Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Some Pointed Thoughts on Knitting Needles


Two days ago I bought the above "grab bags" of knitting needles from Value Village for a total after tax price of $11.28. It was difficult to see exactly what was in the bags while I was at the store, but I could definitely see several sizes of knitting needles that I knew I didn't own in there, and I felt confident I would at least get my money's worth, even if there was nothing more in the bags that I wanted. I bought the bags, brought them home, tore them open with the enthusiasm of a small child opening presents on Christmas morning, and spent a happy evening upgrading my knitting needle collection. 

First I went through the contents of the two bags looking for anything I didn't have. This search netted me a pair of 3.75 mm straights, a pair of 7 mm straights, a pair of 10 mm straights, a set of four 7 mm DPNS, a 7 mm 30" circular, a pair of rubber needle tip guards, and 2 crochet hooks in sizes 2.5 mm and 9 mm. I also found a set of three wool tapestry needles in assorted sizes. I probably already had at least one needle in each of those sizes, but it never hurts to have a few more of those on hand as they tend to break/get lost, so I put them in the plastic needle case in my work basket. At this point I felt justified in my decision to buy the grab bags. Buying all of these items new would have cost quite a bit more than $11.28. 

I was about to bundle up the rest of the needles and put them in the thrift shop donation bag in the hall closet when I remembered that I had some knitting needles that were missing their end knobs, and what a pain it was to have my stitches falling off them mid-project. Perhaps I could replace those pairs with some same size sets from the grab bags.

I fetched my collection of straight knitting needles from the glass vase in the attic, laid them out in order of size on top of my dresser... and started laughing. Seeing all my straight knitting needle collection as a whole made me realize how very dilapidated they were in a way I'd never quite registered before. I did indeed have several needles with their end knobs missing, and there were others that had the size numbers worn off their knobs. I had one pair of 5 mms that was mismatched, with two different style knobs. Quite a few needles were slightly bent. And I'd never even really noticed, because I was too busy knitting.

I began comparing what I had in my existing set to the needles from the grab bags to see what I could upgrade, and in the end, besides the new tools I added to my collection, I must have replaced seven or eight pairs of straights. I replaced all the needles with missing knobs or that had their numbers worn off them, and the mismatched pair. I replaced one pair of plastic needles with a metal pair in the same size. I also replaced a few pairs of knitting needles that were fine but that were of a different make than the rest of my set with others that were Aeros, so that I would have a more matched set (most of my straights are classic gray metal or plastic Aeros with millimeter sizes marked on the end knobs). Most of the bent needles also got replaced along the way.

By the time I was done, I was extra pleased with my purchase. I bought those grab bags with the idea that I'd been adding new sizes to my needle collection, and while I wouldn't have thought it worthwhile to spend money to upgrade my existing needles, it was such a nice bonus to be able to do that too. My set of straights looked much better for it.

Once I was done all with all my sorting and assessing, I updated my knitting needle catalogue to reflect my new acquisitions. Yes, I have an Excel spreadsheet in which I keep track of what knitting needles I have, as well as a second spreadsheet for my sewing thread catalogue. I know that sounds obsessive, but it is such a convenience to be able to see at a glance whether I have the right size straights, DPNs, or circs for a project instead of having to manually go through all my needles in order to find that out. 

I also thought about my needle collection as a whole. What else did I need/want for it? As you can tell from my screencap of my catalogue, I am some needles short of having a truly complete set, mostly with regards to the very small sizes. I'll probably add the missing sizes over time -- or immediately if I should happen to pick a pattern that requires needles I don't have. I have some crappy quality aluminum DPNs I would like to replace, but will probably wait until I have a chance to get a good deal on the new ones. I would definitely like to make a fabric roll-up case for my DPNs, with a specifically labelled pocket for each size, as at present I keep my DPNs bundled together with an elastic, and it's such a pain to have to sift through them with a needle gauge in order to find the size I want. 

While I was updating my knitting needle catalogue, I added a crochet hook section. I crochet very little, and don't have that many hooks, but now that I had eight different sizes on hand instead of only six, it seemed worth it to document what I have for future ease of reference. 

I definitely don't need to upgrade my circulars. Last December when I was faced with the prospect of spending Christmas alone thanks to the pandemic, was shopping on Amazon to cheer myself up, and found that the ChiaoGoo lace set I'd had in my wish list for several years was listed for the lowest price I had ever seen it at... well, those were perfect storm shopping conditions if I ever experienced any. I blew my budget by buying myself a set of ChiaoGoos. Nine months later it still seems too good to be true that I should be so fortunate to have such a fantastic set of tools, and I've used them even more than I expected to.  

