Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ode to A Knitting Needle

To be sung to the tune of "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone"

Why don't they make nylon circs any more?
Why don't they make them for me?
With their points so sharp
And their joins so smooth
Why don't they make them for meeeeeeeee?


Last weekend, I lost one of my favorite knitting needles. It was a vintage, turquoise-colored size 6 straight, which is kind of odd since I usually knit everything on circs and love them to death. Nevertheless, this pair of needles was one of my favorites -- they were made of some sort of nylon-ish material (or maybe some sort of coating over metal), but whatever it was, they had just the right amount of grip vs. slide, just the right feel in my hands, they never split my short, they were great.

Losing one has made me think about what I like in a knitting needle, especially since DH asked -- quite reasonably, I might add -- why I didn't just go out and buy another size 6 pair of needles (never mind the 4 or 5 other pairs I already have) and I was forced to explain that I would never be able to find another pair like that pair, and of course I then had to try and quantify why that pair was so darned special.

Here's what I figured out:

Aluminum knitting needles are classic. They take me back to my earliest days of knitting with my mom. They let yarn slide like much so that my knitting often slides right off the ends and onto the floor in a cascade of live stitches and inappropriate language (mine, not the knitting's). They are also cold, and I vaguely worry that one day I'll be knitting with aluminum straights in the car when we'll get in an accident, the airbag will go off and I'll be impaled with my knitting.

Wooden needles are also classic, but in a different sense. If aluminum needles feel nostalgic in a vaguely 50's post-war-era sense, wooden needles hearken all the way back to our ancestors who knitted by candlelight through long, dark winters. Wooden needles are slightly grippy, which is great for working with slippery yarns. Wooden needles also splinter, and I just don't have the patience to break out the sandpaper and wax every time I want to knit.

Bone, shell, tusk and similar needles are impossible to find these days and probably illegal, although I do own two hand-carved bone crochet hooks of such impossibly tiny gauge that I can only imagine pixies used them to make itty-bitty little doilies for faerie tea parties. They are incredibly brittle and delicate and I keep them in a case where I can take them out to look at occasionally but never, ever use them.

Nylon circular needles are, for me, the absolute best knitting needles that money can buy. Circulars in general are far better than straights in my opinion (and yes, I'm sure there are people out there right now who insist straights are far better than circs, to whom I say I've got a stack of straights I'll trade for your circs right now, and we'll both be happy). First of all, it's far easier to knit with circs on a crowded subway than with straights -- I always wind up sticking someone with an errant end of a straight, and let me tell you, the looks people give you after being poked with a knitting needle are never pleasant. And, of course, it's nearly impossible to lose a circular needle or have it accidentally fall out of your knitting -- as Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote, unless you deliberately yank a circular needle out of your knitting, it's pretty much in there to stay. And I've found that nylon circs are the best of the best. The points are nice and sharp, making them ideal for lace work and other patterns involving lots of K2- and K3togs. And the joins...well, there really aren't any joins per se, just a length of nylon that goes from thick and sturdy to thin and flexible, unlike every other kind of circ that has some sort of lump or bump or groove at the join to snag your knitting and make your (ok, MY) life miserable. Nylon circs don't splinter, they don't break if you sit on them, and if I'm ever in a car accident while knitting with them, I figure the worst they'll give me is a minor flesh wound.

Of course, since nylon circs are the ideal knitting needle, they are no longer being manufactured. Anywhere. By anyone. So, short of haunting ebay and snapping up lots of nylon circs whenever I see them, I'm at a loss for finding the knitting needle of my dreams.


What's your favorite kind of knitting needle? Cast your vote in the poll on the sidebar to the right.


Ren said...

i just got my surprise! THANK YOU! it's all so wonderful!!!! i can't wait to decide what to make with all of it!

The Kelly Green Rogue said...

My Bryspuns are by far my favorite. They are plastic, I think. But the DPs are slighyly bendy and I'm told by sock knitters that is a nice trait. The join on the circulars is so smooth and the bendy part of it doesn't get stiff like other hard plastics do, so you're not fighting it. Have I mentioned I love them? :)

Leah said...

I hate to gloat, but I have quite a few circular nylon vintage needles in the shop at the moment. I've not knit with them yet, but I plan to try them out soon and then replace some of the circs in my stash with them if I like them :) Norah Gaughn did an interview in one of the mags and said that she cherishes her Susan Bates vintage circs, of which I have at least one pair still on the card! They don't have the join, which is cool.

If I have some extras, I'll let you know. If you really need them, we can work something out :)

Abigale said...

Have you tried the Bryspuns? I love mine! And I know exactly what you mean about the nylon needles - I don't think I have any left (but there might be a set or 2 hidden away in TOADS) I used to love them!


Bev in TN said...

I too have one, just one, Susan Bates nylon circular needle(size10 1/2) and one Balene circular needle (size 4) and I wouldn't trade them for anything. I totally agree, nylon circulars rock! So why isn't anyone manufacturing them anymore!?! I have to think it is because I like them (sigh). Perhaps we (well, I mean you, since you have a blog. I don't; I only have a blog account so that I can comment on blogger sites) could get up a petition and send it to the manufacturers?