Friday, January 25, 2013

Knitting Needles and Hooks Choices

I get asked often what type of needle or hook should I use for this.  I thought I would explore this topic a bit more.

What are my options?  

  • aluminum
  • plastic
  • bamboo
  • rosewood
  • steel
These materials are what is locally at Michaels, and other big box type stores.  Each have their merits and drawbacks, depending on what you are looking for, what your fibers are, and how you hold your work/needles/yarn.

Aluminum hooks and needles have the benefit of being slippery.  These are usually in sizes 2 - 15 US for knitting needles and B - K for crochet hooks.  These sizes will get you through 95% of your knitting and crocheting.  They are light in weight.  They are anodized aluminum and each size is a different color.  Drawbacks can be that they are slippery if you are very loose with your stitches.  The aluminum doesn't warm up in most people's hands in winter and can burn if left in the sun in summer.  Sizes for needles are on the stop button on the end that hold stitches on the needle.  Sizes for hooks are on the grip or the end.  All of these are part of the molding process.  Knitting needles can be bend by being sat on, as can Tunisian crochet hooks.  Aluminum needles have fairly pointy points.  Aluminum hooks have points on the end of the hook to help go into tight stitches.

aluminum needles in various sizes 14 inch length

Plastic hooks and needles are less slippery than aluminum but more so than the other materials.  Plastic hooks come in sizes D - S and can be all the same color or different colors.  Plastic needles come in sizes 3 or 4 US up to 50.  They can again be all the same color or different colors.  A pair will be 2 of the same color.  These are light in weight.  They can break in smaller sizes from being sat on or held too tightly.  Larger sizes are harder to break.  Plastic warms up after being held for a while.  Plastic needles have blunter tips than aluminum and get more so as the size goes up.  Plastic hooks have blunter points on the end of the hook.  Plastic is one of the more inexpensive materials and runs neck and neck with aluminum.

Plastic knitting needles various sizes and lengths.  Some are in use and therefore missing.

Bamboo needles are much more grippy than any of the other materials listed.  I have not seen crochet hooks made of bamboo.  My theory is that the throat can't be gotten smooth enough to prevent catching yarn fibers.  I don't have this on anything other than my personal thoughts.  They are polished but still grippy.  They are warm to the touch and remain that way.  They are hard to break unless very small such as US 1 - 4.  Bamboo needles have very blunt tips compared to the other matierals.  Like plastic they get more blunt as the size gets larger.  Cost for this material is higher than plastic or aluminum but less than rosewood or steel.
Steel Knitting needles.  Not found in most stores these days.
Circular Knitting needles
Left: aluminum tips, soft plastic cable; Top Right: Plastic tips and cable is same plastic;
 Bottom Right: Bamboo tips, soft plastic cable
Lengths vary as do the tips
Rosewood hooks and needles lightweight, warm to the touch, sharp points on both the hooks and needles.  These are less grippy than bamboo but more so than plastic.  In Michaels I have seen US 5 - 10 (or so) knitting needles and size G - K hooks.  Smaller than this and they will be too fragile.  Larger than this and they won't get used as much since the larger sizes are not as versatile for as many sizes of yarn.  They are a luxury item.  They are very nice to use.  Cost is one of the downsides to this material.  They make a very nice gift for the knitter or crocheter on your list.

Steel hooks and needles are the smallest in size.  Steel hooks are usually used for thread crochet and are sized from 00 to 16.  00 is about the same size as about a D aluminum hook and is used for size 3 crochet thread.  A 16 is very fine and is used for size 100 crochet thread; this is finer than sewing thread.  Steel needles are sized US 2 down to 0000.  Steel knitting needles are used for things done with very fine yarns like sock yarns or knitted doilys.  US 2 steel needles are the same size as US 2 aluminum.  0000 is used for fine crochet threads.  Steel is stronger than any of the above listed materials.  They bend very rarely.  They break even less.  They are somewhere around plastic in the grippiness category.

For knitting needles you have the further option of short straights, long straights, circulars, and double point needles.  Short straights are usually 10 inches in length.  Long straights are 14 inches. Double points are usually 7 inches long. Circulars have a multitude of lengths available but are almost always 29 inches in the stores.

Short straights are nice for small projects.  Short straights are not so good for close quarters like buses, theaters, planes.  You run the risk of poking those beside you.  Long straights are nice for larger projects.  They have the same drawbacks as shorts.  They also have the issue of weight once you get some fabric on them.  The long needles allow most of the weight to hang on the ends of large projects and for people with weak wrists or repetitive stress injuries, this can make knitting almost impossible.  

Circular needles are versatile.  You can knit back and forth on flat projects like straights or you can knit in the round.  You can use them for small projects.  You can use them for large projects.  You can use them for really really large projects.  The weight of the bigger stuff hangs on the cable between the needle tips and can lay in your lap.  This is a plus for cold weather knitting.  This is not so good for summer knitting.  Circulars can be one piece or interchangeable.  One piece circulars are just that, both needle tips are the same size (whatever that might be) and permanently connected to the cable which is also going to remain the same length.  

Interchangeable circulars have needle tips that detach from the cable.  Sets of interchangeable needles usually are sized from US 2 to US 15.  Cable lengths come in 16 inches up to 24 inches.  Some screw together.  Some click together.  This all depends on the manufacturer.  I can speak from experience on the screw together interchangeable needles being able to link the cables together to make extremely long cables.  Circular needles whether interchangeable or not have the added benefit of being able to be used in close quarters.

Double Point Needles are short, straight needles with a point on each end.  Some antique dpns are very long and were used for sweaters.  Today their short length makes them ideal for sleeves and socks, the tops of hats and other very small circular projects.  These are used in 4 or 5 needle sets.  3 or 4 are holding stitches and the last one is used to do the work.  A lot of people are afraid of the thought of dpns.  No need for this.  You are only working with 2 needles at a time.  The others are just hanging out waiting for their turn.