Knitting 101: Tools of the Trade

The tools

The tools

This week has just flown right by! Anyone else having trouble getting it to stay still for a moment? I forgot Tuesday and Wednesday (cat-related mischief), and I nearly forgot today, but I think we’re back on track. Today’s 101 topic covers some of the lovely knitting tools we knitters get to use!

Different Kinds of Needles

Needles come in a variety of materials – bamboo, various woods, acrylic, nickel, etc – and types – straight, circular, and dpns. The kind you use will depend on the project you’re working. For instance, I go to nickel for nearly everything because I like to just slide along, but for hats, I’ve been leaning more toward bamboo or wood because of the grip. The stitches like to hold on better when the needles have that grip, which is also why bamboo or wood needles are often recommended for beginners.

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Straight Needles

When I first learned to knit, it was on straight needles. I think they’re what most people expect when they think knitting needles. Straights are great for knitting flat pieces. I tend to go for the metal ones, if I do pick them.

Circular Needles

I love circular needles. I actually use these almost exclusively for flat knitting lately. The biggest benefit I’ve found is the cable. It takes the weight of whatever I’m knitting off of my wrists. For a scarf, that’s not so bad, but if I do a shawl, I need a little help as the project grows. Another benefit is when I need to pause in the middle of a row or round. All I have to do is pull my needles up and push the knitting down onto the cable. No, or at least limited, fear of stitches falling off in transit.

Circular needles can be used for almost any project. Choose a cable length that is slightly smaller than your project. That allows your stitches to move easily along the cable. This is when I love my interchangeable needles. Inevitably, I pick the wrong length, either way too long or way too short. I thread the new cable through the stitches or attach a temporary, smaller size (for ease) needle to one end of the new cable (with a cable cap on the other end) and slip the stitches over.

You can even use them to knit socks with the magic loop method. This contradicts what I just said about cable length. If you’re using the magic loop method, you want a cable that’s fairly long. This is because you need plenty of room to move your needles. For more information on the magic loop method, check out this video:

 

Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs)

While I love my circular needles, I go for double-pointed needles for most of my smaller-circumference projects like hats or socks. I have a difficult time sometimes with magic loop, and I know that my dpns will always work out.

DPNs can be a bit intimidating at first sight. I work with just 4 dpns at a time, but some people use 5. During one of my early knitting attempts, I decided I’d never do circular knitting because I was so intimidated by all those points. I also didn’t know there was such thing as circs at the time. Now, though, dpns are my first stop.

Cable Needles

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 Ah, cable needles. These oddly shaped contraptions are how you get those intricate looking braids on cable sweaters. I have a love-hate relationship with these needles. I love them because I love the look of cables. I hate them because they slow me down. To cable, you slip a certain number of stitches onto the needle, hold to the front or back (depending on which way the cable is twisting, knit or purl the next stitches on your regular knitting needles, and then knit or purl what’s on the cable needle.

The good news is that if you’re cabling three by threes or less (or more if you’re really good), you don’t need the cable needles. There’s a faster way! Thank goodness, or I’d never make any progress on Ken’s sweater. Here’s how:

Tape Measure

You need a tape measure or at least a ruler when you knit. Trust me. I know, few people like to gauge swatch, but there are certain instances when you just need to suck it up and swatch. Shawls and scarves, not so much, but do you want that hat to fit? Do you want your sweater to fit? In order to do that, you’re going to need to swatch, and you’re going to need a tape measure or ruler to get your proper measurements.

In fact, forget the ruler. Just invest in a tape measure. They’re not terribly expensive, which is good because you’ll want to replace it every few months or year. What? Replace? Yes, but really only if you’re measure the body for sweaters. Why? Because as you measure, over time your tape measure will start to stretch out and you’re measurements will no longer be accurate. If you’re just using it for swatching, you probably don’t need to replace it as often.

Stitch Markers

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 I love stitch markers. I really, truly do. They are god sends, particularly when I’m working on lace, cables, or anything with repeats. Why? Well, let’s say you have a pattern that you repeat 12 times across the row or round. Then you mess up. Do you really want to undo the entire row, or would you rather check each set of repeats and find the problem. Then you just have to go back and fix that area. You can even check as you go along, which is what I do. That way, I know exactly and immediately when I mess up and can fix it right then an there.

There are many different kinds of stitch markers, from locking to decorative. I have two sets, big plastic ones I use for worsted weight on up and small jump rings from my jewelry making days. I like the jump rings, but I can only use them up to size 4 needles because of their circumference. That’s when I switch to the plastic ones. They work.

I will warn you, though. If you’re working on lace or a pattern with a lot of yarnovers right by a stitch marker, the marker might slip under the yarnover and throw off your count. Before you get mad and rip out the whole row, check if the next or previous repeat has too many stitches. Save time and sanity!

