Durable Interchangeable Needles: A Buyers Guide

I own and have used almost every type of interchangeable needle set, from square to round, from carbon fiber to wood, from standard length to shorties. And many of these sets of needles, over my many decades of knitting, have been put to heavy use.

The biggest difference? Durability.

Yes. Knitting needles DO wear out. They break, bend, dent or become unusable in some other way. Some much more often than the should.

Why do a guide?

On a recent post in the All Free Knitting Community group, a new knitter asked which were the best interchangeable circular knitting needles. Because of the expense, she didn’t want to get it wrong. And like most knitters transitioning from new to intermediate, she realized that interchangeable can be a more practical and space saving way to go.

There are lots of reasons to select one or another set, which is why I own so many. But since cost was a factor, my recommendation was for a lower priced, but fairly durable set–not the most expensive, such as KnitPicks’s Short Radiant. Then when they wear out, she could upgrade.

Lots of thoughts went into this recommendation—from practical to psychological.

  • Why wood? Wood has more “grab”. The yarn stays on the needle better than other materials making it easier for newer knitters to avoid dropping stitches. And they are warm to the touch.
  • Why shorts rather than mid or full-size needles? Shorts, usually around 3” or less, provide versatility at the expense of speed. Longer needle shafts make it harder to do smaller work (socks, collars, etc.). And shorter is more durable (less chance of bending or breaking).
  • Why Knit Picks? Price and a handy, see-through carry case.

Buyer’s Guide

This guide will only be covering standard needle types. Most of these manufacturers offer lace and various length options, so those factors are preferential rather than about durability and price. The prices are as of May 22st, 2020 and they are based on the number of needle pairs in the set—not whether they come with notions, have a nice case, etc. Value should be placed on the needles, rather than the extras.

Knitting needles are a bit like wine. The price does not necessarily match quality and what matters most is whether you like it rather than what comes with it (it is what’s in the bottle, not on the label).

Here’s a chart of how the major needles (I have used) stack up based on my research:

BrandShaftCableGrabFeelPrice*DurabilityComments
Knitter’s Pride KarbonzCarbon FiberStandardStrongWarm$ 15.57Very HighVery grippy on yarn, lightweight
ChiaoGooMetalProprietarySlickCool $ 11.36HighProprietary cord system                            
Hiya HiyaMetalStandardSlickCool $ 10.43ModerateSwivel cable can catch
Knitter’s Pride DreamzWoodStandardModerateWarm $   6.67ModerateBreak mid shaft. Loosen periodically
Knit Picks AluminumMetalStandardSlickCold $   5.55ModerateJoins less smooth, Loosen periodically
Knit Picks WoodWoodStandardModerateWarm $   6.62ModerateLoosen periodically
KnitPro CubicWoodStandardModerateWarm $ 16.19PoorBreak at metal. Loosen often.
addi turboMetalStandardSlickCool $ 9.37Very PoorCoating peels off under heavy use
Clover TakumiBambooStandardStrongWarm $ 15.45Very poorTend to dent and fray under heavy use

* Price is gotten by dividing the total cost by the number of needles in the set

My Metal Preference: Hiya Hiya or ChiaoGoo

If you like metal needles, I recommend HiyaHiya’s—even though they seem fairly high-priced “per tip”. What makes the cost effective is they work with standard cables. If money were no object, I would choose ChiaoGoo. They have raised the bar with knitting needle technology by changing the material in the cables. And those cables are amazingly great! The problem is that they don’t work interchangeable with other sets—not even other ChiaoGoo sets—meaning you have to buy a full set of cables with each set you buy. I guess that’s why they are called “Premium”.

I do not recommend addi’s given they are most expensive AND of the high-end needles, least durable. I find the “turbo coating” peels or flakes off under heavy use. And while I carry Knit Picks with me almost everywhere, it because I use them as a “notion” rather than for projects because I find the cables loosen during knitting (both wood and aluminum).

Natural Materials Preference: Knitter’s Pride Dreamz or KnitPicks

For the price and utility I prefer Knitter’s Pride. They are really my “go-to” needle, mainly because they stay screwed together when I knit. Knit Picks seem to come loose while I knit, but not as often as KnitPro’s Cubics. I love a square needle for stitch consistency, but it has to stay screwed together!

