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Why You Should be a Knitting Needle Snob

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It’s all just sticks and string, so why hunt down the ‘best’ needles? Why not just use what’s most readily available? Or those vintage needles you came across? People have been knitting for hundreds of years on all sorts of things. Some of my favorite traditional knits are the Andean chullos traditionally knit on hook ended needles made of baling wire. And I’ve personally knit on toothpicks, paperclips, large dowels, and even porcupine spines! If any old stick will work, why pay more for those needles? It’s the yarn that goes into the finished piece, so isn’t the yarn the only thing you should be splurging on?

NOPE. Your needles and pattern are just as important and very much worth spending a few extra bucks to have quality because it will very much show in your finished object, even if those needles aren’t going to be a permanent part of the project, they’re just as important as the yarn. Good needles can make a bad knitter’s work look better and a great knitter’s work look horrible, just by being good or bad needles!

I’m currently working on designing a new hat using a stitch I’ve created. It’s a lovely hat and I’m sure you’ll all want to knit it when it’s released. The first hat was knit from a ball of variegated bulky weight yarn, a long on color yarn that when used with such a stitch count creates beautiful stripes. I do love the stripes, but it makes it a bit harder to appreciate the detail of the new decrease and how well it works in ribbing. As such, I purchased a new ball of yarn, the same exact brand, but in a solid color.

The first multicolor hat was knit on a set of double pointed needles and I had a bit of trouble with stitches popping right off the ends of the needles until I hit the crown decreases. It was just too many stitches for the needles. When I was out in the snow picking up the solid colored ball of yarn, I also grabbed a set of 16″ circulars in the same size. Of course I had to get a different brand as no big box shop carries the brand double point I’d been using.

The second I got home, I cast on for the new solid color hat. I’d like it done and photographed as soon as possible so I can share the pattern with you all. When I got into the knitting a ways, I stopped. Something didn’t look right at all. I compared the in-progress hat to my completed one. YEP. Something’s horribly wrong. The stitches are all correct and the new color has much better stitch definition than the multicolored yarn,  but the new needles ruined it! I was over halfway through the body of the hat section too, so it’s a bit sad to rip out. That’s probably an hour and a half of work.

Here’s a close up of the first hat’s stitches. This bit is plain k1p1 ribbing.

Multicolor hat stitches

It’s beautiful, right? The stitches are even, uniform and straight. Now, here’s the same exact pattern and size hat knit in the same brand of 100% acrylic yarn one day later by the same knitter on different needles. Neither piece has been blocked.

solid hat stitches


Can you see the differences? The blue one looks horrible. The stitches are crooked with the left leg dominant. It’s wider and sticks up from the fabric more than the right one. Some stitches are more squat, some are taller, and some are just plain wonky.

The needle change also affected gauge in addition to the shape of individual stitches. The multicolor hat has 9 ribs in 4 inches where as the blue one has 8 ribs in 4 inches.

Gauge of multicolor ribbed hat

Gauge of solid ribbed hat

Changing needle brands means redoing your gauge swatch. Changing brands of knitting needles, particularly if that includes a change of knitting needle material, requires redoing your swatch. While only one rib, two stitches, in four inches doesn’t seem like much, in bulky yarn over enough stitches for an adult sized hat, that equates to adding about two and a half inches to the circumference of the hat. That’s huge!

Ribbed Hat difference with ruler

I know the ruler here only shows one and a quarter inches difference, but you’ve got to multiply that by two since there’s two layers under that ruler. Even if it were only an inch off though, that’d surely be enough for a strong wind to carry your hat away while out walking the dog on a brisk winter day.

What are the things that matter about a pair of needles? Generally the tips and the material. How sharp are the needles? How smooth are they? Do the cables have good flex yet aren’t too soft if they’re circulars? Here’s the needles I used for these hats.

Sharps versus Clover


The taper on the tip is nearly identical between these needles which is why I was willing to give the cheap and most importantly immediately available ones a chance. The metal ones have a slightly sharper tip, but almost imperceptibly so. The big failure here is that the bamboo needles are a little sticky. Not sticky like they were covered in toddler hand goo, but more in that the yarn doesn’t slide freely down the needle. You’ve got to stop and readjust the knitting to move more stitches to the top. The stitches don’t slide over the join from the cable and back up over the needle well either.

So, what are these needles of win and doom that are making and breaking such a hat? Surely one cost four or five times what the other did, right? Not at all actually. At regular prices one is $8.99USD and the other is $11.50USD with the $11.50 ones being the better ones. Of course given that the cheap ones are from a big box shop though, you could use a 40% off coupon on them which is exactly what I did as it was the only thing I was buying at that shop. That drops them down to $5.40 which means the better needles still are less than twice the cost of the bad ones! Here they are, the hat-ruining Clover bamboo needles and the wonderful but harder-to-come-by HiyaHiya Sharps made of stainless steel.

