Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tips and tricks for new knitters: Needles and Hooks

One of the first questions facing the new crafter is "What kind of needle/hook should I get?"

My answer? It's very much down to the individual and how you like the feel of different materials in your hands. I'll start with hooks, because there seems to be a little less choice involved with them than with needles. 

Crochet hooks come in a range of sizes. The smallest run to about .6mm, and the largest can be upwards of 10mm. (American sizes use letters, but I find the millimetre to be more exact.) The sizes, like those of knitting needles, are dependant on the thickness of the yarn. Cobweb and laceweight yarn use the smaller needles, while working up through the different sizes you use bigger and bigger hooks or needles. More on that below. 

My set of crochet hooks. The one with a hook at each end is two different sizes.
Hooks are also made of several different things. I bought a set when I first started crocheting. The smallest hooks were made of metal, presumably steel. The bigger hooks were made of plastic, and I bought some that were made of wood. Some have handles that are made of a different substance to the hook itself. One hook I have has a wooden handle and a metal hook. Some hooks offer easy grips that have gel like handles and can have either a metal or plastic hook. If you suffer from arthritis or pain in your arms, something with an easy grip would be better for you. KnitPro makes a hook called Waves that offers easy grip; Clover offers two that I know of - Amour and Soft Touch. I have not used any of these hooks, but have been told the Amour are a nicer version of the Waves. I do not know the difference between the Soft Touch and the Amour. 

Disclaimer: It is my firm opinion that hooks and needles are a very personal thing. What one person really likes using, another person might not like. I will not recommend any kind of needle or hook for this reason, but will only say what I like using and encourage you to try different types yourself. Many local yarn stores will let you try out a type of hook or needle before buying. It can't hurt to ask. 

Needle are made of much the same things. Wood, metal, and plastic seem to be the default materials, but with knitting I find that depending on the yarn  you use, you will want to use different types of needles. Because in knitting you have many stitches on the needles, what yarn you use will be affected more than in crochet, where you have at most two or three loops on your hook. 

Slipperiest of all are the metal needles. These are either nickel or stainless steel as far as I know, and different manufacturers will advertise what their needles are made of. One yarn I usually use metal needles for is silk yarn. It tends to grip the needle, and when I tried to knit with silk on a wooden needle, I could hardly slide it up and down. Switching to metal made it much easier to work the rows. 

Next comes plastic needles. These are hard and durable, usually the cheapest of the needles, and I started on these. I found they worked pretty well for most types of yarn, but the ends are blunter than wooden or metal needles as a general rule, so if you're trying to work fine or splitty yarn, they might not be ideal. 

Finally, the wooden needles. These are comprised of either hardwoods like the KnitPro Symphonies, or bamboo. Bamboo needles are often soft on the hands, and warm up as you work, making them ideal for people with aches and pains in the hands or arms. Hardwood needles offer a superior gripping surface for the yarn, and are great for yarns that like to slide around a lot. If you're having trouble keeping yarn on the metal or plastic needles, go for the hardwoods. 

Double pointed needles. 
One set of circular needle tips with different sized cables.
Knitting also has different kinds of needles. In addition to the straight needles that everyone may be familiar with, there are double pointed needles ((DPNs) and circular needles. These last two kinds were developed for knitting in the round, although I use circulars as well for knitting flat as well. Circulars come in two different kinds too - fixed, where you have a cable between the needles that is a certain length, and where the needles are a certain width, and interchangeable, where you have a set. The set comes with needle tips of varying widths (usually ranging from 3.5mm to 8mm) and cables that make up a circular needle length of 16" to 32" or longer. Circular needles can be used to knit things which are too long for straight needles - the body of a sweater, or a shawl, which often has 300+ stitches in some part of it. The cable in between the needles holds the work, and I find it very useful in working with heavy items such as large garments. It helps take weight off the wrists and prevent RSI or other kinds of pain.

One thing to remember with double pointed needles is that you only work with two at a time; most of the needles simply hold stitches, much as a straight needle does. Depending on the number of stitches in your row, you can either use all five, or just four. A  minimum of three needles is needed to hold the stitches, and you work with the one not holding any. Rubber tips can be gotten to put on the end you're not working with so the stitches don't slide off.

I was going to cover tension swatches in this article as well, but I find I've rambled on somewhat about needles, so I'll leave that for next time. I'll leave you with this chart on what size needles work best with the different weights of yarn.

Laceweight (2-ply): 1.5-2.25 mm (US 000-1)
Fingering (also called sock weight or 4-ply): 2.25-3.25 mm (US 1-3)
Sport (also called baby or 5-ply): 3.25-3.75 mm (US 3-5)
DK (double knit): 3.75 - 4.5 mm (US 5-7)
Worsted and Aran: 4.5-5.5 mm (US 7-9)
Chunky: 5.5-8 mm (US 9-11)
Bulky (also called superchunky): 8 mm + (US 11 +) 

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