Needles & Hooks, Part 1: Sources

CableKnittingNeedleKnitting needles have certainly evolved over the years. I remember a couple of pairs of circular knitting needles of my mother’s where the cords were actually a thin braided or twisted wires. They had an awful tendency to snag the yarn — even skin if I wasn’t careful.

vintage-boye-circular-knitting-needle-pin-envelopeI am fairly certain modern knitters would eschew these for the modern circulars with flexible, synthetic cables! (Pic source and source)

Hooks seem to have allowed their creators a little more leeway. See, for example, some of the hooks shown on Nancy Nehring’s blog, Lace Buttons. In a word, wow! (Did you notice the one mounted on a porcupine quill?!)

Needles and hooks have been crafted from an array of materials, including bone, steel, wood, tortoiseshell, ivory and walrus tusks. (It is a safe bet that the more “exotic” the source, the less likely they were used by the “common folks!”)

The “right” needle or hook is the one you feel most comfortable with AND get the correct gauge with. Brand of needle can affect your gauge. Further, your choice of hook or needle material may vary with your project. For instance, I like Bryspun’s flexible double point needles for knitting socks, gloves and the like, but they only go down to a US 2. For anything smaller, I use carbon fiber needles. For all other knitting, my favorite go-to needle has long been Addi Turbos – though I have needles from an array of manufacturers. When crocheting, I prefer aluminum hooks. I have an old set of Susan Bates crochet hooks that I have used for years. Your preference may also change over time – as you acquire either new skills or injuries. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, what have been and are needles and hooks made from and what difference does it make?

  • Plastic: A synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, and the like. Plastic needles and hooks are light and more flexible than the wood or metal needles. Many people with hand and wrist issues (e.g., arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome), prefer these. See, e.g., Bryspun’s flexible needles .
  • Casein: A main protein present in milk and (in coagulated form) in cheese; used in processed foods and in adhesives and paints. Like plastic needles, these are lighter and more flexible than their wood or metal counterparts. See, e.g., Australia’s Swallow casein needles.
  • Wooden: Though undoubtedly knitters of yore past crafted needles and hooks from wood, they became repopularized within the last few decades. I remember when Brittany’s wooden (birch) needles and hooks (made in California), became available; LYSs had trouble keeping their shelves stocked with them. Knitters and crocheters love the warmth of the wood and the muted sounds of the clicking needles. Many crafters prefer these needles and hooks because the stitches do not slip so easily, yet that frustrates other knitters and crocheters. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • SignatureNeedlesAluminum: These needles are smooth and fast. Boye (est. 1906) was the first U.S. manufacturer of needles and hooks and has long made aluminum needles. Newer to the scene (est. 2007) is Signature (pic at right from its website) which makes needles from aircraft grade aluminum. Their needles have become very popular. They are also rather pricey – three and four times the cost of their Boye counterparts.
  • Bamboo: Lighter and more flexible than their metal counterparts, bamboo needles and hooks acquire a nice patina from use over time. Clover Takumi’s bamboo needles are easily found in craft shops such as Michael’s and Jo Anne’s. I saw a set of “my” Susan Bates hooks, though they are no longer made in the U.S.
  • glassneedlesGlass: I am not sure who decided to make glass needles and hooks, but I don’t find them comfortable. (I imagine they would make handy weapons, though thankfully I haven’t had occasion to use them as such.) My theory is non-knitters buy them as gifts for their crafting friends. At least that’s how I came to have some. (Pic source)
  • Carbon fiber: Basically very thin strands of carbon (thinner than human hair); they can be twisted together, like yarn; they can be woven together, like cloth; to make it take on a permanent shape, can be laid over a mold, then coated with a stiff resin or plastic. Carbon fiber needles are strong as steel needles but more flexible. Blackthorn was the first manufacturer of these needles.
  • Celluloid: A transparent flammable plastic made in sheets from camphor and nitrocellulose. It was developed in the mid 19th century but discontinued from for making needles and hooks before World War II. Look for them on eBay.
  • Bakelite: A thermosettin phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. Developed early 20th century, it was used to make plastic needles and hooks that you can now find on eBay.

I would encourage you to try as many needles and/or hooks as you have the opportunity to try. Changing to a new type of needle or hook may seem strange at first, but give them more than just a cursory try out. You may end up having a new favorite! As to which are the right ones for you … well, that’s a very individual and personal choice dependent on your both your skills and preferences.

