Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The end of needles

Why are knitting needles pointed?  Really, why?

The taper to the point acts as a wedge forcing the legs of the stitch open.  And, for knitting fibers such as linen with low elasticity, the taper gives clearance so a loop of  yarn and the needle will all fit through the working stitch at the same time.  And, a taper does facilitate some decrease stitches and many lace stitches.

However, the downside of the taper is that if the yarn is wrapped around the taper, then when slid on the full diameter shaft, that stitch will be tighter - a reasonable trick for knitting tighter fabrics.  However, one can get greater uniformity of tension/gauge by simply using smaller needles.

Hand knitters need the wedge effect to help them poke the needle into the working stitch. However, a knitter using a knitting sheath has leverage, and does not need the wedge effect.  In fact, the taper to a point makes it more likely that stitches will be dropped, the yarn split, and the taper requires that the knitter make larger motions (e.g., inserts needle past taper for even gauge).

A good rule of thumb is that smaller motions allow faster knitting.  Thus, a knitter with a knitting sheath can use cylindrical needles (no tapers to points) to reduce the size of their motions and knit faster.  Um, some skill is involved.

For ordinary fabric, I  have moved to knitting needles with flat ends.

Using the US1 needles that taper to points, my knitting motion is about 12 - 15 mm.  Using the needles with flat ends my knitting motion is about half that and is noticeably faster.   These days, I have sets of gansey needles (US00, US0, US1)  with flat ends for knitting faster. (Cable patterns require pointed needles.) And,  the smaller motions allow using shorter needles and still being able to use the spring action. This is the small object solution that I was seeking. The needles above are 9" long, and they can still deliver the gansey knitting spring action.

However, I think swaving (rotating bent, blunt needles held in a knitting sheath) is still the technique of choice for fine gloves and socks.

On a sail boat, short, blunt needles are are better.  

These days, I also use a lot of  yarns that are rather "splitty".  Flat ended needles work well with splitty yarns.

Now the flat ends are a real bitch for the decreases at turning the heel and toe, but that is less than 1% of the stitches in a boot sock, and I can either struggle with those stitches or I can switch over to pointy needles for those rounds.   (Revised to say that the flat ends require a special trick, but once the trick is acquired, decreases are fast and easy.  It just took me a while to visualize and implement the technique.)

And, again, flat ended needles are not for hand held knitting - one does not have enough leverage and control to make them work. And flat ends do not work for lace.  Otherwise they are another tool that with another set of skills allows knitting better and faster.

No comments: