A love letter to sock needles
Probably my all-time favorite thing to knit is socks. I love their portability, their practicality, and the way that no matter how outrageous your sock yarn is, you can make a very wearable garment from them. Case in point:
Yum, socks. Yum, sock yarn.
But knitting with great yarn is only part of the equation. The needles are a big deal too, and the point of this post is to talk a little bit about my preferences and experience with a variety of sock needles. Hopefully some of you can find this helpful in your own knitting ventures! A note: I’m not affiliated with any of the companies or products I’m about to mention, and anything I own I’ve purchased out of my own interest with my own money.
Here’s my (long) roundup of sock needles!
When I first started knitting socks in 2003 (goodness, that long ago?), I did it with big-ish needles and heavy yarn, because it was less intimidating that way. My LYS, A Stitch Above in Providence (long-gone), turned me on to Brittany needles, which were beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, and so my early socks were knit on size 4 Brittany DPNs.
These needles hold a special place in my memory, and are very functional and aesthetically pleasing. The tips are not too sharp but not too blunt, and the surface is just a tiny bit waxy, which gives a nice resistance to a slippery yarn (although possibly annoying if you’re a tight knitter. I’m not).
So, when I wanted to make “real” socks, I turned again to Brittany DPNs, this time in a size 2. And wouldn’t you know it, very soon in, my DPNs started to break. This is how I learned something fundamental about the composition of knitting needles – grain matters. The Brittany needles are made out of a sustainably-harvested birch, chosen for its tensile strength and stability. But, at a small diameter, the fact that it’s a hardwood with a grain means that it has inherent fault lines and is prone to breakage, particularly in conditions of heat and moisture causing swelling/distortion, and applied pressure. Oops, that sounds quite a bit like my knitting experience. Brittany was amazing about sending a replacement free of charge as soon as I contacted them, and these days they include a 6th needle automatically, because they’re not surprised that they break. For me, I decided there had to be a better option. (For the record, this is also the main reason why I don’t recommend people snag the very affordable KnitPicks sock needle set. I have other beef with KP too, but in this case, it’s a simple problem with small diameter wooden needles, and I suggest you avoid the hassle.)
On a trip to Russia, I picked up some random 2.75mm DPNs, which I used to make my Clessidra socks. They’re possibly Pony or Inox, or something like that, a painted aluminum, and about 7.5″ long. Uncomfortable, but they let me make a hat and some socks, so they served their purpose.
My next sock needles were Susan Bates aluminum needles. I was in a big craft store one summer break, and saw that the set ranged from 000-1, and was pretty cheap. To be fair, they’re not bad needles. They bend, as aluminum does, and the smaller gauge needles seem too flimsy for the job, but they work. My biggest complaint was actually the length. They’re 7″ long, which just feels unwieldy in my hands with an average sock on them. They also sort of hurt my hands Fun (gross) fact – one of the size 1s punctured my calf during a car crash in 2009, while I was knitting these Interlocking Leaves socks on a trip to Quebec! Fun times!
I didn’t really like the Susan Bates needles so much, and by that time, I was working part-time at Stitch House, so I had access, and discount, to other varieties of needles. My next choice were the Clover Takumi DPNs, which came in an appealing 5″ length. These became my go-to, and still are in many ways. They are made out of bamboo, which don’t have the same grainline problems that the Brittanys had, but are still warm to the touch and have a nice friction unlike the metal needles. The length fits perfectly in my hands, long enough for the palm of my hand to have some power, but not too long to be awkward. The slight bend they take is nice, although they can indeed break from time to time. Still, much less often than the wooden ones. I now have the Clovers in size 0-2, and tend to reach for these first for socks.
On a whim, I picked up a set of Lantern Moon Sox Stix, which are beautiful. Sadly, one broke (wood! grain!), but customer service was awesome and sent a new one pronto. They are made of rosewood, and are just a delight to work with. Sharp tips, smooth finish, nice feel, and gorgeous to look at. If I were made of money I’d have lots of these, but probably no smaller than a US 2, because of breakage. And I so seldom knit socks on anything larger than a 2. Alas.
