09 February 2012

Needle Tasting

During 2011 I was VP of Programs for North Georgia Knitting Guild. The position involved coming up with the monthly program. I got some ideas from the guild members, but I also got some ideas from myself. One of those ideas was a needle tasting.

There are lots and lots of different types of knitting needles available. Some of them, such as Clover, Susan Bates, or Knit Picks, are budget-friendly. Sometimes they are knitter-friendly, too, but other times not so much. There are also needles that are marketed as knitter-friendly but are not budget-friendly. And nowadays there are choices amongst straight, circular, double-pointed, and interchangeable as well as choices amongst round, square, or hexagonal shafts, and choices regarding material such as bamboo, nickle-plated, surgical stainless steel, brass, carbon fiber, plastic, glass, or various types of wood. How is a knitter ever supposed to choose?

For our October guild meeting, I wrote to several needle manufacturers and requested samples. Guild members also provided needles. And we repeated the needle tasting last weekend at the South Carolina Knit Inn. This was a great chance for knitters to test-drive needles before making a capital investment. Good tools are important, but it is also important to choose tools that are good for you.

I was very pleased that Karin Skacel was willing to send a sampling of Addi Clicks as well as fixed-length brass-finished Addi Lace needles. I think most knitters have been exposed to the glorious speed of the German-made Addi Turbo needle. A couple years ago, Skacel added the Addi Clicks as an option. They come in the regular Turbo tip as well as a nickle-plated Lace tip and the bamboo Natura tip. The Click sets have needles from sizes US 4 through 15. I already had a full run of Addi Turbo needles in my stash. With what Karin kindly sent, we were able to have our members test drive all the options. The clicks sets are lovely, but they do run around $150 a set -- not pocket change for most of us. It is nice to be able to decide for oneself which set is most appealing.

From top: Lace, Turbo, Natura
The cables are the same plastic cables you already know from regular Addi needles. The attachment is good -- a nice spring-click mechanism that is not going to unscrew or come loose accidentally.

At right is a picture of the tips of the various Addi Clicks needles. You can see that the Lace needles are more tapered and a little pointier than the regular Turbo needles. The bamboo Natura points are similar to the Turbo points. I usually prefer slick metal needles myself, but bamboo or wood is essential for certain slippery fibers, such as mercerized cotton, rayon, or silk.
Another alternative for interchangeable needles is the classic Denise needle set. These are made in the United States (Virginia). Barbara Kreuter sent a complete set (US sizes 5-15), plus extra cables, plus the rare size 17 needles, plus a crochet hook. While the sizes don't run super small, they do make needles all the way up to size 19 (15mm). Denise makes both interchangeable knitting needles and interchangeable crochet hooks. This is one of the few sources I can think of if you are interested in doing Tunisian crochet. Even if you are only knitting, the crochet hook can be useful for picking up stitches along a selvedge.

The plastic needles have a little more grip than metal. They are lighter in weight than metal, which may be nice if you sometimes experience hand-fatigue problems. The cords are thicker than most. The cords are also fairly short, allowing you to make a full range of sizes easily by combining. The set even includes end buttons. If you are someone who likes to have lots of projects in the works, you can simply park your knitting on the cables, swap the needles for end buttons, and move your needles from project to project. The join involves a quarter-twist, making Denise needles easy to change without needles coming loose unexpectedly. The two colors of cords are also perfect if you like to work small circles in the round on two circular needles. Because the yellow and blue are very different colors, it is easy to see which needle to use rather than mixing them up, which is a typical problem in working on two circular needles. Finally, Denise needles tend to be budget-friendly, running about $50 for a set.

shawl stick, straight needles, and dpns
The third vendor who sent samples is Pam from Indian Lake Artisans. These needles are made by hand in Michigan. I was particularly curious about them myself, as I'm fond of the Kollage square needles. Indian Lake Artisan needles are hexagonal-shaft needles -- a compromise between round and square. Each size is topped with a different north woods motif such as owls, turtles, or cabins. And the needles are available in cherry, walnut, or birch. The sizes for straight needles run from a US 6 to a 15. The double-pointed needles run from US 3 to 15. I must say I like the dpns very much, and I ordered sets in sizes 13 and 15. How many vendors do you know who make large-size dpns? I also ordered the cable needles. Shawl pin sticks are also available. These needles are a little expensive -- about $30 a set. But they are like handmade furniture. I find the hexagonal shape to be very pleasing. And they are almost certain to remind you of pencils and handwriting and those old school days.

North Georgia Knitting Guild does a retreat later in the year as well as a fundraising auction. So, these three groups of sample needles will probably be lurking around my house for a few months before they go to a permanent home. I've brought them at least once to knit night as well, as I encourage anyone who wants to test drive to experience these for themselves.

Many thanks to Skacel, Denise, and Indian Lake Artisans!

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