Sunday, May 8, 2011

Choose Your Knitting Needles Based on Your Preferences

Needles are your main tool and are a very personal choice. The type of needles you choose has a substantial effect on the finished project and as a beginning knitter on your knitting experience as a whole.  As a beginner, don't let displeasing needles spoil your knitting experience!  Each needle type feels different in your hands so it’s important to try several different types to see what your preferences are and what works best for the project you are working on.

The different Types
Knitting needles are grouped into three general types: straight, circular and double-pointed. You can read a general discussion about the uses for each of these types of needles here.

They also come in various thicknesses from 0.75mm to 25mm and you will need a variety of thickness to be able to get gauge. Gauge is important and I talk more about it here.

Manufacturers are not standardized as far as identifying thicknesses go.  A US size 8 needle in one brand will not be the same thickness as a US size 8 in another brand.  Not only do different brands vary in size, but also the material the needles are made from will affect the thickness. You will definitely need to buy a gauge card to help you sort things out. These are usually made of plastic or metal with holes punched in them that correspond to the standard metric sizes.  Generally, they will have the U.S. equivalent for each size printed on the card and often the U.K. equivalent as well.

The different Materials

Needles are made of several types of materials including aluminum, nickel-plated aluminum, bamboo, birch, walnut, ebony, casein (a milk protein), and various plastics.

Here is the good and the bad on several different materials:

The Good: They are lightweight, quiet, feel warm in your hands; have slightly rough surface which grips the yarn when knitting so you work more slowly and have more control over the stitches.  This is good for beginners or advanced knitters working on complex patterns.
The Bad: Availability can be limited and they can be expensive. They may break or splinter; some people don't like the slow knitting.

The Good: These are also lightweight and quiet; they feel warm in your hands and they are easily available in most shops and they are reasonably inexpensive; surface grip can also slow your knitting speed, but this can depend on the brand.
The Bad: Like other wood needles, these can break or splinter at the tips, and some people don't like the added surface grip that can slow down your knitting.

The Good: Easily available in most craft shops; can be very inexpensive; smooth, they have a slick surface that allows you to knit very quickly with minimum resistance.
The Bad: They may make a clicking sound while you knit which can be annoying for some people; surface can scratch and the color can fade over time; the metal can feel cold and they are rather inflexible, some knitters (particularly those with arthritis or carpal-tunnel syndrome) might find them uncomfortable.

Nickel and nickel-plated aluminum
The Good: The nickel plating makes the surface even smoother than aluminum, which equals speedy or slippery knitting; they are very lightweight.
The Bad: Depending on the brand, they can be expensive; like other metal needles, they can make noise while knitting; and, the rigidness of the metal can be annoying for people with arthritis or sensitive hands.

Swallow Casein
The Good: These are made of a natural milk protein; they are available in a wide range of colors; they feel warm in your hands; their surface is smoother than wood but not as slippery as aluminum; they bend and flex and are generally very quiet while knitting.
The Bad: Although these needles are made from organic materials, Swallow casein needles can look and feel artificial; also, because they are only manufactured by one company, availability can be limited.

The Good: These very flexible knitting needles are made of milk protein and are ideal for knitters with arthritis; they are warm and smooth to the touch.  They have concave points and many knitters really love them.
The Bad: Some people find the plastic texture too flimsy; their availability is very limited, so you may have to order online.

The Good: Bryspun flexible knitting needles are made of a special plastic and are very popular for knitters with arthritis; they are warm and smooth to the touch.
The Bad: Many people find the plastic texture too flimsy; their availability is very limited, so you may have to order online.

Pony Pearls
The Good: These are made of cellulose acetate and come in a wide variety colors.  They have a fairly smooth surface for quick knitting.
The Bad: Sizes 0-8 are reinforced with steel wire, which can rattle around inside the needle while you're knitting and this can be distracting plus the wire adds extra weight to the needles.  Also, although these are cellulose, they aren't as flexible as Bryspun or Balene needles. 

You may think that you'll only need one pair of needles in each size. But, truthfully, you can never have too many duplicate sets of needles. Needles do get lost, and if you like to work on more than one project at a time you'll need plenty of needles standing by.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Six Steps To Designing Your Own Handknits

Just because you're a beginning knitter doesn't mean you can't design your own hand knits.  Here are six steps to help you get started:

1. Make a swatch
The swatch is a sample of the fabric you'll be creating.  Swatching is your friend!  You'll swatch for gauge, of course, but also:
  • To test out stitch and color ideas.
  • To check how different stitch patterns work together.
  • To try out different cast-ons and bind-offs.
  • To see how different needles affect the fabric you are knitting.
2. Try out different yarns
You may have some ideas about which yarns will work with the stitch patterns you have in mind, but nothing is more revealing than actually knitting a sample of your stitch patterns with different yarns.  You'll discover that different stitch patterns result in different widths over the same number of stitches and that this will also vary with different fibers - even if the yarns are the same weight category.  Its best to have an idea of what to expect in advance.
3. Measure an existing garment that you really like
Base your dimensions for your design on a similar knitted garment that fits the way you like.  
4. Give in to your knitting preferences
There is no sense in torturing yourself by working with techniques you don't like.  If knitting on size 3 needles and fingering weight yarn makes you cringe, then use bigger needles and thicker yarn!  If you hate seams, knit in the round.  But, if you crave intricate details, love beading, go gaga over cables and really complex lace ... then, knock yourself out, its your knitting after all.
5. Do the math
Ok, so I'm not a fan of math and numbers make my brain feel all melty, but unless you love ripping and re-knitting, you'll want to check your math before you start.  Ideally, you'll want to do the actual knitting as few times as possible, you know, just the one time.
So figure your gauge. Take your measurements. Grab your calculator and do the math. Work out how many stitches to cast-on and where to increase and decrease. Have a bit of faith and start knitting.
6. Write it all down
Even if you're not planning on drafting out a full pattern of your design, give yourself a break and write stuff down!  That way you won't have to agonize over which row you started your shaping or any other tweaks you made as you've been working your design.