Row/Round Counter

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 I love my row counters. I have two clicky ones, one that fits onto a straight needle (actually, I dislike that one because the numbers change themselves), and an app on my phone. Row counters, as the name implies, helps you keep track of what row you’re on. I tend to click the button right when I’ve begun that row, but I know others click right after they’ve finished one. It’s all personal preference.

Blunt Needle (Plastic and Metal)

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 My least favorite part of knitting, other than maybe blocking, is weaving in ends. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to avoid. This is where blunt needles come in. You can get these at nearly any craft store or even Walmart. If you don’t spot them with the knitting supplies, check the plastic canvases or latch-hook area. I know that’s where they are at our Michaels.

In my opinion, blunt needles are easier to use when weaving in ends than crochet hooks. I have an easier time controlling where I’m going. To be fair, I’m also really bad at crochet, so it could just be my poor skills that makes this method easier for me. Anyway, you can get blunt needles in plastic or metal. They’re both about the same cost, so I say just go for metal. Plastic will bend, especially if you’re sewing through tighter fabric.

Crochet Hook

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I prefer blunt needles for weaving in ends or sewing seams, but I prefer crochet hooks for dropped stitches. I have a full set of hooks from a long ago dream to become a crocheter. I still might become one someday with all the gorgeous patterns and fun toys on Ravelry lately. I keep a small hook with every knitting project I work on. I find, rather than catching the dropped stitch with my needle and trying to manipulate all the bars of the ladder the right direction, it’s just easier to grab with a crochet hook and work my way back up. I showed how to use this method in an earlier post, if you’re interested.

These are not the only tools out there. For instance, you’ll need scissors to break the yarn at the end of your project. You may want a stitch holder for when you’re doing sleeves on a baby sweater or arms on a toy (or you can just use scrap yarn if you’re lazy like me). There are also needle point protectors that keep your stitches from sliding off the ends. You can use a swift and a ball winder (both also a couple of my favorite tools) to wind your yarn into center-pull cakes.

Go explore! There are so many great tools out there! These are just the ones I use on a daily basis.

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14 thoughts on “Knitting 101: Tools of the Trade

  1. Great post! Have you tried the Kollage square needles yet? They come in dpns, straights & circulars….so one could actually have a set of square circular needles. 🙂

    I like them–I find they do make my work more even so I don’t have to worry so much about keeping my tension even. And depending on what I’m working on, they do keep my hands from getting cramped. (too big a yarn knit too tight on a small needle, not gonna help, though.)

    My goal this week is to write a blog post comparing the squares to regulars. I’ll send you the link when I get it done if you like.

    • Please do! I tried the square ones at a knitting group meeting and struggled with them. They’re probably like everything else with knitting – awkward at first but second nature after a while.

  2. Great information. I have been scared to use the circular needles, but your statement about how it takes the weight off the wrists might be just what I need for that big blanket that puts my arms to sleep after a couple of rows. Also I have never seen those cable needles, I think I would love them. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. That technique for cables is brilliant! I’d never seen it before, I may do more cableing now. And I love novelty stitch markers, they’re great gifts for knitters, my boyfriend got me some with devil ducks on them and they’re so much fun it’s hard to stay frustrated at a project if I’m using those!

  4. I’m pretty handy with a crochet needle, but I still weave in ends with a blunt needle. I even have a few different sizes to use from fingering to worsted to bulky weight yarns. I usually replace tape measures often just because I lose them, I never knew they stretched out.

  5. I love this. I’m just starting to expand my knitting horizons and I’m quite excited about all the kit – I really want an excuse to buy a pair of circular needles so it’s great to know they can be used for flat knitting too!

  6. Great post. I love having nice tools but I have a blind spot about stitch markers! I agree it’s incredibly useful having stitch markers but I just make my own by trying a loop in a scrap of spare yarn in a contrasting colour.

    But I’m very fussy about my needles. I can hardly bare to use some of the terrible old needles I used when I first started knitting!

  7. Thanks for your great informative post. It will guide me step by step in knitting. Totally love it.
    Benedetta crafty
    (www.benedettacrafty.com)

  8. I feel like cabling without a cable needle is the greatest trick! Ever since I learned to do it, I no longer avoid cables like the plague 🙂

  9. I am not a terribly experienced knitter, but I learnt the hard way to buy only quality circular needles as the bendy bit is less likely to kink and drive you crazy. For the other, straight needles, check out your local op shop (thrift shop) for pre-loved knitting needles at a great price.

  10. This is a great tutorial for those of us who are new to knitting or thinking of getting back into it after years. A few of the things you have listed here are things I didn’t have even when I did knit! Things will be a lot easier for me next time around with this as a shopping list!

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