I did not test HiyaHiya’s bamboo needles, only Clover’s Takumi. And from using them, my feeling is that bamboo should not be used as a knitting needle material—ever. Bending instead of breaking is not beneficial when the ends fray and snag yarn under heavy use.

Best of Both Worlds: Knitter’s Pride Karbonz

If I have to select one and only one set, it would be Knitter’s Pride Karbonz. Unlike metal, carbon fiber is cool, but not cold to the touch. And after snapping my wood needles and bending several metal ones, I enjoy that they take a licking and keep on knitting. Hands down–they are the most durable needles I own. And though the cables aren’t even remotely as nice as ChiaoGoo’s at least I can reuse those from other sets. My ideal set would be if Karbonz would work with a ChiaoGoo cable.

Karbonz do have one downside (besides being expensive)–they feel slower than my woods or aluminums. Though I admit I also seem to be more prone to errors because of mindlessly zooming along. So in the end, giving all the tearing out, they might just help me finish sooner.

Using ChiaoGoo needles in tandem with Karbonz. I prefer the stronger, slower Karbonz to turn the heel.

Final Thoughts

I hope you will find this useful. It was helpful to me to (re)test my sets for this blog. Doing a side-by-side comparison really helped me figure out which needles were best for different types of projects.

And that really is the crux. No one interchangeable needle set can do it all. But are best suited for some than others.

If I l’ve missed a set you’d recommend, I’d love to hear from you.

Substitution with Vintage or Handcrafted Yarns: How to get care, gauge, yardage and more

Many patterns specify a yarn and number of skeins, rather than yardage making substitution difficult. This post is designed to help you use vintage or any yarn on which you have little information.

I’ll be outlining ways to get yarn weight, yardage and care in order to make informed substitutions. This is especially relevant to me, since I inherited a huge stash of wool from my grandmother when she forgot how to knit when she developed Alzheimer’s.

For this blog I used a vintage yarn Zegna Barrufa Lane Borgosesia dal 1850 Peacock. This yarn is not in the Ravelry database or any other online source.

It seemed like I had a lot of this yarn. My grandmother had 17 skeins (!) in her stash. But that turned out not to be the case. They are on cardboard spools–so there is more air than yarn. I’m also dealing with three different dye lots and minor sun damage. Grandma was a penny-pincher and often bought remainders, smoke/fire damaged and sun damaged, and unlabeled yarns at bargain prices. This is only one example of many “problem children” from her stash.

Getting the Weight:

What you will need:

  • Yarns of several weights that follows the standard yarn weighting accepted today. I generally rely on Cascade Yarn for this, but any major yarn manufacturer will do.
  • Appropriately sized needles for the weights.

Methods:

Twist method: I learned this several decades ago in a class, I believe, Lily Chin taught at one of the early Stitches West. This is where you take a yarn that is a good standard for different weights of yarn.

The trick here is to have lots of “known good” weights of yarn. I have loads of leftovers that work perfect for this.

You hook the yarns around one another and then twist in opposite directions. If there is a “smooth” transition when you run your fingers across the join, you have likely found your closest yarn weight.

For the Peacock, I started with a DK, then tried a worsted, aran and bulky. What I learned was that because of the variance in the yarn, it ranges from worsted to aran and it is too big for DK and too small for bulky.

Gauge swatch: Now that we have an approximate weight. I recommend knitting a gauge swatch of the matching weight yarn and your “unknown” using the same needles. Measure and compare the swatches.

If they have the same stitches to the inch, you are done. If not, knit a swatch with the yarn that is one size up if your mystery swatch has fewer stitches or one size down if your mystery swatch had more stitches to the inch.

And keep your swatch of the unknown yarn. It will come in handy for determining the care.