Clover and Sharps

So what are your favorite brands? What needles will you avoid at all costs? Do you have any problems with allergies to knitting needle materials? I adore the Addi needles, but I have trouble with the nickel in them. I’ve tried their brass line as well, but the smell drives me bonkers!

Lastly, keep in mind that yarn can vary in thickness even within the same brand and weight, so when changing between colors, you might want to redo your gauge swatch too, even if you’re using the same needles. Multicolor acrylics are notoriously thinner than their solid counterparts. If anyone knows why this is, I’d love to know!

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Fair Isle Socks

Posted under Knitting, Life, Product Reviews, Techniques 1 Comment

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I bought a kit to make these socks from Knit Picks a while back. The pattern is called Apirka. It’s horrible! It gives a rectangular gauge and fair isle should have a square gauge. As such, the majority of the reviews on Ravelry tell the tale of failed socks that came out more like a mens’ 13 than a women’s medium. Lesson learned: always check ravelry reviews before buying a Knit Picks kit. Ravelry doesn’t screen the pattern notes like I strongly suspect Knit Picks does the user reviews!

I knit up a gauge swatch the very day my kit arrived because I was so excited to have a wonderful colorwork project. Stranded colorwork is my favorite type of knitting and I love Knit Picks’ Palette yarn. It’s one of my two favorites for fine colorwork projects. The runner up is Brown Sheep’s Naturespun yarns.

When I realized that they’d be impossible to knit following that pattern, I put them in a long time out. I was so upset that I’d spent good money on this kit!

Eventually, the county and fair season started to roll around. I’d originally planned these socks to be show pieces for the fair and I’d get them back just in time for the weather to start to turn cool in September when I could wear them all the time. I didn’t want to waste more money on another pattern and more yarn. I really love the snowflake motif and earthy colors in this pattern. So I measured and remeasured my gauge swatch and feet. I ended up completely writing a new pattern with new charts to knit a pair of socks. The colorwork happens to look the same, but I have entirely unique heels and toes on my socks to keep them from being too long and pointy. I also changed the calf shaping in addition to adjusting the charts for the different stitch counts. I also modified it to be a toe-up sock rather than a top-down one so it’d be easy to try on as I went along and to be sure I wouldn’t run out of yarn.

It was the most challenging pattern writing I think I’ve ever done. I’d knit a bit, try them on, and write out the next chunk of pattern. I worked them two-at-a-time using two sets of double-pointed needles. Two-at-a-time with magic loop and stranded knitting just makes too many tangles. Plus, double-pointed needles rock. it did look like I was playing pick up sticks most of the time though.

In the end, my new custom pattern worked out beautifully. These are currently my favorite socks. Because I knit them to my gauge swatch and my foot instead of a pattern, they fit me like a glove.

The socks did get done in time for the county fair and went on to the state fair after that. They won first place for knitted accessory item and reserve champion for the knitting department at the county fair and second place for knitted accessory at the state fair. I’m not too upset they didn’t win champion for knitting at county…another one of my projects took that top honor! More on that tomorrow.


Finished Blanket…Finally!

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In February, I started knitting a baby blanket for my step-dad’s brother’s child who was born later in July. Of course with how hellish things have been for me lately, and a passionate hatred for the yarn mom bought for the project, I didn’t finish until October. Oh well, it’s been mailed off to Japan where it can be enjoyed properly by a sweet looking little girl!

I spent quite a while deciding on the pattern to use for this. I wanted something that felt both American and a bit Japanese, as dad is American and mom is Japanese. I settled on the pattern Feathered Baby Blanket by Kaye Smith, but of course I had to make a few modifications. First off, why feather and fan? When I think knit afghans, I think of a feather and fan pink blanket my grandmother made me when my parent’s got divorced. That blanket just screams comfort to me, even if I’m not a ‘pink’ sort of person. Feather and Fan is a pretty basic traditional afghan pattern in the USA, and when I think of Japan, I think of the beautiful fans I ogled as a kid. Then, knowing how important numbers are in many of the Asian cultures, I used the number 7 everywhere I could throughout the pattern. Each band of feathers and fans have seven repeats. There are also seven repeats across the width of the blanket and seven garter stitch bands going up the blanket.

The pattern itself was a quite easy knit, but the garter stitch rows don’t have any shaping in them and thus tend to pucker a bit as the feathers and fans pull them into waves. If I knit a similar blanket again, I’d write a new pattern that took this into account.

Mom had originally planned on knitting the blanket but became frustrated, so I offered to take over…after she’d already bought the yarn. I HATED this yarn. It’s Kraemer Yarns Tatamy Tweed DK. In general, I don’t like acrylic and just barely tolerate working in cotton. This yarn is an easy care acrylic/cotton blend…and I found it to be horrifically splitty. It seems the cotton and acrylic are made into separate strands and then plyed together rather than mixing up all the fibers before spinning. I think that’s part of what contributes to so much ply splitting while knitting. I even tried several types of knitting needles to combat the splitting and the poor sliding of the yarn on the needles. I used both ChiaoGoo Knit Red and Knitter’s Pride Dreamz circulars. I decided the Knitters Pride Dreamz worked best, but only if the wooden needles were kept freshly oiled.

