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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - needles

Today's sockalong post is all about the needles, but before we start I must say thank you so much for all your support - it's great to know so many of you are going to get involved!  Can there ever be too many sock knitters in the world?  I don't think so!

So, on Sunday we talked about the yarn and today we're going to look at what we're going to knit the yarn with.  I'm actually going do this sockalong on three different types of needles, although you only need to pick one!  The reason for this is that if you've looked around at sock knitting on the internet, you'll have seen that some people use DPNs (double pointed needles), others use magic loop using a long circular needle and then there's me with my short circular, and you might even (like I did at first) have wondered which one was the "right" one for socks.   The answer to that is, of course, that there is no "right" needle.  Like so much about knitting, it's all about personal preference - however, if you've never knitted socks before, you might not know which one to choose to begin with and so I thought if we talked about all three it might help with that choice. I'm using my latest sock to demonstrate the needles - don't worry, I haven't started the sockalong without you!

Types of needles for sock knitting

My first few pairs of socks were knitted on DPNs because that's what the pattern told me to do. When I first started knitting socks, I didn't realise there was any other way of knitting them in the round as circular needle cables are long and I had so few stitches to fit around it.  You may have heard knitting with DPNs referred to as "wrestling the hedgehog" and that's not a bad description - to go from two needles to four or five can be quite a challenge!  Having said that, once you get the hang of it, they produce a good sock and some people wouldn't use anything else.  DPNs usually come in a set of five and in various sizes.  My DPNs are 20cm long and you can get them in longer and shorter lengths than that.  It's entirely a matter of preference which length you go for.  Remember that the biggest number of stitches you're going to have on your needles is the cast-on because of the way that I'm going to recommend you do it, so go for a size that you think will accommodate that and still feel comfortable in your hands.

Double pointed needles

I choose to knit on five needles; four to hold the stitches and one to work with.  Some people prefer to knit with four but until you try it out, you won't know!  

Example of knitting on double pointed needles

Next up - my favourite, the short circular.  Why do I like this needle so much?  There are a few reasons: firstly, it sped up my knitting no end and once I'd caught the sock bug and discovered there were so many fabulous sock patterns available, it meant that I could get on with them faster! Secondly, it's only 30cm long including the tips and because it's so small it makes a sock a brilliantly portable project.  There was no danger of me accidentally stabbing anybody with the points or losing a needle in transit.  Like many parents, I have spent a lot of time sitting outside after-school classes or at poolsides and I could have read a book to pass the time, but I found that once I was confident with what I was knitting, it was much easier to keep one eye on what was going on around me.  It's hard to wave at a child swimming past when you're trying to finish reading a paragraph, but you can easily take your hands off your knitting for a minute without losing where you're up to!  

Finally, and perhaps the reason that I like it best; it's a talking point.  Three years ago my Dad had a malignant tumour removed (he's been given the all clear now, thankfully!) and we spent a lot of time in various hospitals waiting to see consultants or for radiotherapy appointments.  My latest sock project went along with me everywhere and it always made me smile to see how people's eyes were drawn to what my hands were doing.  I've had so many conversations with people who remembered how much they had liked to knit once and they really must get out their needles again and I hope that one or two of them did.  Any knitter will tell you that the rhythm of the needles calms the mind and gives you breathing space and if my socks helped someone to rediscover that, then that makes me happy. 

Short circular needle

If you choose to use a short circular, you will still need DPNs.  I cast on with them as I find that trying to cast on with the short circular doesn't work for me.  I think this may be the cast-on that I use as apparently other people don't have any problems, but as this is my sockalong, I'll be showing you what I do! J

You'll also need your DPNs for the heel and for the toes.  Our sock is going to be a top-down, heel flap and gusset sock because that's the one I like to knit (you can check out the pattern here if you want to see it before we start).  The heel flap is knitted on two needles, going back and forth in knit and purl stitches, so I find it easiest to use my circular as a stitch holder and use the DPNs to do this.  You'll also need to change to DPNs for the toes as you decrease too many stitches for them to sit comfortably on the circular.  Don't worry, all will be revealed as we go along!

Example of knitting on short circular needles

Finally, the long circular for using the magic loop method.  I never really liked this method very much until I made my Neat Ripple socks but now it's my second choice after the short circular.  I use an 80cm circular needle and this makes manageable loops on either side of the knitting.  (For those who want to make two-at-a-time socks, you'll need a bigger cable, say 100cm, but I'm not going talk about those during this sockalong.)  Some people find this method much easier because there's more to hold onto than with the short circular. 

