – needle length and weight. Today we’ll cover different needle materials as well as the pointiness of your needle tips.

3. Material & Slickness:

If you want your knitting to be as relaxed and effortless as possible, you need to pay a lot of attention to how much grip and resistance your needles are providing. Different yarns and stitch patterns call for different amounts of grip. If you’re wanting to churn away on a fingering-weight stockinette sweater, you will want to pair your yarn with needles that make the stitches practically fly off the needles. For cables and intricate lace, on the other hand, you are better off with needles that make all those criss-crosses and p3togtbl’s more manageable without the risk of dropping or sliding them off accidentally.

One thing to remember with lace, though, is that it’s typically knit with a very thick needle compared to the yarn diameter, which means that you’re getting a lot of extra resistance from the surface of the needle. This, in turn, means that if your needles are already fairly rough, the stitches won’t budge anywhere. So the key is to find needles that offer enough resistance so you don’t lose your stitches, but that are still slippery enough so you don’t have to push every single stitch off the needle by force.

Metal needles are generally slippery and offer least resistance. There’s a great deal of variation between different manufacturers, though. Addi is famous for their super duper slippery Turbo needles. The Knitpicks nickel-plated needles are a good second in this race. Chiaogoo does a lot rougher finishing on their needles, and Kollage’s aluminum falls somewhere in between. So even within the seemingly similar materials there are great differences, and you can only really know what works for you by trying them out.

Birch, ebony, rosewood and cherry are the mid-range choices – depending on what kind of finishing the manufacturer uses, though. Bamboo offers the most friction because of the inherent vertical grains of the wood itself. I usually recommend bamboo for beginner knitters, because the grip you get from the needles makes the stitches less susceptible to falling off the needles accidentally. The laminated birch of the Knitpicks Harmony needles is surprisingly slick, shiny even, so they’re a good choice if you need lightweight (or airplane-safe) needles that still let you deploy your magical speed knitting abilities.

left to right: ebony, rosewood, birch, bamboo, walnut

left to right: ebony, rosewood, birch, bamboo, walnut

Then there’s all the newer fads, such as the ”ribbed” metal DPNs from Signature, and the carbon fibre range from Knitter’s Pride. Both offer a bit more resistance while still being fairly slick, and carbon fibre feels surprisingly warm to the touch.

Plastic and acrylic needles are cheap and readily available, but anyone wanting to enjoy their knitting should steer clear from them. They’re lightweight, yes, but they get very sticky and gross after a while (squeak squeak). I don’t even recommend them to beginners, because they can be traumatizing – the horror, the horror, and so on.

4. Pointiness:

If speed and precision are important things to you in knitting, needles with sharp pointy tips will make your life a lot easier. With intricate stitch patterns pointiness is crucial, because you want to catch every stitch perfectly on the first try without snagging or splitting. And don’t even think about doing lace with blunt needles! Thin yarn and a large needle size are a recipe for sheer devastation, if your needles aren’t able to poke into the tiny little loops of your precious heirloom laceweight yarn.

Pointy needles needed for lace knitting

Pointy needles needed for lace knitting

Plain stockinette or ribbing is a bit more forgiving, but as a rule of thumb I would say that the thinner the yarn, the pointier you will want your needles to be. With thicker yarns, let’s say from worsted up, more blunt tips become more useful, because thick yarns tend to have more plies (4 all the way up to 12 or so), and knitting an 8-ply yarn with super pointy needles increases the risk of only catching one or two of the plies. The same applies for thinner, loosely plied yarns as well — without a solid twist in the yarn it’s inevitably more prone to splitting.

Needle tips of varying pointiness

Needle tips of varying pointiness

Bonus round 1: Thoughts on needle shape:

One of the newer trends in knitting needles is the shape of the actual needle. Both Kollage and Knitter’s Pride sell square needles, as well as a handful of smaller independent companies. Kollage uses aluminum for their needles, whereas Knitter’s Pride does their signature laminated wood. The advantage of both is that they sit more securely in the joints of the fingers without the need of actually holding them tightly, reducing hand stress and evening out the gauge. With square needles I usually have to go up at least 1/4mm in size, because they tend to tighten my gauge quite a bit. Some adventurous manufacturers have tried other shapes as well, such as hexagonal, but to my hands the difference is fairly unrecognizable, especially with smaller sizes.

Needle shape?

Needle shape?

Bonus round 2: Interchangeables or fixed?

Interchangeable circular needles are incredibly handy if you’re just starting out, or already know what kind of needle types you like – you can basically get any needle size by pairing the tips with different cable lengths. Buying needles in such sets saves a lot of money too, and you can leave the cable attached to your WIP if you need the same tips for another project.

Interchangeable needle sets

Interchangeable needle sets

Howeve, since the tips are not inherently secured to the cable, the joint tends to be the weak point of any interchangeable needle. The most common attachment method is the screw-on system, where you simply screw the tip into the grooves at the end of the cable. It creates a very smooth, almost unnoticeable join. The downside of this system is that no matter how tightly you twist the tips, they will eventually loosen up, and if you’re not careful, they can and will come off mid-row without you realizing. So with any screw-on interchangeables make sure to re-tighten the tips after every couple of rows – and always twist the tip from the base, not the stem!

All Addi interchangeables come with the ”click” system, where the cable attaches to a tiny spring inside the needle tip. This way is far more secure, but it creates a small hump at the joint. With most yarns it shouldn’t be an issue, but especially with sticky lace yarns it can be just enough to cause drag and make your knitting unpleasant.

Addi interchangeable joint vs. Addi fixed joint)

Addi interchangeable joint vs. Addi fixed joint)

Fixed circulars obviously offer less versatility, but if you’re having any kind of trouble with the interchangeable joints, you should definitely consider getting a fixed version of your most used needle sizes, as the transition between the fixed tip and cable is usually 100% unnoticeable.

And finally, to make sense of any of this:

In short, finding the right needles means weighing the different factors and figuring out what the most crucial factor is regarding your particular project. You might not get all the variables 100% right all the time, because preferring one quality sometimes means compromising another, and not all needle options are always available to you. But knowing how the different qualities play together you should be able to find a balance that makes your knitting a thing of joy and not a gruesome battle to the death.

What kind of needles do you prefer? Do you have a trusted go-to set you keep going back to?

  • islandspindler

    Best interchangables, dyakcraft, wood or metal. No hump, never come unscrewed, but long wait to purchase the wood, but worth it. I have hiya hiya sharps, nice point, slick finish, smooth join, good price. Chiagoo are ok too and a much better price than addi!

  • sharon jones

    For interchangables I love my Hiya Hiya sharps, great points and a no hitch join. I have Addi interchangables and the points are great but the join is annoying when working on lace. For DPN’s I love dyakcraft, Signature and Hiya Hiya sharp DPN’s.

  • Cheryl

    Thank you for an very informative tutorial. I am a self-taught knitter, using whatever needles come my way (my grandmother’s stash, a friend’s mother’s stash), buying whatever I think I might need–but not ever knowing how it might affect my WIP or my hands or whatever. Now, at least, I have a little more information!