Keep checking back for more updates on the service dog front and how Sketcher is doing. Things have been VERY crazy here, but we’re making great progress and are over 1/3 of the way there! I”m now hard at work getting thank you notes and donation reward from the GoGetFunding page put together to go out. I’ve been slowed down drastically by how sick Sketcher has been, but I’m starting to make some headway!

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Yard Sales FTW!

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This weekend, I’m not feeling physically up to yard sale shopping, but last weekend, I got up at 8am and went yard sale shopping with my mom. I love hunting for treasures at yard sales! It’s actually easier now than it used to be when I last yard sale shopped much…before the first accident in 2006. Now, more and more sales are posted on Craigslist and the geniuses at have made it super easy to utilize that information! It shows on a map display all the yard sales in your area. You can search items you want, like tools, craft supplies, or toys. You can also click on a pin in the map and see what that yard sale put in their ad. If you like the sale, you can click “add to itinerary.” Once you’ve selected the sales you want to visit, you can send the info the the corresponding android cell phone app to have the map work with your GPS to get you to all your sales! It’s so much better than driving around like a banshee chasing down little, impossible-to-read signs on the side of the road!

On my trip last weekend, mom bought some goodies for the house she and my stepdad are building for me to live in out east, my little farm. We found a beautiful brand new ceiling fan and matching overhead light for the living room, some pendant lights for the office/studio, and even a beautiful faucet for only $10 to put on the studio sink! I’m really looking forward to having the space to launch into Maple Wool Farm full force!

My finds came from a yard sale I’d bookmarked because it said they had a spinning wheel. The spinning wheel was late 1800s/early 1900s ish and as in HORRIBLE condition. It was missing more parts than it still had and the actual wheel part was in multiple pieces. It needed some serious restoration from a woodworker who would know how to do it without the use of modern fasteners to preserve the antique value and look in the wheel. When I asked about it, the guy said it was $100 firm and that it could only go to someone who would love it, not someone who would ruin it by spinning on it! After a bit of discussion, he realized I really knew my shit about spinning wheels and it was clear to me that he picks them up where he can and resells them in town. He asked me what I thought it was worth. My honest answer? $15 because while it is an antique, it’s missing so many parts it doesn’t even really look like a spinning wheel anymore. It’s not been kept up and is in need of massive restoration. Antique kindling isn’t worth more than modern kindling essentially. He got all huffy and told me that just dusting it off would ruin the value because OMG IT’S AN ANTIQUE. Wierdo. In all honesty, it probably wasn’t worth even trying to restore. I wanted it to be  because I’d love a traditional antique wheel (and a fancy pants floor loom for weaving woolen blankets), but it’s not like I’ve even got a place to put, much less use, those just yet.

His wife on the other hand actually wanted to sell craft supplies and had Sterilite drawers full of random craft bits. I found knitting needles. She said they were a dollar a pair and if I found any assorted stuff to just put it in a pile and she’s price it by the lot. Most of the needles were horrible bendy plastic ones that break very easily. Tucked in amongst them in the drawers were a few quality needles.

My yard sale finds

I pulled out a set of size 5 12″ nok Clover straight needles (identical to my favorite Bernat Aero needles), a set of 5 size four 16cm long double points of the same nok Clover brand, a set of 6 double points that upon returning home to measure turned out to be four size 2 and two size 1 16cm double points in nok CLover, and a set of four size 3 25cm long double points to bring me to four dollars for four sets of a needle brand I love and can’t buy new in the US! Seriously, Bernat Aero and it’s doppelgangers are the best needles out there for anything you except socks. I prefer square dpns for socks 🙂 but that’s something else entirely.

The real prize at this sale was the extras I got for a dollar! My assortment pile included a stray nok Clover size 3 12″ straight needles, 34cm long, 4.5mm diameter Tunisian crochet hook in bamboo with the other end functioning as a sharpened knitting needle (talk about dual purpose!), a 6″ Westcott steel ruler with cork back, two stitch holders (like clamps in the garage, you can never have too many), a cable needle, a bent tip tapestry needle, and two steel crochet hooks, 1.50 and 1.80mm. I’m really excited about the little extras. I’ve never used a bent tip tapestry needle and am eager to try it out. I didn’t have either of those sizes in steel crochet hooks, and you just can’t have too many rulers or stitch holders. I know it seems a bit odd to buy a single size 3 straight needle, but these needles are so hard to find that I pick up even singles at yard sales and thrift shops. I’ve actually made several complete usable sets that way!

Time to get back to work here, walk the dogs, make a late breakfast, and the like, but be sure to give a try next weekend to see what kinds of treasures you can find.

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