Not All Needles Are Created Equal (by Aubrey Mayes)
We’ve all been there. Perusing our LYS or hobby/craft store, our heart all a-flutter with the prospect of the new pattern we just found, looking for perfect needles. But what exactly is the perfect needle? How do you determine which set to buy? It may seem like an obvious answer for some, but these are actually some of the most repeated questions I receive. Just like you wouldn’t buy the first yarn you see, the same should go for the trusty needles you depend on for your craft. There are many types of knitting needles, and all have their merits- and downfalls.
When purchasing new needles, always be sure it is a brand you trust. If it looks like something that would crack under the pressure you would put on it, then it’s probably not a financially sound choice. Also, though they may be more expensive up front, they do make sets of interchangeable circs, and I must say that they are worth the money in the long run. Interchangeable circs come in virtually any size, are usually made of quality materials, and do not generally need to be replaced as often as others may need to.
The first kind of needles I bought for myself came from EBay- a nicely sized lot of various gauges of needles, all plastic, save for an afghan set- which only cost around $5, including shipping. These needles demonstrate the importance of quality when it comes to the material the needles are made from. Slowly, one by one, all but two pairs of those EBay needles have broken. The plastic used in the needles was very low quality, and it could not handle the strain of garter stitch coaster knitting, let alone anything that required a purl stitch. It was not until I was stranded in the middle of a project with one and a half size 5 needles that I realized the importance of quality.
Not all plastic needles are poor quality. They are still not my personal preference, but they can be a little easier on the hands, and can come in handy when knitting something quickly, without dropping stitches. On the upside, plastic needles can be less expensive, and are definitely a good buy in a penny-pinch. On the downside, they can break very easily if they are very flimsy or have a small gauge. For instance, a size 2 may not endure as long as a size 10. When shopping for plastic needles, here are the things you should ask yourself:
- Is the plastic strong enough even in a small gauge to complete my project?
- Are the tips strong enough to not snip off as it enters a tighter stitch?
- They may be the best deal, but is the lack of quality worth the price drop?
Granted, just because they are plastic, it does not mean they will snap on their first project- to the contrary, many brands have high quality needles at low prices, just be sure you know what you’re buying.
Aluminum needles are very popular with the knitters I have met. They usually cost a little more, but I must admit, I do love them myself. They generally have a long usage life, and are easily cleaned. They are also some of the best for knitting quickly, due to the slick surface. This quality can also be their downfall, as the slick exterior makes it easier to drop stitches, especially if you aren’t fully paying attention to what you are knitting (i.e. at a movie or a knitting circle) You can also not carry these onto an airplane or in federal buildings. When it comes to buying aluminum needles, I adore Susan Bates needles- not very expensive, high quality, and very durable. I also prefer aluminum needles when it comes to circs and DPNs, because it makes working in the round flow a bit better. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when shopping for aluminum needles:
- Am I buying these needles to use multiple times, or for a single project? (Esp. helpful when looking at prices)
- Are these quality needles, or just showy?
Bamboo needles are really having a heyday, and I must admit, I am an avid supporter of bamboo needles. For instance, bamboo replenishes itself quicker that other trees, so I don’t feel as though I am damaging the environment as much. They also allow for quick knitting, but without the tendency to drop stitches like aluminum needles do. They are also a lot easier on your hands than aluminum needles, which can be especially helpful if you are a knitter with arthritis or carpal tunnel. On the other hand, they can be a bit more susceptible to breaking, though bamboo is highly sturdy and dependable. Also, dogs are very prone to chewing on them, and that is one test they do not endure well (Ask my size 8s…). When you go to buy bamboo needles, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this a respected and reliable brand?
- Is this something I can keep out of my pets reach?
- Is this brand an environmentally friendly choice?
Some helpful, general tips:
- Never buy needles you question before your project is cast on.
- Lowest price does not always mean lowest quality, and highest price certainly doesn’t mean highest quality.
- Don’t buy needles based solely someone else’s opinion or your own opinion. Always follow instinct, but don’t always allow your instinct to be driven by trends.
- Remember that needles are not only a financial investment, but an investment in your project. How can you expect a quality finished object if you are not using quality needles?
- Remember to always check gauge and length, whether the set is straight or circular.