Choosing Circular Needles for Knitting Socks
I wrote my flat-knitted sock pattern for the ease of knitting, and for the simplicity in knitting socks. One factor that is not "perfect" for me with knitting flat-knitted socks, is using self-striping yarns. When knitting flat, and then sewing seams, these yarns do not have consistent stripes. This led me to loom knitting, which I also love, but I prefer to knit with needles. So, my search began for a sock pattern on circular needles, in order to accommodate self-striping yarns which are so popular today.
There are several patterns available on the market today that are for socks on circular needles. One booklet that is especially useful is the booklet titled "The Magic Loop". This booklet describes the method of using one very long needle, and pulling the excess of the cable, the "loop", out of the stitches. It is a very simple method and seems to me to be "almost perfect". I have read that the method has been used for generations, but I haven't been able to find any vintage patterns describing its use.
I say that I feel it is almost perfect because there are still issues with joining stitches in the round, the "ladders" that can create, and the subsequent line of more loosely-knit stitches this creates down the leg of the sock. Loom knitting with the "e-wrap" method has the same issue.
I am in the process of writing a sock pattern for one circular needle, but if you are researching using circular needle (s) for socks, below are some issues to consider.
First, when I began to look for circular needles that fit what I envisioned as "perfect" for my use, I found that my vintage no-name plastic short-length circular needles may be becoming something of a relic. This isn't entirely the case, but short-length circular needles are not as common as perhaps they used to be. So, before investing my time in a wide search, I made my own.
Above is a photo of my hand-made size 3 circular needle. You can make your own in a pinch too, but I found this was more for teaching me what I want in a needle. I used points from Clover bamboo straight needles, and the "cable" is actually a portion of a spinning wheel belt. With some careful gluing, I managed to make a nice join and this needle works very well with one drawback. The polypropylene of the spinning wheel belt does not allow the stitches to move as smoothly as they should, but it was what I had with the right diameter. For a larger size needle, air line tubing that is generally used for aquariums would work. The needle above is just about 11 inches long tip to tip, with size 3 tips.
What I did find by using this needle, was that it works for what I wanted, a short-length circular needle in a small size.
My favorite circular needles are vintage Boye interchangeable needles. They have the weight in the tip I like, and I like the heavy-duty metal join of these older sets. Tip size is very important in a short-length needle, and when using a 12 inch cable on vintage Boye tips, the needle length is actually 16 inches. So, that left out my vintage Boye needles.
However, when I was looking into The Magic Loop method for making socks, I found Addi Turbo Lace Needles, which really are a very nice needle. They have a nice weight, and the 47 inch length of the cable suits The Magic Loop Method very well. The drawback to these needles is generally the price. They range from $12.00 to $15.00 each at the time of this writing for the longer lengths in the "lace" version. I also felt the cable is a little more delicate than I prefer. They also weren't really what I needed because I was looking for short-length needles.
I did more searching, with a goal in mind that one factor should be that the needle I find is readily available.
Knit Picks has some beautiful needles that I feel appear to be comparable to Addi Turbo Needles, at a much lower price. However, their shortest length is 16 inches. Their company representative replied to my inquiry about shorter lengths by saying that they aren't planned for the future. I do however, still have my eye on their interchangeable set because of the versatility and what looks like high quality.
Eventually, after also looking into Denise Interchangeable Needles, Susan Bates Needles, and even considering trying to use different brand tips and cables to make what I needed, I decided to try what seemed to be the most available short-length needle currently made. Boye Balene II circular needles in an 11 inch length. These truly are lovely needles. I was surprised because "Balene II" is a plastic replacement for real balene, bone and ivory, the materials that are no longer legal to use in manufacturing. I have many vintage bone crochet hooks, and a vintage authentic balene hook, so I assumed the plastic replacement would be very inferior, but it isn't at all. It's a good modern replacement for the real balene. Of course, there had to be a drawback here too - these needles only go down to size 3, and I needed a size 1. So I continued my search.
I have found 9 inch length circular needles that go down to size 0 from size 3, manufactured by a company called HiyaHiya. Their home page states they are two designers who started their company. Their U.S. distributor is The Knitting Zone . I ordered both their bamboo-tipped needles and the stainless steel- tipped needles, and am thrilled with both. I prefer the join and the weight of the stainless steel - in fact, am truly tickled I found just what I wanted in a stainless steel needle.
Below in the photo - Boye Balene II, unmarked imported bamboo needles, and the HiyaHiya brand needles. I found the unmarked bamboo needles in a set of six sizes on Ebay, at a very fair price. I shied away from them at first because they looked like, well, my home-made needle. But that actually is their advantage, because if 9 inch circular needles become more difficult to find, I know I have a set that I can fix or repair myself. They have a firm plastic "tubing"-type cable. They have actually turned out to be the most comfortable to use.
I will be releasing my circular-needle sock pattern very shortly, and now feel I have access to needles. My need was for small size, short-length needles. I hope that my writing this page has given you some tips - which, no pun intended, brings me to the features of a needle. (Simply Art © Simply Basic Socks © Woman's Knitting Pattern For Striped Yarn is now available)
In any length needle, for any pattern, I find that tip length varies greatly. My new HiyaHiya needles have a tip length of 1-7/8 inches - yes, that short. The Balene II needles have a 3 inch tip, and the unmarked bamboo needles have a 2-1/4 inch tip. All three needles work for my need, but the comfort of their use varies. As far as speed and comfort, the HiyaHiya steel needles are by far the fastest, but they are also slippery and care has to be taken so that stitches aren't dropped. The unmarked bamboo needles have the most comfortable tip length. They also have the best "grip" on the stitch - no slipping, , and regular even knitting. The longer 11 inch Balene II needles are as comfortable to use as the unmarked bamboo 9 inch needles, and my knitting rate is about the same between these two. I personally like the 9 inch overall length for fingering weight socks.
Below are examples of two lengths of circular needles. The left needle is a HiyaHiya stainless steel size 1, 9 inch needle, and on the right is a Boye Balene II size 3, 11 inch needle. The sock on the right was started directly on the size 3 needle, without using a smaller size needle for the ribbing, so the ribbing is slightly more loose than I personally prefer. The photo does show that the same number of stitches can be worked on either length needle.
Circular needles are "supposed" to be measured from one tip to another, but as in my vintage Boye needles, I find that isn't always the case.
The next consideration is the join. I prefer that it not only be smooth, but also durable, especially on short-length needles, specifically because of the small size and needed flexibility of the needle.
The size, obviously, needs to coincide with the yarn weight, in order to achieve the proper gauge.
Time - well, this generally refers to how much time we each have to knit how many pairs of socks. The Addi Turbo needles' name expresses the "need for speed" that some manufacturers try to emphasize. Metal needles are in all cases, generally faster than plastic or bamboo, depending on the knitter. And time also may refer to how many socks at a time - such as the new method of knitting two socks at once on long cable needles. That's truly a wonderful thing to be able to do, but personally, not for me. I have time. I am a single-point knitter at heart, and have turned to circular needles because of all that self-striping yarn that looks so wonderful.
If all of this talk about circular knitting on small, almost tiny, needles, has made you dizzy, please see the photo below of my sock looms, a very nice alternative to knitting on short-length circular needles.
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Sock looms - another method of circular knitting. These loom frames came from Decor Accents, and I installed my own pins, preferring the metal pins to their current nylon versions. A very nice company to deal with.
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