Getting the Yardage:

What you will need:

  • A yarn swift (I’ve also used chair backs–anything you can measure around)
  • Flexible measuring tape
  • If the yarn is in a skein, a yarn bowl or way to hold it steady while you wind it onto a swift

Method:

  • If yarn is in a hank, place it on the swift and extend the swift to the maximum size; If yarn is a skein, wind yarn onto the swift (Steps 1 and 3 in image below)
  • Measure around the swift (Steps 2 and 4 in image below)
  • Count the number of strands (step 5)
  • Multiply the number of strands by the number of inches (e.g., 50 strands time 60 inches) and divide by 36 (inches in a yard) (not shown)

In my case, I got 50 strands at 60 inches, so that’s 3,000 inches of yarn. I divided this by 36, to get ~83.33 yards. Keep in mind, yarn is sold by weight not length, so you shouldn’t expect to get a round number. After getting the yardage, I wound it back into a skein (Step 6).

With 17 skeins I actually only have about 1400 yards total and only 833 yards of a single dye lot.

Getting the Care:

As you can see from the yarn label, it says to wash in temperature 30 (F or C?), it is possible to use an iron and it is possible to wash with most detergents, but not bleach. This still leaves a lot of missing information.

There are three (maybe more) ways to determine how to launder the fabric you create with this yarn. They are as follows:

  • Look on the label. Sometimes “superwash” or similar phrases are there. In my case the yarn came with symbols and these can be looked up online. I’ve included the reference chart below.
  • Look at yarns with similar composition. On Ravelry there are wealth of yarns which have this information. If you find one of similar percentages, you came mostly rely on this information.
  • The most foolproof way is to swatch (the same one you made for gauge) and do to it anything you might do with the finished item. Wash, it dry it, dye it, bleach it, etc.

Dealing with Multiple Dye Lots or Sun Damage:

The easiest way to deal with inconsistent dying or sun damage is to group them by color and alternate in your most different skeins, every other row. Another thing that works very well is blending it with another yarn for a marled look. If the color problem is minor, it will be invisible.

Do Try This At Home

It can be hard, these days, to get to your LYS. So, I hope this post helps you use up more of the yarn you already have. I’ll be posting an afghan I’m working where I’m blending vintage yarns in an effort to get something both useful and beautiful by using up my grandmother’s stash.

Brioche Made Simple Reprise

I LOVE brioche—both the stitch and the bread. I fell in love with fabric the moment I found it in a Vogue Knitting pattern from the Winter 1998/1999 edition. It was pattern #10 which sadly is not online, so I’m happy to have the printed magazine.

Brioche was not new 20+ years ago when I discovered it. It’s been around for centuries and is believed to have originated in the Netherlands for fisherman sweaters. Think Aran Isle only Dutch.

In the hunt to find projects to use up odds and ends of my stash, I looked back at a previous post I made on simplified brioche knitting, but many of the links no longer worked, so this is an update to that post as well as a free scarf pattern in case you want to try it for creating stretchy, beautiful knitwear.

Brioche is almost as simple as garter because it is  the same and knitted both directions. And brioche is far stretchier than a standard rib. This means that it will stretch farther sideways than rib patterns. Which makes it great for a horizontal piece, but not good for a vertical one. I learned this the hard way.

As you know, there are loads of Brioche patterns, but few stand out as good references. The good ones use standard knitting terminology instead of BRKs, BRPs, etc. I call these the “brioche without tears” patterns.

Simple Brioche Instructions

In single color, flat brioche, all rows are the same—no matter which way the work is facing. Only the setup and bind off rows are different.

Across any even number of stitches:

  • Setup Row: (prep for pattern rows) *K1, yarnover (yo), slip 1 purlwise; repeat from * to end of row
  • Pattern Rows: (repeated row) *K2tog (the slip 1 and yo of the previous row), yo, sl1; repeat from * to end of row
  • Final Row: (prep for bind off) *K2tog P1* repeat across
  • Cast off: in pattern (K1, P1)

Below is a pattern for a super quick knit scarf that I call 12 Feet of Love. It’s knit in a discontinued yarn called Kitten, by Reynolds, a wool-blend that creates a slightly fuzzy, bumpy fabric that was popular in the 80’s.

12 Feet of Love Scarf

This pattern can be any length, width or use any yarn you desire. This makes it a great stash buster project.

Length: As the title suggests, the project I knit was 12 feet including fringe. You can stop at your desired length.

Width: I you want a wider scarf; you can make it wider simply add pairs of (2) stitches until it is the desired width.

