This month I’m thinking about the very basics of knitting and crochet. No, it’s not the yarn this time, but those humble sticks we use to push, pull, loop and twist that yarn into fabulous fabric. I’ve got to admit, I have quite a collection of needles and hooks going, and am gradually replacing my older ones with fancier modern alternatives as I get the chance. Here then, is my quick and very subjective history of needles and hooks:
Knitting needles have changed. I remember my gran knitting when I was a child, and the soft clicking of the metal needles against each other. They were always metal, always grey, and didn’t seem to get any thicker than about 5mm. The same went for crochet hooks. Okay, you could find plastic ones sometimes as well, but for some bizarre reason the manufacturers thought they would be best in grey too. I have a selection of my gran’s metal knitting needles in my collection, along with a set of grey steel crochet hooks and a fair few of those dull grey plastic ones. They form the early core of my hook and needle collection, and I’m strangely sentimental about them despite finding them rather ugly and in the case of steel, unpleasantly cold to hold.
Then, about ten years ago something started happening. The plastic started getting funky. This was around the time I picked up crochet again and I was overwhelmed by the choice of hooks. I bought a set of clear plastic coloured ones in sizes up to… wait for it… a whole 10mm! Wow! I even found ones with glitter in that made me insanely happy to use. Yes, I really am that easily pleased by sparkly trinkets.
But that wasn’t the end of this explosion of consumer choice in craft tools. There were other, traditional materials still waiting to be explored. Wood and bamboo came onto the market and with hefty price tags attached. I have to admit, I was drawn to the natural materials from the outset. Not only do they look warm, but they feel warm and they don’t make that annoying “tic-tic-tic” sound when you’re knitting. Even better, the stitches are far less likely to slip off a wood or bamboo needle than a slippery steel one. I am now a devotee of fancy turned wooden hooks and needles, and one of these days plan to replace all of mine with the gorgeous birch ones from Brittany.
There is one major disadvantage, though: wooden needles snap far too easily when you sit on them and I’ve had to repair quite a few of my finer ones. It’s also not a suitable material for really fine crochet hooks, where you end up having to go for steel again. Fortunately, I’ve now found a more comfortable compromise: crochet hooks with a plastic and rubber grippy handle and a metal shaft. After my initial qualms (looks more like something you’d find in a tool box than a craft kit) I was converted. What makes these hooks particularly suitable for me is that the hook end is tapered rather than inline, which I find much easier to work with. For an explanation of why that’s so important, check out this excellent illustrated post explaining all about what to look for when choosing from different hooks.
I used to think that when it came to circular knitting needles, I’d have to go with plastic or metal. Fortunately that’s no longer the case and I’m now the proud owner of a set of beautiful coloured wooden Symfonie KnitPro needles. Better yet, they’re interchangeable! Now I need to learn how the use the things, as I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never dared use them before. It can’t be that hard, though, right? After all, I can knit socks on double-pointed needles.
Yes, these days there’s almost too much choice when it comes to hooks and needles. Metal ones are now available in a rainbow of colours, as well as with lots of different types of easy-grip handles. Plastic is brighter than ever, and even the wooden ones are starting to appear in all manner of colours. KnitPro do all different kinds of needles and hooks in their trademark rainbow striped wood, or if you want something unique you can even buy ones direct from artisan woodcarvers who will make them in the wood of your choice.
Of course, all these funky tools cost money, but if that’s an issue you can make your own knitting needles with absolutely minimal woodworking skills. Children in Steiner Waldorf schools make their first needles when they learn to knit. Apparently they just use a pencil sharpener on a piece of wooden dowelling then sand off the end. The cap end is made of a lump of beeswax, but it would be easy enough to glue on something more appealing like a brightly coloured bead. You could even make your own custom end caps using polymer clay.
There really is no excuse to stick with the boring grey hooks and needles!
Anyone else out there a helpless addict when it comes to funky hooks and needles, or do you not care what they look like so long as they do the job? What’s your favourite material for knitting needles and/or crochet hooks, and why?
Josephine Myles first learnt to crochet when she was eighteen. After making one beret that turned into a teacosy and frustrated at the crappy choice of yarn in her local shops, she decided the craft just wasn’t for her. Fast forward ten years, and having a bun in the oven prompted Jo to pick up her hook again to crochet some teeny-tiny baby things. Fortunately, by this time the world had caught up with her and there were all kinds of sexy yarns out there to indulge in. A few years later she taught herself knitting and dressmaking, and she hasn’t looked back since.
When she’s not busy with yarn or sewing machine, Jo can be found with her head in a book, pottering in the garden or running around after her daughter. She should probably get back to writing the steamy manlove novels, shouldn’t she?
Jo’s website and blog: http://josephinemyles.com/
Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/josephine.myles.authorpage
Ravelry profile: http://www.ravelry.com/people/Anna-Jo
All photographs either the author’s own, or manufacturer’s publicity shots.