Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On Pins and Needles

Good tools and materials make knitting dramatically easier. Good tools and materials turn the chore of kitting into a mediation of love; and, poor tools turn knitting into drudgery and torture.

The tools of knitting are remarkably simple, and at the same time remarkably complex.

If the yarn does not slide easily across the needles, then knitting will be slow and burdensome. If the yarn slides too easily, then the needles are likely to fall out, and stitches will be dropped and excessive wrist motion will be required to form the stitches.

If you are knitting socks on double pointed needles (DPN), then you are likely to want more friction between the yarn and the needles, than if you are knitting a ski sweater on circular needles.

Wooden or bamboo knitting needles have many advantages and are very popular for some purposes. Wood is lightweight, warm and pleasant to the touch. Good wooden needles are a sensual pleasure to handle. Wooden needles are easy to make yourself or inexpensive to buy. They are generally non-toxic, and less likely to inflict grievous harm when dropped or sat on. The disadvantages of wooden needles include the fact that they do wear and the tips need to be reformed every so often, defects or cracks can form snags that will destroy yarn and rip your hands, they need to be kept dry, and they break all too easily (particularly in smaller sizes.)

Steel and brass needles, on the other hand are strong, durable, and very smooth. On the other hand they can be cold and heavy. Believe me, cold and heavy is nasty when you have a lot of knitting to do. Stainless steel is less cold and brass is heavier, but good old steel is cheaper – and has other advantages that we will get to later.

I have heard that early knitters in the British Isles used goose quills as knitting needles. That is fine if you have lots of goose quills and not much else to make into knitting needles. I have plastic and nylon knitting needles. Plastic and nylon seem like such great materials for knitting needles. They are light and smooth. They have a bit of flexibility. I am sure that if I did not knit, and someone asked me to make him or her a set of kitting needles, I would make them out of plastic or nylon – and they would try them and hate me. But, I do knit, and I make the kind of knitting needles that I like to use.

For the last two Christmases, I made and gave knitting needles made out of flowering dogwood. For it seems that the kind of wood does matter. And, the finish matters.

Last fall a local yarn shop (LYS) had a sale on one of the good expensive brands of bamboo DPN. It was a good sale, and I bought a bunch. I got them home and opened them – YECH. They had kind of a rough surface that snatched at the yarn. No wonder they were on sale! However, I wiped them with a bit of extra fine steel wool, polished them with a bit of furniture wax, all of which took two minutes per set of 5 needles. Then, I had as fine a bunch of wooden needles as could be had at any price.

Back when I was an art student, I had a professor that made a great deal of money creating commissioned art objects. I was truly in awe at the amount of money he made. He told us, “That if you are going to make money at art, then you need to spend 20% of your time learning skills and making/developing new tools.”

If you are a knitter, and do not know about wood and metal finishing, then find a good local full service hardware store and get to be friends with them. Any kind of knitting needle will wear and you will need to either replace the needles or refinish them. Even the best steel knitting needles are a consumable if you do a lot of knitting.

No comments: