Socks, Yarns, Needles and The Not So Hardy

Knitters are a hardy lot. When the weather turns cold they turn to their needles and wool and start knitting. With a house reliant on portable heaters this winter (have I mentioned that renovation is a dirty word?) I am extremely appreciative of my knitted items of clothing and my big squishy blankets.

The first socks I ever knitted - that experiment just to say that I had knitted socks which then somehow turned into an obsession - are now starting to show signs of wear all over. They've lasted well, those socks. They are nine or ten years old and were knitted in pure wool left over from some other project. They're still my go-to pair for bedsocks.

But they are going to have to be replaced soon. Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem. I have several pairs finished since we started renovations that I have not yet worn. The thought of brand new socks geting ripped up by a hidden staple or nail on the floor has had me reaching for my oldest pairs of socks these last two winters.

I finished these two pairs earlier this year and have yet to wear them.

I'm also working on a few other pairs as gifts.

I love combining self-patterning yarns with solid colours. Firstly, it makes the yarn go further and I can get three pairs of socks out of two skeins (an advantage when I fall in love with a colourway and decide to knit socks for several family members in similar colour and design); secondly, it means there is no interruption to the patterning that's happening as the instep meets the leg; and, thirdly, it makes it somewhat easier to see which stitches need picking up when it's time to reknit heels and/or toes at a later date. (Notice, I said somewhat easier. After years of use, those stitches fuse and felt and do not want to be separated from their fellow stitches.)

All this knitting has got me thinking about needles and, like all knitters, I have my own views about needles, especially when it comes to socks. Firstly, double pointed needles (DPNs) are not for the faint of heart. I'm still trying to fathom why anyone would use them when there is the magic loop method for sock knitting. It has so many advantages that I can see over DPNs: no needle getting lost and having to spend time searching for it (this happens enough for me just with my cable needle); less needle changes; no stabbing yourself with the ends of the needles that are currently not in active use; no stitches accidentally falling off either end of the needle when you're knitting or storing your knitting; being able to easily tuck your project into a bag and pulling it out later with all stitches in tact; and, being able to easily try on a half-knitted sock. No, DPNs are definitely not for me. But I love circular needles and that's what I'll probably use until I'm too old or infirm to knit any longer. (And, yes, I've seen the new Addi Crazy Trio / Flexiflips but to my mind they are just glorified DPNs with the same disadvantages - especially that needle that could go astray. And let's not get started on how overpriced they appear!)

I began with Craft Co needles. This was before I knew that there was such a thing as a needle-snob. If I could get these needles in smaller sizes (2.25 and 2.5mm) at my local store, I would probably stick with them. I know of knitters that recommend against cheap needles such as these but for beginners and not-so beginners, I think they are a pretty good choice. Pros: they're cheap so you can have lots of them and that means lots of projects on the go at the same time; regardless of what colour yarn you are using, the stitches all show up clearly on the needle; and I've never had a problem with the join or the cord breaking. Cons: the stitches may not slide as smoothly along the needles as they do on other needles (a consideration for fast knitters which I'm not); the needle tips are not super sharp and may result in slower knitting time, especially with patterns that require lifting stitches or knitting into the back and the like; and the cord seems to revert to former configurations which means you are constantly rearranging it and moving it out of the way.

Next I tried Knitpro Symphonie Wood Circulars. These are what I consider middle-of-the-range (generally between NZ$9 and NZ$15 per pair). They are made from laminated Birch wood and these have got to be my very favourite. Some knitters don't like them in the smaller sizes (anything below 2.5mm) because they don't feel they are strong enough but I've had no problem. I am slowly replacing all my circular needles with these ones. Pros: lightweight and comfortable to use; cord doesn't twist; stitches move easily along the needles and the join; at the same time, the needles grip the stitches so that they don't fall off the tips; the tips are sharp but not too sharp. Cons: some yarn colours do not show up easily on the needles because of the colour of the wood; when the wood splits the yarn constantly gets caught (happened on a brand new pair for me - DH tried sanding them but with little success); and, as with a lot of circular needles, when the size is not marked on the needles, it can be hard to identify the size - even with a needle gauge (in my humble opinion, an easy solution would be for Knitpro to colour code the cords for each size).

Lastly I tried Knitpro Karbonz Carbon Fibre. These, as far as I'm concerned, are top of the range (around NZ$20). They are sleek-looking with nickel-plated tips. I have developed a profound hate relationship with them that nothing is going to change. Still, I'll try to be fair in my unofficial review. Pros: stitches move smoothly along the needles and joins; sharp tips that are useful for lifting and making stitches; most yarn colours show up easily; the cord does not tangle. Cons: the tips are sharp - very sharp - I end up with a bloodied and bruised left index finger whenever I use these for more than a few rounds. I avoid these needles unless I have no other choice (meaning my other needles in the same size are in use). I am seriously thinking of packing them all up and giving them away. I do not want them in my house as a constant reminder that I am a ho-hum knitter with no appreciation for the finer tools of the trade.

And there ends my rather unscientific and biased review. Of course there are other options for circular needles - aluminium, stainless steel, even brass apparently - but having found my true love in the Knitpro Symphonies I'll stick with those.

The Most Adorable Granddaughter#2 has asked me to teach her to knit socks and I'm tempted to give her my Knitpro Karbonz. Not because I want her to fail (seriously another sock knitter in the family would be ideal) but it might just be that she can use them - as long as she hasn't inherited my bad knitting technique. Because it must be technique, otherwise why would other knitters recommend them? There's nothing pretty about blood dripping onto a new sock. Or is it perhaps it's because sock knitters are an exclusive bunch and want to ensure only the hardiest make it in to the club?

In which case I've failed miserably.

Perhaps I'm not so hardy after all.