Yarn: I used Aran, but this pattern works for any yarn weight. If you use a thinner yarn, add more pairs of stitches, a thicker yarn will require a pair or two less. The best thing is to knit a gauge swatch with the whatever yarn you plan to use.

Supplies:

  • Needles: Size 9 or whatever gives you the appropriate or preferred gauge.
  • Yarn: I used 600-700 yards of Aran weight
  • Darning needle to weave in ends.

Directions:

  • Cast on 16 stitches.
  • Start setup row: *K1, yarnover (yo), slip 1 purlwise; repeat from * to end of row
  • Next row and every row after: *K2tog (the slip 1 and yo of the previous row), yo, sl1; repeat from * to end of row
  • When the scarf is the desired length, do bind off prep row: P1, K2tog across
  • Bind off 16 remaining stitches
  • Weave in ends
  • If desired, add fringe and trim to preferred length

What’s Next?

I hope the reference is useful for you. I’ll probably expand it to include more and more “conversions” as more as more simple brioche patterns (once again) are made available.

My next big thing is two-color brioche and it turns out that knitting brioche in the round is even easier than two-color brioche flat. Below are a pattern and a video to help without a BRK or BRP in sight!

Pattern: Joann’s two-color cowl

Two-color brioche cowl video tutorial: Milk Shed: Easy two color cowl video (knits and purls only): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRt0i1dQfJc

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Call to Action!!!

If you know of other brioche patterns using standard knitting terms, I’m collecting them, so please share!

Chart for the Watson Shrug

I’ve been getting some pings about the Watson Shrug I created because it doesn’t use the chart that was provided in the original pattern from Crystal Palace Yarns (sadly now closed). I believe you can still download the Aran Cabled Shrug as a PDF from Ravelry HERE.

This chart is for the 36-stitch repeating cable pattern I used instead of the one in the original pattern. I changed it because I don’t like looking at, or knitting, bobbles.

The delay in sharing is that the chart, my first ever, was originally done on graph paper with pencil (which I threw out—head shake). To share it I needed to digitally recreate it. Thankfully, in the project photos, I took a partial picture of the graph when I posted it. With that photo and the shrug as a reference, here is the pattern.

This cable pattern is over 36 stitches and repeats every 24 rows. All cabling is on odd numbered (right side) rows and all rows except the first and the middle row, have cables.

Pattern Key:

Watson Cable:

As I mentioned, with color patterns, in an earlier post, charting is hard. My hat goes off to those designers that not only create charts for the rest of us, but no doubt, like me, swatch them too. I have a newfound appreciation for the designers that use color and cables (sometime both) in their published patterns.

And please, your feedback is greatly welcomed should you find errors. This time I created it on my computer, so it won’t be so hard to make changes and upload a corrected PDF. 😊

Happy knitting!

Getting Organized

In the run-up to Spring knitting events I went through all my yarn, notions and needles. The purpose was to remind me what I have, so that I wouldn’t double (and sometimes triple or quadruple) my supplies.

The most challenging thing was being a “weekender” on Orcas Island is that my knitting goodies were not in one place. Fixing that took some coordination, but to reduce extra spending, it was well worth the effort.

Nick enjoying the sunset at West Beach in his “Island Sweater” knit with local wool from island sheep.

I’d like to have my yarn and supplies on Orcas Island since I knit more there or on my commute to and from. However, I do more project planning on the mainland. So, when I had to decide where to take inventory, it made sense to move to the smaller concentration to the higher.

It’s no surprise that I have a terrifying amount of yarn (it actually was… a bit), as most of my stash had been logged in Ravelry. What surprised me most was the quantity of needles and notions. Partly this is because I pick them up as I travel and partly it is because I inherited loads from my grandmother along with her stash. Some of these notions are antiques—which I will not part with—but an equal amount went into the donate pile along with some my own purchases.

Old plastic needles–handy for travel

Probably the best thing to come out of sorting all of my bibs and bobs was the creation of small organized packets of notion kits—four in total—so that I have virtually everything I need to hand, whether it is in the car, island or mainland, or for traveling with individual projects. Some well-chosen Tom Bihn knitting organizers really helped.

