“First Lesson. Stick them with the pointy end.”
[ ‘The Game of Thrones’, George R.R.Martin]
Inspired by the second series of ‘Game of Thrones’ and Arya with her “Needle”, about to be upon us, I thought it is time to look at the pointy end.
Just how pointy an end do we need/want, and how do different needles (particularly circs) compare.
Whilst we’re at it, let’s have a quick review of the cables on circular needles, as well. In for a penny…
This is a scattershot selection from some of the different brands of circ I have. I have bought everything I’m reviewing here, and so am ‘impartial’. Well, so far as anyone can be impartial about something so important but also subjective, as tools of the trade.
Apologies for the poor photography. Click to enlarge, btw. Blame the ladybird for distracting me. And I finally found a use for Alden Amos’s Big Book of Handspinning: pinning down errant circs. Needles different diameters, but all we’re looking at here, is the comparative pointiness.
Now, some knitters like pointy, some don’t. I saw on a dyer’s site a recommendation to use blunt needles with a very smooth, slick, splitty but goregous silk yarn. Which struck me as interesting as for me, it’s the other way – the splittier a yarn, the better I like a pointy end, as you can work with more precision. Shows how subjective this is. But bear in mind, when I comment, I am a fan of the pointiest of points.
You can see, the prize for the pointiest point either goes to the Signature (green) or Addi Lace (brass). I can’t decide between them. I should point out (hah!) the Sig is a stiletto; their sharpest point. In the photo there, it looks like the Addi Lace but in use, I find the Signatures more precise. In use, the ChiaoGoos are also plenty pointy. The difference between these brands is measurable only by a hair’s breadth, but still…
The bluntest needle is the old Aero, closely followed by the KnitPicks Harmony.
Pointy often helps for things like lace knitting – all those K2togs, K TBLs – and also when you’re cabling a lot. I find pointy helps when I’m putting right my mistakes, too. Also, when you have ripped back something and have to pick up stitches, or when you’re picking up from a finished edge like an arm scye, to knit a sleeve down from the top. Something you’re constantly doing in traditional knitting.
Some people use pointier for one project and blunter for another. I just go for the pointy for everything. Signature yet again, are ahead of the pack as they offer you a choice of points; blunt, middy, or stiletto… Apparently, the stiletto are the best-sellers. Cable needles come with one blunt point, and one stiletto.
Knitters don’t just want pointy, though, they want slick and ‘fast’ metal needles and go to wood or bamboo if they’re looking for grippy.
I hate wooden needles (impulse bought those Knit Picks) and bamboo actually makes my tongue curl. The needle with way the best finish is, for me, the Signature. For small projects, if you don’t have a preference for magic loop, then Signature dpns are – for me – not the kings of knitting needles, nor even the emperors… but the gods. They have a different finish to the circs and straights – they appear slick but are actually minutely cross hatched to give them just enough grip to hold your stitches in place, but not so much you sacrifice the slickness. Really hard to explain in words, but they’ re unique. I’ve had mine some time and they take a fair battering, but still not a scratch or mark on the finish, either.
The circs are slick and don’t have the cross-hatching. Here you can see the old, now discontinued, second generation Signature circs (green) and the new fourth generation (gold). Signatures are colour coded according to size, and the colours are consistent across the range so the green there is 4mm; the gold 3.25mm.
I understand Addi are going to be making the Addi Lace (currently brass) nickel plated, like the ‘ordinary’ Addi circs. The brass needles of the current Addi Laces are hollow therefore light (also bend if you sit on em, as I discovered), and covered with resin coating. Some people find the oils in their hands react with the brass, to make an odd smell. I have never really been bothered by it (having 5 sons, odd smells are par for the course round here).Addi Lace was my circular weapon of choice for a long time. Most ganseys are knitted on 2.5mm needles, sometimes 2.75mm. At the moment, Signatures only go down to 3.25mm – something to do with the fact they’re made from aircraft grade metal and the engineering makes different demands down to the finer sizes. They are working on going down finer though, and if they make it to 2.5mm, I will be first in line. Til I can get a Sig in 2.5mm, I am happy with either ChiaoGoo or Addi Lace. The points I find very similar, but I prefer the slightly floppier cable of the Addi.
ChiaoGoos are made from stainless steel. They’re sturdy strong and extremely ‘fast’. If they are race-horses the old Aeros and the Knit Picks are donkeys, by comparison, with their slow, grubby-feeling finishes.
Which brings us on to cable comparison. And again, I should add the disclaimer that this too, is highly subjective. I favour a not too stiff cord, which is memory resistant. L to R: Signature (new), Signature (old), Addi (ordinary), Addi (lace), ChiaoGoo, KnitPicks (oops, the wriggly Aero fell off the end).
The old generation Signature had a heavy, whitish cable with a bit too much memory. These circs probably came to market before all the R and D had been completed; and Signature responded to customers, by evolving the black cable you see on the gold coloured needle. It has no memory; is soft but not too soft, and like the earlier ones, has the advantage of swivelling in its housing, meaning it never gets all snarled up, as it moves with you. Again, you get what you pay for: Sigs come with cables of customised length, so you can have anything between 24 – 47″ or even some other length, absolutely to your requirements.
The two different Addi circs have different cables, too, either a red or a gold. Both of these are excellent. The Addi cables are slightly stiffer than the curren Sigs, but not so stiff that they are annoying. Needle size and cable length are printed on the cord which is incredibly handy, as it’s hard to see at a glance which circ you have pulled out, as a rule. I like the Addi cords just fine, but I like the Signature cords more is the only way to summarise, really.
ChiaoGoo have a distinctive red cord made from nylon coated steel. Now I love the ChiaoGoo needles but dislike the cord. The cord looks great, but is just too clumpy and heavy, and once you are used to the swivelling cord sockets on the Signatures, you really notice the ‘static’ nature of all the other brands. It is not a bad needle at all, though, and in projects where a stiff-ish cable is not a disadvantage, they’d be a good choice. I wouldn’t like to magic loop with them. On the other hand, they’re well made and sturdy, which is an advantage.
I should add that lots of people happily magic loop with ChiaoGoos – I just think they’d interfere with my tension a bit too much. I can’t find it to photo it for you, but I did find a 1950s or 60s cable needle in a charity shop once. It had a heavy steel (uncoated) cable and the minute I saw the ChiaoGoo , I thought of the vintage needle. That said, the ChiaoGoo has one of the smoothest intersections from cable to needle – really nice. Just the cable is a bit too hefty for my personal taste. The needle itself, is really, really good for the money.
Only one of these needles is an interchangeable, btw – the Knitpicks. And this is the only needle reviewed where I’d say the join is just awful. My experience with it was so dire, (losing a 300 plus stitch lace project when the cable drifted apart), that I have never, and will never, use any brand of interchangeable again. I have seen all sorts of inventive MacGyvering with this brand on Rav – people recommending to glue the cable in to the fixy onny bit, etc but to be honest, it’s not doing what I need it to do if it is making work for me. I want to pick up a needle and knit – not have to re-engineer it before I can use it. Its selling point is that it is cheap. It’s a needle I’d use at a push, but really would rather not.
I will leave you with some recent purchases, as I think you deserve some eye-candy after reading all about needles. Blue laceweight courtesy of Ripples Crafts, and silk caps dyed by The Mulberry Dyer.