This was my old set of circulars, so you can understand why I was so thrilled to get the ChiaoGoo set. The assorted circulars were all very well, but the interchangeable circ kit was a thrift shop Denise set I got years before for $5, and it was such a piece of shit. I had to keep reminding myself that it was better than nothing, because it barely was. The set was partially incomplete and partially broken when I got it, the yarn used to constantly catch on the joins, and the cords and needles weren't at all reliable about staying connected. They used to come apart mid-round and 50 or more of my stitches would slide off the cord. I'd grit my teeth, painstakingly pick up the dropped stitches, and carry on, only to have the same thing happen again five minutes later. I can feel my blood pressure going up just from thinking about it.

I kept two of the old circular needles as they were sizes not included in my ChiaoGoo set, and the rest of my old circs went to a thrift shop, but I was NOT subjecting some other poor knitter to that Satanic torture device disguised as a circular knitting needle set. The Denise set went in the garbage, and I may have murmured a few words in Latin over its treacherously innocuous-looking blue-flowered vinyl case before I put in the bag so that it wouldn't turn up again unexpectedly somewhere in my house, as in those old urban legends about burned Ouija boards or cursed dolls. 

I'm reminded of a few anecdotes I know about people who think they have to have shiny new tools for whatever activity they're taking up. My father is an award-winning woodworker who has lots of woodworking friends, and he told me a story about a lawyer one of his friends knew who had a woodworking shop in his house that was fully stocked with tens of thousands of dollars' worth of top-of-the-line woodworking tools and equipment, all in pristine condition... as a working woodworking shop never is. That lawyer had never used his woodworking tools, hadn't the first idea of how to use them, and wasn't making any effort to learn. They were only there so he could enjoy showing his fantastic woodworking shop to anyone who visited his house. The great irony of this, of course, is that while he wanted to pose as a woodworker with tools he just looked like... a tool. 

Or there's the time in the late nineties a friend of mine, who had just started to play tennis, bought two new good quality tennis rackets for fifty or sixty dollars each, and after we played a game in which she could barely get the ball across the net (not that I could either), told me she wanted to trade her new rackets in for some special high-end tennis rackets that cost $100+ each.

Then there's another story that my aunt, who is a retired Sears sewing machine sales associate, has told about the time a mother and a daughter came into the store to get a sewing machine for the daughter, who was taking courses in fashion design. They bought a lower end machine, and then came back a few weeks later to return it. The daughter hadn't used it, but she was sure she would use a better machine, so the mother bought her a much more expensive machine with more features. A few weeks later they returned the second machine too, because guess what, the daughter hadn't used the higher end sewing machine either.

The over valuing, and over purchasing, of new, top-of-the-line equipment is the mark of a dilettante, while experts and professionals are generally satisfied to have the tools that they need, and will often improvise with what they have rather than go to the expense of buying very specialized tools they will seldom use. No matter how shiny and new tools are or how exciting it is to buy them, they won't do the work for you, nor are they any substitute for taste, skill, experience, or genuine commitment and interest. When it comes to knitting needles, all that really matters is that they're the right size for your gauge, the right type for whatever project you're making, and not total shit as to quality and/or condition. Nice as it was to upgrade my straight knitting needle collection, and as much as I love my ChiaoGoo set, my improved knitting needle collection won't make me a better knitter or turn out better work than my old ones did; they just look nicer, are a little easier, more pleasurable, and more convenient to use, and offer me some more gauge options. I want to replace my cheap coloured aluminum DPNs with better quality sets because I know they'll eventually break or get bent, but for the time being I can do just as good work with them as I could with the best DPNs on the market. 

Unlike that lawyer with his stage set woodworking shop, my father's woodworking shop isn't a sight to impress anyone. He has a motley collection of tools, many of which are decades old and look it, and the dirtiness and disorder of his workshop is such that it has long posed something of an ongoing threat to his and my mother's marital status. But while he does replace broken tools as needed and occasionally treats himself to some new ones, generally he has what he needs to do the work he wants to do, and he turns out woodwork that's beautiful and original and far more of a real accomplishment than any immaculate display of expensive new tools could ever be. 

Tools are nice, but the actual work that you do -- what you learn, what results you can produce -- ultimately matters so much more.   


  1. i can understand your sense of achievement with your needle upgrade. we are sometimes too busy in the virtue of making, to pause and regroup. I have jusy bought myself a brand new pair of pinking shears and didnt realize how happy they would make me ( they work ).

  2. You scored quite the deal there!

    I knew I had the reputation I wanted when my chiropractor gave me a collection of needles he came across while clearing out his mother's house. Of course I'll take them!

  3. The combination of cheap, colored, aluminum DPs and inexpensive acrylic yarn kept me from knitting small items in the round for **years**! Acrylic yarn flies off those aluminum needles like a cat off a hot stove. Once I acquired some wooden DPs, I understood what I had been missing, and once I got to the point where I could afford different types of natural fiber yarns, I understood how important it is to match the needle type to the yarn! You definitely ot a good bargain.

  4. I am in awe of your organization of your supplies. If I could get my act together, that would prevent me from buying yet ANOTHER set of 4.00mm circular needles! I agree with you about the Denise set. I keep mine around solely to act as stitch holders, and even that task is a bit above them sometimes!