Tom Bihn is a local bag maker in SeaTac, who in addition to luggage, makes specialized knitting bags and accessories. And if the luggage at Red Alder Fiber Arts Retreat is any indication, both types of bags are very popular among the knitting community.

Anyone else doing Spring notions cleaning? Any interesting organizational ideas?

It’s Hip to Be Square – Sticking With Classic Designs

Some things are “classic” like Bach concertos and other things are likely to go the way of the song that inspired the title of this blog, Huey Lewis and the News and their song, Hip to be Square. I suspect that Bach will be heard more often and long after I’m around, given how long it has been since he was around (he died in 1750).

The upshot? Trends die and classics last. So why not knit things that never go out of style?

Last week I mentioned my grandmother used to, out of boredom, knit the frilliest, most intricate couch throws. And though I know she knit my family dozens of these beautiful showpieces; I cannot tell you where any of these are today–probably hiding out in closets. You don’t see them because they were showpieces and not particularly useful.

I’m lazy, so if I’m going to take the time to knit an afghan, rather than creating a visual piece, I’d rather see it wear out from use. And even better if it looks good too.

My first afghan, knit from yarn in my grandmother’s stash, was a series of stockinette and reverse stockinette squares with a seed stitch border. Since then, I’ve stuck with this very classic “squares” design, varying only the size of the squares, the weight of the yarn and the border. And though the first one is from many years ago, it is warm, washable, reversable and comfortable. And being a basic ivory color, it should also match any possible décor.

Simple Squares Throw in Ivory Acrylic

I’m on the last block of squares of my latest afghan in this series. After which I’m going to try a Purl Soho pattern to do something just a bit different, but not so different it won’t get used.

Shadow Squares Pattern from Purl Soho

I’m definitely happy to be a square when it comes to creating classic, useful household items. What I tend to splurge on is the fiber itself. These two afghans are a wool-silk blend and they are warm, warm, warm. Perfect for these chilly winter months.

These simple contemporary designs which are both easy to make and great for every day use.

This coming weekend I’m heading to the Red Alder Fiber Art Retreat in Tacoma. I’ve missed it every year–until this year–because of work and travel. I’m super excited to hone my double-knitting skills so I can do more reversible items. Hope to see you there!

What would you do if you forgot how to knit?

For most of my life, I’ve been a sweater knitter. I think this is because my grandmother, who taught me to knit, was a prolific knitter of sweaters—30+ a year. She also made afghans, but not as many because she’d get bored. To keep things interesting, she’d choose intricate patterns with bells and baubles. When I think of the ‘lost art of knitting’ it’s these fancy items that come to mind.

What’s amazing is after my grandmother stopped knitting, there was only one work in progress in her stash. She was a finisher, but later in life she became ill with Alzheimer’s and literally forgot how to knit. At some point, she thought if she didn’t have the yarn, she’d be less likely to want to pick up a project. And this would reduce her torment of starting and not knowing how to keep going. Except, of course, for the times she forgot that she’d forgotten how to knit.

This is how I came to ‘inherit’ a huge amount of yarn more than 10 years years before she passed away at 90 years old.

As a knitter, to forget how to weild your craft seems like the ultimate punishment. If it were me, I’d do what she did–find someone to inspire. And boy did she have a lot of inspiration to share! She’d been collecting for years and with every store closing or fire sale, her stash grew and grew until it overwhelmed her house.

As her memory faded, my grandfather reminded her that I was a knitter. So, she called and asked me to drive from Arizona, home to Idaho, to take away her stash. When I arrived, my grandmother told me it “made her sick” to look at it. She kept asking me, “you’ll use it won’t you?” at least a dozen times. “I just don’t want to see it go to waste.” I assured her it wouldn’t, and I meant it.

Then, as now, I am intensely grateful for the gift of her stash which I’ve knit into all kinds of things.

At that time, I would never, at that time, have been able to afford these yarns—not even the synthetics. Overnight, my nonexistent stash bulged with wools, silks, angora, cottons and linens as well. Most of it odds and ends, because she never knit with more than one yarn or color at a time. Since I do, her leftovers work just fine.