Long circular needle for magic loop

It might look a bit confusing at first, but it's really quite simple.  You start off with your stitches split across the two needle tips and a loop in your circular on the left hand side.  All you do for each row across is pull the back needle out far enough to knit the stitches on the front needle, thereby creating a loop on the right hand side.  When you get to the end of your row, you turn your work around and do exactly the same time again.  I like to mark the front of my sock with a safety pin (more attractive markers are available!) so that I always know where I'm up to.  Have a look on YouTube if you need an "in-action" demonstration!

Example of knitting using long circular needle for magic loop

When you get to the heel, there's enough cable for you to leave your stitches on the cable whilst you work back and forth with the needle tips, and there's no need to change to DPNs for the toes as you decrease the stitches; your loop just gets bigger.

Right, so having told you all about the needles, where do you get them from?  Pretty much the same answer as on the yarns post - try your LYS (local yarn shop) first and if they don't stock them, you'll find them online, both in specialist yarn stores and good old Amazon.  In contrast to the yarn post where I suggested that you might not want to buy the most expensive yarn for your first socks, I'm going to say here that it's worth buying a good circular needle rather than the cheapest that you come across.  This is because the more expensive brands have better joins between the cable and the tips, and you want this to be a smooth as possible so that it doesn't snag on your yarn.  Cheap needles are a false economy here as you'll end up getting frustrated and (ahem) throwing your knitting across the room in disgust (not that I would ever do that, of course! J).

Image of join on circular needle

Oh yes, and a word about the size!  I knit on 2.5mm needles and I use 3.0mm for casting on so that my cuff isn't too tight.  The 3.0mm needle is entirely optional; you could cast on over two needles or simply keep your stitches very loose.  Unless you know the tension that you knit to then you will need to check your gauge as it might make a difference to the needle you use, but don't worry if you find this is the case; you can either exchange the needle you bought (most yarn suppliers should do this without a problem) or alter the number of stitches you are using to compensate, but we'll talk about tension later.

You will find that you will need to buy fixed circulars; that is, ones that don't have interchangeable tips (I think this is because the tip size is just too small to accommodate the thread connection between the tip and cable).  My needles are made by the German company Addi, and I use their circular needles in both 30cm and 80cm lengths.  KnitPro also make 80cm needles in their Nova and beautiful wooden Symphonie ranges, but their small circulars are 25cm rather than 30cm.  

Before you buy a short circular, it's worth considering what size of socks you will be making. If you are knitting for small feet, you may well cast on less than 60 stitches and you will find that they become a bit tight on a 30cm needle, so have a look at one of the shorter lengths.

You can find 30cm circulars made by HiyaHiya and ChiaoGoo and I'm sure that there are lots of other makes as well - you'll just need to have a look around but the main thing is that your join is as smooth as it can be.  Hiya Hiya also make 23cm needles, and if you want to try really tiny circulars, Addi and Hiya Hiya make 20cm needles too.

As a final point, I've recently discovered that Addi 30cm circulars no longer have bent tips like mine does in the pictures but instead are straight.  Hiya Hiya are also straight, but ChiaoGoo are bent.  I had to buy a new Addi 30cm needle as I wore mine out and I've found that the straight tips are just as easy to knit with, so don't worry about having to buy one exactly the same as in the pictures.

I've been asked quite a few times now about the difference between all the short circular lengths and whether it matters which one you knit with.  I would say that it doesn't matter, it's all down to personal preference.  You do have to hold the needles slightly differently to how you would hold straight needles, but I find that this actually leads to less strain on my hands.  If you've got a friendly yarn store close by which sells both, you could always ask if you could try them out before you buy, but whichever size you go for, rest assured that the pattern will still work and your sock will still be wonderful!   A word of warning though - don't be tempted to buy a 40cm circular if you can't find a smaller one - it's just too it as a short circular and too small to use magic loop.

There's been a lot of information in this post and I hope it's helped you to make some decisions about the needles you'd like to knit with.  In terms of how many needles you need to buy, here's a quick recap:

DPNs - you can knit a pair of socks with one set of five DPNs
Short circular - as well as the short circular you will also need a set of DPNs for the heel and toes.
Long circular - you can knit a pair of socks with one long circular needle.


