Thursday, April 18, 2013

The End

QA/QC on a large order of steel gansey needles presented me with something of an existential crisis.

As I checked them, they were blunt, and as everyone knows, my needles are pointy, and I make the needles that I like to knit with.  So how were these so blunt?

In the beginning, I made steel needles in the shape of all the commercial needles, and I polished them like jewelry. I felt that made the tips slippery, so I then left annular striations around the tip.  That was better, the striation helped the working needle "grab" the yarn.  In the last couple years, the striations have grated on my nerves and I have polished the tips more and more.  As I did that, I made the needles less pointy, so the yarn would be less likely to fall off the taper.

Along the way I changed from poking the working needle into the next stitch to sliding the working needle along the other needle and into the next stitch. A by product of this is that the working needle was not pushed as far into the working stitch.  These days I only push/slide the working needle about 4 mm into the working stitch.

A 2.5 mm Inox DPN has a 9 mm long taper.  If you only push it in 4 mm into the working stitch, then the tip of the needle where one wraps the yarn is less than a millimeter in diameter.  If you want to wrap the yarn around a full 2.5 mm needle then one must insert the Inox needle a full 14 mm into the stitch. These days, that is more needle motion that I want.

That means that I want the full diameter of the needle only a millimeter or two from the end of the needle.  That means a very short taper.  That means rather blunt needles.  That is the end of the pointy needle.

The 2 needles at left in the knitting are my latest gansey needles. The 2 needles at center left are commercial 16" & 14" DPN.  The single needle at center right is a striated pointy needle from the set that I used to make the Filey gansey 4 years ago.  The 4 needles at right are a set of old English needles given to me by a student.  They suggest that others knew that blunt needles do work if you have a knitting sheath and the right technique.  The paper is 1/4" grid.

On the other hand, blunt needles are crap for picking up stitches.  If you want to pick up stitches, you need pointy needles. Pointy needles are better for decreases and  most lace stitches.  Those ball tipped needles above are actually a bit too blunt for easy purling.  If you are using a knitting technique (such as those derived from Weldon) where the needle is poked into the stitch, then pointy needles are better.

And, these observations only apply to metal needles of less than 2.5 mm.

Edited to add, the above suggests that I am selling those ball tipped needles.  No, those are for my knitting garter stitch.  These days the needle tips that I sell are more like:


=Tamar said...

I have a lot of antique steel dpns, some of which came with wooden tubes. Most have a slightly tapered tip at least, but some sets have not so much a blunt tip as a place where they were cut off, blunt with a tiny point in the middle so they are both blunt and sharp. Would the tiny point have been of any use? Is it just a sign of cheap needles? Would the buyer be expected to grind it off themselves? None of the needles are bent or curved.

Anonymous said...

The usual "I'm right and nobody else has a clue what they are talking about" opinion piece from you.

Aaron said...

I also have some with the sharp point in the middle - I had assumed that they were home made with the point resulting from some kind of wire cutter.

A couple of years ago when I tried to use them, the little point eventually scratched my finger, and I put them away.

This morning as I look at them under a microscope, I think I see a (factory) ground taper, with the point simply the result of wear at the extreme tip. And, I see a lot of wear just above the taper. The sharp point on this needle may simply be the result of the tip of this needle being used - a lot, and never having the tip reground. I think it is made from a much softer alloy (cast iron?) than I use for my steel needles.

Another sample seems to purely the result of minimum effort in grinding a taper on a piece of HS tool steel rod with a whet stone. (I know that one needle was a few hours of hand grinding. HS tool steel rod was available after 1903.)

Likewise, none of my old needles were bent or curved.

Lara Downey said...

I just wanted to say thanks! I stumbled on your blog via enjoying some comments you made on Ravelry and while I've a great deal yet to read, I must say I greatly appreciate you sharing your research both historical and ongoing! Absolutely fascinating and it got me wondering if you visit shows (I haven't seen much on that so far) and if you do any classes? I've already started trying to figure out what I want to buy from your Etsy shop first :-). Especially since I have been exploring changing techniques of late to improve my sock knitting without wreaking havoc on my wrists....


Aaron said...

I have given lessons and attended shows in the past, but last year was a bit disorganized.

I do try to make Lambtown, CNCH, Stiches West, where I meet with folks on an appointment basis.

And, I do make presentations at guilds and fiber groups.

Jesse said...

Do you have any suggestions for circular needles that are not too sharp? I'm quite keen on knitting some top-down garments, but find most circulars too pointy, and slow for the reasons you mentioned.

Aaron said...

I have not touched circs in 2 years.
I am not the person to ask.