Knitting needles PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 01 November 2008 21:23
Knitting needle
Bamboo knitting needles
Bamboo knitting needles
A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles
A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles

A knitting needle or knitting pin is a tool in hand-knitting to produce knitted fabrics. They generally have a long shaft and taper at their end, but they are not nearly as sharp as sewing needles. Their purpose is two-fold. The long shaft holds the active (unsecured) stitches of the fabric, to prevent them from unravelling, whereas the tapered ends are use to form new stitches. Most commonly, a new stitch is formed by inserting the tapered end through an active stitch, catching a loop (also called a bight) of fresh yarn and drawing it through the stitch; this secures the initial stitch and forms a new active stitch in its place. In specialized forms of knitting, however, the needle may be passed between active stitches being held on another needle, or indeed between/through inactive stitches that have been knit previously.

The size of a needle is described first by its radius, and secondarily by its length. The size of the new stitch is determined in large part by the radius of the knitting needle used to form it, because that affects the length of the yarn-loop drawn through the previous stitch. Thus, large stitches can be made with large needles, whereas fine knitting requires fine needles. In most cases, the knitting needles being used in hand-knitting are of the same radius; however, in uneven knitting, needles of different sizes may be used. A similar effect on stitch size can be obtained, however, by wrapping the yarn multiple times about a single needle. The length of a needle determines how many stitches it can hold at once; for example, very large projects such as a shawl with hundreds of stitches might require a long needle. Various sizing systems for needles are in common use.

Knitting needles come in various types. Perhaps the most common is a pair of long, straight, rigid needles that are capped at one end. A circular needle is another type, in which two tapered rigid ends are connected by a long, flexible cord; the tapered ends are used for creating new stitches, whereas the flexible cord holds the active stitches. A third type is a shorter, straight, rigid needle that is tapered at both ends; such double-pointed needles are usually used in sets of four or five, and most often for circular knitting in which the radius is very small, e.g., sweater sleeves or socks. A fourth type of knitting needle is the very short, double-pointed cable needle, which is used to hold stitches while the order of stitches being knit is permuted in cable knitting.

Contents
  • 1 Overview
  • 2 Types
  • 3 Needle materials
  • 4 Needle storage
  • 5 Needle gauge
  • 6 Needle sizes and conversions

Overview

Knitting needles have also been called knitting sticks, knitting pins, knitting wires, or simply wires or rods (Rutt, 2003). Length and thickness of the needles vary depending on the type of yarn used (e.g., fine or thick) and the type of fabric to be produced (e.g., firm or loose).

The most widely recognized form of knitting needle, probably invented in the mid 19th century, is usually called a straight needle. Straight needles are narrowed nearly to a point at one end and capped at the other with a knob or head (like the head of a straight pin), and are used almost exclusively for knitting flat two-dimensional fabrics like rectangles and squares. The needles are popular because the knob at the end of each needle prevents the stitches from inadvertently falling off the needles. Fictional depictions of knitting in movies, television programs, animation, and comic strips almost always show knitting done on straight needles. Both Wallace and Gromit and Monty Python, for example, show this type of knitting.

Types
Knitting needles in a variety of sizes (US 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15 from the bottom).  The US size 7 and 15 needles are bamboo and wood, respectively, whereas the others are aluminum.  Having a smoother surface, metal needles tend to produce faster knitting but stitches are more likely to slide off by accident.
Knitting needles in a variety of sizes (US 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15 from the bottom). The US size 7 and 15 needles are bamboo and wood, respectively, whereas the others are aluminum. Having a smoother surface, metal needles tend to produce faster knitting but stitches are more likely to slide off by accident.

There are three basic types of knitting needles (also called "knitting pins"). The first and most common type consists of two slender, straight sticks tapered to a point at one end, and with a knob at the other end to prevent stitches from slipping off. Such needles are usually 10-16 inches long but, due to the compressibility of knitted fabrics, may be used to knit pieces significantly wider. The most important property of needles is their diameter, which ranges from below 2 mm to 25 mm (roughly 1 inch). The diameter affects the size of stitches, which affects the gauge of the knitting and the elasticity of the fabric. Thus, a simple way to change gauge is to use different needles, which is the basis of uneven knitting. Although knitting needle diameter is often measured in millimeters, there are several different size systems, particularly those specific to the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan; a conversion table is given at knitting needle. Such knitting needles may be made out of any materials, but the most common materials are metals, wood, bamboo, and plastic. Different materials have different frictions and grip the yarn differently; slick needles such as metallic needles are useful for swift knitting, whereas rougher needles such as bamboo are less prone to dropping stitches. The knitting of new stitches occurs only at the tapered ends, and needles with lighted tips have been sold to allow knitters to knit in the dark.

Double-pointed knitting needles usually come in sets of four (US size 1, on right) or five (US size 8, on left).
Double-pointed knitting needles usually come in sets of four (US size 1, on right) or five (US size 8, on left).