Is that everything?  I think so, but as before, feel free to ask questions if you'd like to.  The next sockalong post is going to be about tension swatches and I'll post it on Sunday so that you've got time to have a look around at yarns and needles before we move on.  Looking forward to it! J




These Sockalong tutorials are free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using them and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.
  Thank you! xx


More Sockalong posts:

Sockalong - yarns

Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and stitch calculations

Sockalong - accessories and matching yarn

Sockalong - anatomy of a sock

Sockalong - Week 1 - Cast on, cuff and leg

Sockalong - Week 2 - Heel flap, heel turn and gusset

Sockalong - Week 3 - Foot, toe and grafting the toes

Sockalong basic 4ply sock pattern

Sockalong successes

Facebook Sockalong group for help, advice and encouragement

Ravelry Sockalong group

Paperback and Kindle book version of the Sockalong tutorials

35 comments:

  1. Thanks, that is a comprehensive post about choosing your needles. I am a dpn girl myself but I am intrigued by your short bendy circulars. I have tried to find them online but with no success. Any pointers? Maybe they even come in a wooden version, which is my favourite for any type of knitting needles. I won't join you in the knit-along because I am a bit tired of sock knitting at the moment, after my year of socks but I'll be interested to see how you make yours, it is always great to learn from someone as experienced as you. xx

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    1. If you just search for 30cm circular needles they should come up. Only the ChiaoGoo have bent tips, Addi and Hiya Hiya both have straight tips but they are shorter so I guess it's a matter of preference which one you go for. I haven't tried the straight-tip one yet so it'll be interesting to see what it's like. I had a look around this afternoon and found the needles on Amazon and Ebay as well as a more than a few online yarn stores. I'm very flattered by your kind comment - especially from one who has designed such lovely socks herself on her blog! xx

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  2. Well I am still terrified - but so intrigued - by the knitting of socks, but a lot wiser about needles!! Someday...... xx

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    1. Go on, you know you want to ...! ;-) xx

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  3. Hello Christine, this is a wonderful article you wrote about needles. I have the book for knitting two socks at a time. I've had it for years - maybe I should dust if off and give it a try! My best to you,
    Pat xx

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    1. Thanks, Pat! Yes, why not give two at a time socks a try? It certainly does away with "second sock syndrome"! There's even a method where you knit one sock inside the other though I've never tried it, so be sure to let me know if you do! xx

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  4. I only tried short circulars as I thought they would be easier to get on a plane and now I wouldn't use anything else - love 'em

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    1. Hooray! Another short circular fan! :-) xx

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  5. I use Hiya Hiya but am now unstuck on splitting for the heel. I have done one but forgotten how I did it. I bought some Addi but they don't seem to meet properly. I find it is better to knit the Continental way with hiya Hiya so your fingers don't leave the needles.

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    1. Can you leave your top of the foot stitches on the Hiya Hiya needle and knit the heel with DPNs? That's how I usually do it and it works quite well. If you can get to Black Sheep Wools for Yarn Shop Day on 2 May, you could bring it with you if you've not worked it out by then and I can see if I can help xx

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  6. Good morning. What is the difference in the 30cm and the 23cm needles? Other than one is 12" and one is 9". I ordered the 30cm needles for the sock KAL in May and everyone keeps saying you mean you want the 23cm for socks. Which is best or do they both work about the same? TY

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    1. Hello Alicia! I think it's just a matter of preference - I've only ever used a 12" needle and it's worked very well for my socks up until now. I didn't even know that 9" needles existed when I bought my small circular; I saw the 12" one for sale at a yarn store and was told that it would "revolution-ise" my knitting (ha ha!) and as far as I'm concerned, it has done. I've never tried a 9" needle but have recently ordered one to give it a go, simply so that I can offer a comparison. As far as the finished item will be concerned, it really won't make any difference which size of needle you use; they're both short circulars and the process will be exactly the same. All that I would say which might explain why you’re being advised to go for the smaller length is that my original 12” Addi needle has bent tips, which curve comfortably around the sock. The newer versions of the needle have shorter straight tips and a longer cable, which perhaps some people might find more awkward so a shorter cable length might be more comfortable for them. If you've got a helpful yarn shop nearby which stocks both, they might let you try them out before you start so that you can see which you prefer, but I’ve always found 12” to be a good size for my socks. Hope that helps! xx

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  7. I'm going with the 12" myself. I have 9" on hand but after looking at them I'm giving the 12" a go first. TY

    Alicia

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    1. Great! Generally you find that your preferences develop over a couple of pairs of socks - I like to think this won't be the only pair you'll be making! xx

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  8. I messed up the first comment, so I hope this doesn't post twice. If I use 3.0mm dpns for the cast on and 2.5 circular for the foot, what size dpns do I need for the toe and heel?

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    1. You only use the 3.0mm needles to cast on to help you keep your edge loose. You can use 2.5mm for everything else - you can cast on with 2.5mm as well as long as you're sure that you won't pull your stitches too tight xx

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  9. Christine Dear, Greeting from Socks has been in my head for a while but i was not confident enough to go ahead, hopefully i will be able to knit a pair. I would very much love to have short circular needles like yours if somebody is willing to spare me one, i would be grateful as online shopping is not available in my country. with lots of loves, hugs, kisses

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    1. Hello, thanks for visiting! I'm sure if someone has a spare needle they will be in touch. Do you have something else you can use in the meantime? xx

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  10. Hi - me again. I'm confused already. I've looked at Woolwarehouse and Deramores but the smallest circular needles they have in stock are 40cm. No sign of any 30cm. I've googled 30cm circular needles and checked three sites and all the 2.5mm are out of stock!!! Have they all been bought up by people doing this sock-along??? Ha ha ha. But serious question - would I be OK with some 40cm ones?