During the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl in 2009 I bought a set of 4″ HiyaHiya steel DPNs in size 0. They were so cute! Unfortunately, I realized that 4″ is just too short for the way I knit with DPNs, and the back end of the needle pokes me in the flesh of my palm. I’ve kept them around for glove fingers, but that’s all they’re good for right now it my book, which is too bad, because they’re adorable and nice needles with a good feeling otherwise.
Then, there was Sock Summit, in 2011, and I got a chance to see and try out some needles I’d only heard about – the Signature stilettos, and the Blackthorn Carbon Fiber needles. Swoon. I really loved the Signatures - the feel, the sharp tip, the warm fuzzies you get from a small American company…but I just could not justify the price tag. At $47 for a set of DPNs, I had to pass. The Blackthorns were interesting, though. Carbon fiber meant lightweight, unbreakable, and still warm to the touch unlike metal. Like a high-tech bamboo. I caved in, and when I got home ordered a set of 5″ size 1s, for $35. I wanted to love these needles, and yet… Two issues. First, there was the squeak factor. Knitting with these needles felt unmistakably like writing on a chalkboard, with the way the needle tips rubbed against each other. Not so nice. And also, I’d often get the uncanny feeling that a sliver of carbon fiber had gotten stuck in my hand. It wasn’t visible, but I’d get these red irritated spots and it felt just like a tiny splinter. So, I moved these along to a new home.
I was delighted, then, to discover the new Knitters’ Pride Karbonz needles – carbon fiber, with nickel tips. I’m really happy with them – they’re tough, and light, and pretty. The only thing that bothers me is that they absolutely don’t flex – which isn’t a fault, but more a realization about what I like in a needle. The rigid straightness of the Karbonz is part of what makes them so tough, but I think that my hands prefer a gentle bend after all. So I may be more of a bamboo lover after all. However, if I ever need to knit cables or anything where I’m applying pressure to the needles, the Karbonz are going to be great. And, they were pretty affordable at only $14 for the set.
So that’s a lot about DPNs, but what about Magic Loop? you may ask. Yes, I magic loop, and although I haven’t sought as far and wide for the perfect circular needles, I have some thoughts.
My go-to? Addi lace. For socks, I’ll use a 32″, and I like the Addis because they are sharp and the cords are very flexible. The brassy finish tends to tarnish in my hands a bit, which is a disappointment, but in the interchangeable set (which only goes to size 4, unfortunately), they’ve swapped out a nickel finish.
I don’t particularly like the joins and cords on the Clover circular needles, so I’ve stayed away from them for socks. I find the cables are too rigid and thick for my liking. I have stayed away from small hardwood circulars, like the KnitPicks, because I’m pretty certain they’d break. And KnitPicks and I are in a fight anyway.
After hearing great things about Chiaogoo, I bought a fixed circular (red lace), and honestly didn’t like it as much as I was hoping. The cord is a plastic-coated braided steel, and is more rigid than I’d expected. The whole set is just a bit heavy, although the joins are great and the red cord is very pretty. I got to play around with a Chiaogoo interchangeable set, and I was impressed by the swivel joins, which I imagine are necessary with the rigid cords. I think these would be fun to work with, but probably not the best for magic loop.
I’ve had my eyes on the Dyakcraft Heavy Metals, and am waiting to try them out. They come in sizes 0-3, and are a steel tip with a flexible cord. At $155 for the set, I’m probably not going to get them, considering how much I prefer DPNs for socks, but you never know! I do love that they’re handmade in the US, but to be honest, I’m sure I have all those sizes of circulars somewhere in my house. Maybe someday.
And that’s my roundup of sock needles – for now! Do you have a favorite sock needle to talk about? Something I should really try? Leave a comment!