In this new year–new decade–in fact, I am challenging myself to put the remaining yarn to the best possible use. There will be difficulties, as many of them have no yardage or care information. It will also be fun figure how I can best use this gift of yarn to its best advantage.

I look forward to sharing!

Wooly Skye

In Broadford on Skye, is The Handknitter Having Fun shop. I often find astounding deals of wool there. This year, since socks were my travel project, as if often the case, socks yarn was top of mind. And for another reason as well—I lost a just finished sock on an Edinburgh tram.

Wooly clouds on the Black Cuillins from the Sligachan Hotel

We time our visits to Skye to coincide with the climbing season. This year we were a week later than usual. I expected it to be warmer than it was two years ago when I brought long-johns and wished for t-shirts. This year the opposite was true. It was cold, rainy and blustery. I on one hike I was wearing almost everything I owned, soaked through and got blown off my feet by a gust of wind.

Reverse view from Loch Scaivaig on a sunnier day

Not to say the trip was a bust—not so! I was there for rest and the weather gave me time for knitting and a bit of shopping. I picked up three beautiful sock skeins and started another pair of socks, having brought two projects for the trip. Here are the three skeins which seem to be color inspired by the location.

Can’t wait to see how the socks turn out. Too bad they take so long to knit!

NOTE TO SELF: hand dyed—don’t use different skeins and expect them to look like the belong together. This said, in spite of cutting the skein in half and caking it in reverse, the Schoppel-Wolle Zauberball® socks I started are variegating in the most peculiar fashion. Even if I make that mistake, it won’t be *this* different.

Even with taking a ball in the middle and caking it opposite, these socks look VERY different from one another

And Then There Was One

I love travel. It’s a good thing, given I travel 33-50% for my work. This means I also like being at home when I have time off.

My husband has a love of Scotland that comes from his youth in the South of England. His father took him to the Isle of Skye when he was fifteen and every year or so, we go back. And for me, it’s all about the hiking and the wool.

The project I brought was a pair of socks using Knitpicks Felici in Stormy Sky (fitting for Scotland). It was a special striped run I’d picked some up at Stitches West last year. And I was so excited to finally use it and hopeful my husband would have a spare pair of socks for hiking.

We used Edinburgh as our basecamp for the trip. We only passed through the city—several times as we came and went from visiting friends and family in Southern England before we headed to Skye. I was just reinforcing a heel when our stop came and I thought I’d safely tucked the sock away, but when we got to the hotel, I was one sock short.

Yes. I did cry. But then I immediately picked up my needles and cast-on another pair.

You gotta get back on that horse and ride it! Am I right?

Back to Square One

I did an Internet search on the topic “Knitting in the Dark”. Among the things I found were:

I, of course, immediately purchased the flashlight. And with good reason.

It so cold was this past winter, I started a “simple squares throw” for my bed–which seemed practical and easy. I chose this pattern not only for it’s simplicity, but also because I had made it previously and loved the look. Lately, I’m so mentally tired from overworking, when I pick up my needles it needs to be restful. IMG_3824

I thought I would be able to knit, not think. Except–that’s an oversimplification. I failed to think of another problem–that not only was I knitting in the dark with a dark yarn, but that sometimes even simple projects aren’t so simple when you are tired.

You know how they say that driving tired can make your reaction time slower–even more than if you’ve been drinking? The same appears to be true with knitting. You lack good judgement and just assume everything will be okay. After all, you tell yourself, “I’ve been knitting forever! Right?”

In this case, I would pull the project out of the bag and just knit whatever direction seemed right. And sometimes I got it wrong. So I created short row holes in the middle of a blanket that needs neither holes or short rows.

Earlier this week in the bright sunny light, I laid it out to survey my progress. I was so proud of how much progress was made on such a big project (it’s about 8′ across). I was about a 1/3 done (up about four squares). That’s when I noticed first one hole, two and then three. At first I tried dropping down 80 rows to an affected stitch and that’s when I realized how unfixable it was–I didn’t find a dropped stitch, I encountered a loop!  :-/

So tear, tear, tear it out I did, some 90 rows on a 8′ wide piece. /sigh!

It took a couple of days of ignoring it for me to come back around and reconsider it a worthy project. And now I’m, well, back to square one.

IMG_7284