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    1. I think there might have been a bit of a rush on 30cm needles as it's been a topic of conversation in the Winwick Mum Sockalong Facebook group today! I've never tried a 40cm needle; my first thoughts would be that it would be just a bit too big although you could try a small magic loop with it, and I have seen someone today using one without magic loop and she said it was fine for her. If you want to use magic loop then go for an 80cm needle as that will give you a nice big loop to work with. It's not essential to have a 30cm circular, it's just my needle of preference but you'll get perfectly good socks using DPNs or magic loop. Hope that helps! xx

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  11. Hi, Did I miss what length DPN to get? Thank you!

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    1. Hi! No, you didn't miss it - I didn't say! The ones that I use are 20cm but others like to use 15cm or even 25cm ones - it's entirely up to you which ones you choose. The biggest number of stitches that you'll have on is when you cast on, after that you'll be dividing the number of stitches by 4 if you're going to knit on DPNs. Hope that helps! xx

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  12. Hello, I'm keen start learning how to knit socks, and am just gathering up my equipment! I just wondered, was there an update on the 12" & 9" short circular needle options? Which one have you personally found better, if you've managed to try both yet? Thank you so much for taking the time to produce all this information :)

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    1. Hi! My favourite is still the 30cm (12") needle, I found that my hands cramped up with the 23cm (9") one and I didn't like it. Having said that, I've recently been using a 25cm needle (that's the KnitPro one) for a pair of socks for my daughter where I've cast on 52 stitches and I can use that one just fine. If you're going to be knitting lots of socks with a cast on of less than 60 stitches then I'd recommend looking at the smaller needle sizes as 30cm is slightly too big for those sized socks, but the ideal would be to try them out at a yarn store if you could as everyone's preference is different. Hope that helps! xx

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  13. Hi.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial. I have just had someHiya Hiya 23 cm circulars delivered and have started on my first sock! It all feels really tiny and fiddly but I rekon I shall get used to it. Did you receive your 23 cm pins? And if so how did you get on with them?

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    1. Hi Lucy, I found the 23cm needle too small for me in the end (I may have used a 30cm for too long!), but I know that there are lots of people who swear by them (lots of them are in the Facebook group and there are regular conversations about this!), particularly those who prefer to knit using the Continental method. All short circulars feel tiny and fiddly in the beginning but it's worth sticking with it for a while longer as it will suddenly click :-) xx

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  14. Recently, I ordered several Hiya-Hiya 12 inch (30 mm) circulars, size 2.5 and 2.75 mm, and all have had bent tips. Got them from Amazon US.

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    1. I didn't know you could still get bent tips, thanks for sharing! xx

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  15. Hi! I am a nervous and reluctant sock knitter--tried once on dpns and made it *almost* all the way through one sock but never finished. I love the idea of using a short circular, so I purchased a 30 cm one from ChiaoGoo. I've cast on my stitches (60 to start and then more in groups of 4), and my needle still seems way too large to accommodate that small number of stitches. I switched from sock yarn to a light DK yarn to see if that helped, and I still couldn't make my ends meet until I had cast on about 80 stitches, which seems way too large. Any suggestions?? Thanks so much for your help!!

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    1. Did you cast your stitches straight onto your short circular, Jessica? I can never get them to join up if I do that (I think it's the type of cast on that I use) which is why I always cast on with DPNs and do a couple of rows first. If you knit off your DPN onto the circular you shouldn't have a problem getting it to join into the round if you follow the instructions in the tutorial. It may seem a bit tight at first (it always is with the rib section) but as long as you have more than 60 stitches it will work xx

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  16. Hi! Have you seen the new "Sock-wonder" circular needles by Addi? They are 25 cm long, and with tips of different lenght. I am really tempted to give them a go :)

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    1. Hi Eliana, thanks for your message. Yes, I tried out a prototype of this needle but it didn't really suit my knitting style so I have stuck with my needles with tips of the same length. I do know that lots of people really like them, though, so do give them a go if you think you will! xx

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  17. Hi, thanks for the wonderful tutorial.Do you block your socks ,mine looks like a very deflated balloon 🤔

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    1. Hi! I'm glad you found the tutorial helpful! I don't block my socks very often unless they're a gift with a lace pattern - I'm not that keen on the way the blockers stretch the cuff. If the socks are for me, I just put them straight on my feet! :-) xx

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