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Needles & Hooks, Part 1: Sources

  1. salpal1 says:

    lol – we can. just experienced gauge frustration on a hat I started this mornign,and was thinking about this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Maybe we can popularize “GTD” (gauge-taking device)?! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. salpal1 says:

    I seem to get all tangled up with dpns, always lose one somehow, and it’s stitches. interesting thought on the “gauge taking device” I will have to pay more attention to always use the same measuring tape. My needle size gizmo is very old – maybe needle sizes have changed since it was made. It was among the many things I inherited from Mom’s cousin. It’s metal (not flimsy plastic) and sturdy, so I haul it everywhere. Maybe there is a blog post in it somewhere… ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. I use circulars for everything except small circular projects – and then I use sets of 5 DPs. When I need a new circular needle (rarely as I have so many!), I turn to the Addi! And re the gauge problems we find from time to time, I sometimes wonder if it’s on the needle side or the gauge taking “device” side!

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  5. For the small circular projects, I am more comfortable using a set of 5 DPs, so I have a box filled with DPs. I have use long used circulars for everything else. Whenever I buy a new circular needle, I buy an Addi. And yes, the sizing inconsistences are strange – though sometimes I wonder if the inconsistency is on the needle size or the gauging instrument!

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  6. salpal1 says:

    I have tried many – worn out several lesser ones (including my bamboo ones) and am now realizing I have an Addi addiction – slowly been acquiring them over the last few years. I am also moving completely away from straights and double points to circular (two of them if necessary for small round work) and so need TWO of every size. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I find that as you say, the sizes are NOT consistent. I have a needle size gauge made by Boye which indicates that my size 2 addi turbo is really a size three. hmmmm guess I really do need to swatch before casting on!

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  7. I tried a fat handled hook once but it didn’t work for me. I keep going back to my old Susan Bates aluminum. Re good from bad knitting needle, whatever one works for you is a good one. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. What an interesting post! I’m still working out knitting needles. For crochet hooks though I like ones with a fat handle, so usually end up with the ones made by Clover. No idea why but they’re not usually sold in shops in the uk, so I have to get them online. Knitting needles have been impulse purchases so far – not quite good enough to tell a good needle from bad.

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  9. Ahhh, we could form a support group for needle-and-hook-aholics. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. I love Addis and have for years, but I don’t have one of the “sets.” I look at my extensive needle collection and can see that I have gone through different stages of what’s my then-current favorite needle. For a while many years ago I loved Inox so I have lots of them too. I too have been in the position of repairing ๐Ÿ™‚ wooden needles. For polishing up wood needles, I have used the thick goo I rub on my loom and spinning wheel to keep the wood protected.

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  11. I bought a Brittany hook because it was so beautiful … but have only used it once to actually crochet. I have used it as a pin in a shawl, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. I have heard that too though have no first-hand knowledge about it. I had a cat, however, who would chew the ends of my wooden needles (she seemed to prefer bamboo) whenever she could.

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  13. I think I have two or three pairs of single points … but I hate to get ride of them “just in case” I need them for something. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. jengolightly says:

    I have an obsessive collection of hooks and needles. I recently found some “Pernella” brand needles, I was dead chuffed. My favourite shawl knitting needles however were a free gift from Hotmail at Canary Wharf….

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  15. Are the Adi’s really worth it? I’ve wanted to try them out, but they are a little cost prohibitive. (As a set). Are the Bryspun’s as slick as aluminums, or do they get sticky with warmth?

    And finally, what may be a silly question: is there anything you can use to polish up a set of wooden needles? I have a few sets, but with boys who sneak Momma’s needles for swords, mine are a bit dented up. My husband has sanded out the points. (They got gouged when they were used for drum sticks). Needless to say, I keep a lot of cheaper needles out, and hide my good ones.

    Thanks much!

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  16. I love the look of the brittany crochet hooks with that swivelly bit on the top. My work requires very small hooks so aluminium or in some cases stainless steel is my choice. I fear I would snap a wooden hook but they are very pretty to look at. perhaps I will try a Brittany one day. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  17. I’ve heard that the casein ones sometimes prove tasty, I wonder if anyone has actually experienced that with children or pets?! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  18. Thank you for all these informative posts. I only use circular needles– I really should give all those old straight ones away! I like either bamboo or the addi-turbos.

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