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How your needles choice can change your knitting

Do you ever have a knitting project where you can’t seem to get the right tension no matter what you do? Or one where it feels like your stitches are dragging? And then there’s the one where you drop stitches, a lot!

The reason may have less to do with your knitting technique and more to do with your choice of needles.

If this sounds like a case of “a bad workman blames their tools”, read on, because it’s much more about matching the right tools to the job.

The needle you choose can have an impact on tension and how you enjoy your project

There are lots of factors that come into the choice of needles for a project:

  • They are the only ones you have in the required size. Some of us have a sizeable (cough) needle collection and others only what they’ve needed so far.

  • Comfort – some of us find one material more comfortable than another to use. You can find needles in range of materials such as metal, wood, bamboo, acrylic or plastic and even carbon fibre and we’ll all have our preferences about what feels best.

  • Knitting style will have an impact on what length and type of needle you choose. People who prefer long needles may choose metal for strength as will some people who work with very fine needles a lot. You only need to look at the double pointed needle versus magic loop versus tiny sock circulars debate about sock knitting to see that our knitting styles and individual hands make a huge difference to what feels good in a needle.

  • What yarn you are using.

It is this last point that we are going focus on in this post. Some needle materials work better with some yarn fibres than others. So, knowing what your yarn and your needles are made of can help you get your desired tension and ensure your stitches move comfortably as you knit.

For example, you may find that you drop stitches more when you knit with a bamboo or silk blend yarn on metal needles. This is because these are slippy yarns moving on a slippery needle surface. This may seem an advantage because your stitches will slip along quickly letting you knit fast. But if the combination of needles and yarn is very slippy, your stitches may fly off your needles faster than you control – hence the dropped stitches.

Or because everything is slipping along so nicely you may find that your stitch loops are slightly larger than usual with the result that your tension is out and your project comes out too big – unless you swatch and spot the problem early, of course. This is because how much the yarn drags on the needle (or not) can make a difference to how tightly the loop of each stitch pulls.

The amount of grip given by your needle and the smoothness of your yarn can effect your tension.

On the other hand, the combination of a sticky yarn, such as a lower twist 100% wool, and grippier needle – wood or bamboo for example – can cause some people to find it difficult to move their stitches along their needles, giving that tight feeling.

To work out what impact your chosen needle material has on your tension with different types of yarn, it can be an interesting experiment to knit tension squares in the same yarn on needles made of different materials to see if your tension is consistent.

You could also try different yarns – cotton, wool, acrylic, etc – on the same type of needles to see what the differences in feel and slip are.

Apart from being an interesting experiment, these swatches will be a useful guide if you have trouble finding the right tension in the future. You will know that a different needle might give you a different result or not. Keep some notes abut what types of yarn and needles you find slippy or grippy.

Even if you are confident in your needle choices, be prepared to try new types from time to time. For example, I like to use wooden needles for most of my projects where I need needles larger than 3mm. Recently I tried some square profile wooden needles and found that I achieve a more even tension in stocking stitch when I use these for DK or aran wool than round wooden needles. Tiny things can make a big difference.

So, don’t toss that project down in disgust. Instead see if you have the right sized needles in a different material and test it on those. It could be the answer.

What are your favourite knitting needles made of? Have you found a needle and yarn combination that jut didn’t work for you? Tell us in the comments.

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