Knitting Tools Part 1: Needles
If you picture someone knitting you probably picture traditional needles in their hand. Today’s knitter uses a variety of needles suited to them and the project they are working on. Let’s look at some of these needles.
Most of us learned to knit on traditional needles. These have a point at one end and a stopper on the other end to keep the work from sliding off the needle. You generally knit back and forth from one needle to the other. With traditional needles, and depending on your stitch pattern, your work will usually have a “right” and “wrong” side or a “front” and “back”. If you are working in stockinette stitch (very common stitch) this means that you will be knitting on the “front” side and purling on the “back”.
The length of traditional needles may limit the size of your project. For example, if you are knitting a blanket, you may find the needles too short to hold all of your stitches. Traditional needles are also less portable than others if you want to take your knitting with you. Some people also find them awkward to hold.
These needles have also been around for a long time, but they are made for a specific purpose. Double-pointed needles are traditionally used to knit smaller tubular items such as hats, socks and gloves. Your work sits on three or four needles at a time, in a triangular or square shape respectively, with one extra needle on to which you create the new stitches. After you’ve knit the stitches on the first needle, that needle becomes free and your new stitches are made with it. This continuous circular process means that you are always working on the “right” side of your project (unless you change directions – but that’s another story!) Working on the “right” side of the project is handy, especially if you are working in stockinette stitch, because you can just knit: no purling at all!
Double pointed needles are also smaller than traditional needles making them more portable but be careful: since there are no stoppers at the ends of the needles, the stitches can slide off the ends of the needles!
Progress! Circular needles have been around since the early 20th century. They have become a favourite of many knitters for various reasons. One reason is that they are very versatile. They can be used for circular knitting or flat knitting. They are available in various needle sizes and lengths. If you are doing flat knitting, you can work from one end of the needle to the other (you will still be alternating between working on the right and wrong side). If you have a large project, such as a blanket, you can work from one long circular needle onto another long circular needle. Due to variation in lengths you can work in the round for small projects such as baby sweaters or hats, or large projects such as adult sweaters or large cowls or infinity scarves.
Keep in mind that if you are knitting a traditional sleeve you will have to start at the hem with double-pointed needles and then move to circular needles as you add stitches. The reverse is true for a traditional toque: You would start at the hem with a circular needle and then move to double pointed needles as the toque becomes smaller at the top.
These needles are also more portable and if you are worried about your knitting slipping of the needles you can simply apply stoppers to the two ends. Many people also find them less awkward than traditional knitting needles.
Modern knitting needles come in a wide range of materials including plastic, wood, metal or bamboo and colours. Take the time to experiment with various types to find out what is the best fit for you and your project!