Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not to put too fine a point on it.

There has recently been a lot of back and forth about the shape of needle points. This morning I got told about all the reasons why "good knitters" all use finely tipped needles. I bit my tongue and did not tell her that finely tipped needles are a real pain when one is knitting Lopi or alpaca or another "splitty" yarn. Conversely, those ball tipped needles that worked so well for the Lopi are going to slow you down when you try to use them on a firmer yarn. If you try to use these ball tipped needles on some 5-ply gansey yarn, then you are going to be coming around asking for my expanded list of "Swear Words for Serious Knitters."

Very sharp eyed people commented that the tips of the stainless steel 16 inch Inox double pointed needles that I used in the gansey needle video below, were not real pointy. (See right, Second from the top) That comment took me by surprise. I know that when that yarn came in, I really liked knitting it on my hand-made steel needles. (Needles 8-13 from the top in photo) Then, I had moved toward knitting it with the Inox. Well, that batch of yarn had spinning oil on it when it first came in, and then I had washed it. Thus, the yarn had gotten softer and fluffier. Of course, it wanted to be knit with less pointy needles! I was just doing what the yarn wanted. The Inox needles are primarily sold to Shetland knitters who use them with knitting pouches. They want needles that will not go through their leather pouches. Today, I really looked at those needles.

The photo at right is a closeup of the tips of 8 of the needles from above. The top needle a 2.5 mm Addi steel, # 2 is the 2.5 mm Inox used in the gansey needle knitting video, # 3 is a 2mm Susan Bates (the first needles that I bought when I started knitting, and the most hated needle I have ever owned). #4 is a 2mm Boye Aluminium. Needles #5-8 are my handmade 2.3 mm carbon steel. From this is clear that the Inox ( are more finely pointed than the Addis or the Boye.
However, what I like about steel needles is that I can change them to suit my needs, NOW! If I do not like the way they feel, I get up, take them over to the bench grinder, and grind the tip that I want on them! Evolution in action. It is clear that needles numbers 5 and 8 have been used for knitting 5-ply gansey yarn, while 6 and 7 have been used for MacAusland yarns. #7 was used for the oiled yarn and #6 was used for the washed yarn. I think these needle tip shapes are about right for the kind of knitting and the yarns that I use. If I had wanted finer points on these needles, I would have ground finer points on them. Somewhere I have needles with more rounded tips, but all the splitty yarn is put away and the ball tipped needles with it.

Over all, I think the 2.5 mm Inox needle is actually a good compromise, and a good general purpose needle tip shape. One has to be just a little careful about how sharp the tips of a 16" long DPN are, or you will seriously damage the furniture and your thighs. If you go with anything sharper, I suggest a leather knitting apron, e.g.,( ) I have one, and I use it!

OK, but how big a needle? I really do not care. I knit a swatch, and if I like the fabric, I knit an object. I like the Susan Bates "knit-check" as a photo prop, but not for not as a needle gauge. I work with a limited number of yarn types, and after a while I know what yarns I like to knit with which needles. If I need to know how big this needle is, I go to the shop and "mic" it.


Wannietta said...

Personally, I tend to prefer a sharper point on my needles - I knit tightly and a rounder point on the needle makes it harder to getswiftly & easily into my stitches. I do agree with you, though, that the needle - tip & material - are dictated by the yarn - thickness and spin/ply - as much as personal preference.
I think that it's cool that you can grind down your own tips. I'll refine a tip on a wood/bamboo needle, but for metals I just keep buying different needles. LOL

Cate K said...

where do you get your carbon steel rods/wire?

historicstitcher said...

Thanks for showing your needle points. I've never thought about re-grinding my steel needles, but my old ones show evidence that someone did at some point!

I'm looking forward to making my new, long needles this weekend. I have a whole pound of carbon steel rods waiting for me! (Thanks to your suggestions! I did look kind of silly touching and flexing all the rods in the welding store!)

One More Stitch said...

I agree with so much of what you said above. I am always surprised when people are "brand-loyal." The project dictates the needle type for me.