The second type of knitting needles are straight, double-pointed knitting needles (also called "dpns"). Double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends, which allows them to be knit from either end. Dpns are typically used for circular knitting, especially smaller tube-shaped pieces such as sleeves, collars, and socks; usually one needle is active while the others hold the remaining active stitches. Dpns are somewhat shorter (typically 7 inches) and are usually sold in sets of four or five.

Circular knitting needles in three different lengths and sizes.  The tips of the outermost, longest one is US size 5 and chrome-plated for speed, whereas the innermost tips are wood and US size 15; the middle red metal tips are US size 9.
Circular knitting needles in three different lengths and sizes. The tips of the outermost, longest one is US size 5 and chrome-plated for speed, whereas the innermost tips are wood and US size 15; the middle red metal tips are US size 9.

Cable needles are a special case of dpns, although they usually are not straight, but dimpled in the middle. Cable needles are typically very short (a few inches), and are used to hold stitches temporarily while others are being knitted. Cable patterns are made by permuting the order of stitches; although one or two stitches may be held by hand or knit out of order, cables of three or more generally require a cable needle.

The third needle type consists of circular needles, which are long, flexible double-pointed needles. The two tapered ends (typically 5 inches (130 mm) long) are rigid and straight, allowing for easy knitting; however, the two ends are connected by a flexible strand (usually nylon) that allows the two ends to be brought together. Circular needles are typically 24-60 inches long, and are usually used singly or in pairs; again, the width of the knitted piece may be significantly longer than the length of the circular needle. Special kits are available that allow circular needles of various lengths and diameters to be made as needed; rigid ends of various diameters may be screwed into strands of various lengths. The ability to work from either end of one needle is convenient in several types of knitting, such as slip-stitch versions of double knitting. Circular needles may be used for flat or circular knitting.

The oldest known knitting needles, still very much in use, are double-pointed needles. They are generally used to form tubular fabrics such as socks and the bodies or sleeves of sweaters. As the name implies, double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends nearly to points. They are normally used in sets of four or five as depicted in a number of 14th century oil paintings, typically called Knitting Madonnas, depicting Mary knitting with double-pointed needles (Rutt, 2003). Typical 21st century double-pointed needles range from about 4 to 15 inches in length. Shorter needles are used for knitting socks and the fingers of gloves. Longer needles are used for nearly all other work, including sweaters, shawls and blankets.

Interchangeable circular knitting needle system

Interchangeable circular knitting needle system

Both tubular and flat knitting is also done on circular needles, today consisting of two pointed needles joined together by a flexible wire or length of nylon. Some manufacturers sell the two needles and the joining length of nylon separately. Different authorities, however, disagree on whether the needles should be thought of as a single needle or pair. Mary Thomas (1938) and June Hemmons Hiatt (1988) both imply that a circular needle (note the singular) consists of a pair needles (note the plural). Richard Rutt (2003), however, calls a circular needle (note the singular) a double-pointed needle (singular again), and so considers it a single needle. In any case, the two ends are used exactly like two needles, in the sense that the knitter holds one in each hand and knits as if having two. The advantages of using circular needles are that the weight of the fabric is more evenly distributed and therefore, less taxing on the arms and wrists of the knitter, and also that there is more maneuverability of the fabric and needles without fear of the stitches falling off the needles, an occasional occurrence when using double-pointed needles. A technique that has become popular for knitting tubes is using two circular needles, instead of four or five double-pointed needles. This technique has been evolved further, and now, many people knit two socks, sleeves, or matching items at the same time on circular needles. It is said that this technique helps alleviate difficulties when duplicating the second of a matching pair of items. Cable needles are used in conjunction with straight and circular needles to create cables.

Needle materials

In addition to common wood and metal needles, antique knitting needles were sometimes made from tortoiseshell, ivory and walrus tusks; these materials are now banned due to their impact on endangered species, and needles made from them are virtually impossible to find.

Modern knitting needles are made of bamboo, aluminum, steel, wood, plastic, glass and casein.

Needle storage
Knitting needle case for straight needles
Knitting needle case for straight needles

A tall, cylindrical container with padding on the bottom to keep the points sharp can store straight needles neatly. Fabric or plastic cases similar to cosmetic bags or a chef's knife bag allow straight needles to be stored together but separate, rolled up to maximize space. Circular needles can also be stored this way but are better kept dangling on a hanger device so the cables do not get wound up. If nylon or plastic circular needles are coiled tightly when in storage, it may be necessary to soak them in hot water for a few minutes to get them to uncoil and relax for ease of use.

Needle gauge

A needle gauge makes it possible to determine the size of a knitting needle. Some may also be used to gauge the size of crochet hooks. Most needles come with the size written on the them, but with use and time, the label often wears off, and many needles (like double-pointed needles) tend not to be labeled.

Needle gauges can be made of any material, but are often made of metal and plastic. They tend to be about 3 by 5 inches. There are holes of various sizes through which the needles are passed to determine which hole they fit best, and often a ruler along the edge for determining the gauge of a sample.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 28 June 2009 12:55