All About Socks: Needle Basics

Already on the Socks with Sarah Ravelry thread there has been a fair bit of discussion about method & needle choice for sock knitting. Like everything in knitting, we all have our favorites. There are those who prefer magic loop or two circular needles and there are those who prefer the good ‘ol fashioned double-pointed needles. I… well, I’ll be honest. I like them all. You name it and I’ve tried it — including the famed 2-at-a-time method both on two circs & magic loop. I’m a knitter who enjoys variety, so I like to change things up.

I started many moons ago on bamboo and birch double-pointed needles — they are by far the most conservative option. If you are worried about needles falling out of your stitches or you just like a nice grippy needles, these are the way to go. Bamboo can vary quite a bit as far as how much grip they offer — and remember yarn plays an important role in this equation, too. In my opinion Crystal Palace bamboo are just one step shy of a metal needle. Birch, though, birch is like the velcro of knitting needles. If you are looking for the ultimate in secure double-pointed needles, needles that won’t budget without your express consent, this is the way to go. Brittany is the most readily available birch needle around my area & I actually really love them (they make cable needles that are unbeatable, too). They are earthy to the extreme and all around beautiful needles to boot.

Brittany needles are so pretty!
Brittany needles — delicate & earthy.

From these needles, I went on to learn magic loop. As you well know, magic loop requires one long circular needle. For this purpose I have used Addi Turbos for socks requiring a US 1. I prefer 32″ when knitting one sock in magic loop. While you certainly can use a 24″ & 40″ and many swear by one or the other, personally I find 24″ is uncomfortably short & 40″ is so much cable it gets in my way.  Yes, 32″ is definitely my Goldilocks length when it comes to magic loop for one sock. While I haven’t had the good fortune of trying out Addi’s Sock Rockets, they on my list of needles I really want to take for a spin. I hear rave reviews about them all the time, so one of these days a test drive is definitely in order — I’ll be sure to share what I think when I get there.

While I am a big fan of Addis, for US 2 & higher, I usually use HiyaHiya interchangable needles. I love that you can purchase US2 & US3 interchangable needles tips & cables in this brand. You can certainly just buy the 2 sets of tips and a cable or two. If you already have the small interchangable set though, these extra tips augment  your needle range from US2 all the way up to US8 — all able to use the same cables. For someone like me who uses those 2s and 3s a lot, this is a huge selling point. You can also select tip length– 4″ or 5″, tip shape — sharps or regular, and they even make bamboo sets. They are kind of like choose-your-own-adventure needle!  There are definitely times when I prefer the tip & the ever-so-slightly tackier HiyHiya tip. While it’s true, I could just get the Addi fixed needles in US2 & US3, but I like the flexibility of interchangables — especially when we start talking about this next point.

2-at-a-time.  When knitting socks 2-at-a-time (2aat), I will occasionally use the 2 circular method method if I don’t have a long enough cable to easily use magic loop 2aat. I prefer magic loop simply because I think it is much easier to keep track of where I am and therefore I’m much less likely to make mistakes. For magic loop 2aat I usually opt for a 40″ cable — for me, there is nothing more irritating that having to recover my ‘loop’ because the cable length is too small & I keep pulling it into the sock. This is where — if you are like me and fussy about your tools — the interchangables come in handy. Thanks to these sets, I almost always have the proper 40″ needle available. If I don’t though, I can easily use one 32″ and one 24″ which I usually have around and work my socks on 2circs. Like many of you, I have doubles of a lot of fixed circular needles, so this back-up plan generally saves me a trip to buy another needle.

All this being said, these days I have been rocking the metal double-pointed needles. It’s kind of like I’ve come full circle! I like the speed & lightweight feel of good metal needles. For the most part I have HiyaHiya stainless steel double points that I picked up at my LYS which I really like. At less than $10 a set they are a truly the best bang for your buck I’ve found.

Hiya-Hiya double-pointed needles — They are like to Honda of double-pointed needles. Pretty darn nice for not a lot of money.

For the first pair of socks in the Socks with Sarah KAL, however, I will be test driving my luxury needles.

Signature Needle Arts -- truly a work of art.
Signature Needle Arts — truly a work of art.

I have heard nothing but great things about Signature Needle Arts which is what brought me to splurge on a set at the 2013 Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival — many thanks to Yarns by Design for bringing them to the show!  As I like to support local business when I can, I love that these needles were developed and are manufactured in the USA, about 2hours from my house. These needles are definitely not what I would recommend for a beginning sock knitter, but for the seasoned knitter with a little cash for a special treat… like me, they might be worth the splurge for you. I will definitely let you know what I think shortly after the 15th!

Of course, really lovely luxury wooden needles exist, too. These would be rosewood needles and they are stunning.

Blue Sky Alpacas Rosewood Needles — stunning wood that knits like metal.

These are from Blue Sky Alpacas and I used them throughout the MerryKAL.  They are lovely & they knit with the organic feel of wood but the smooth speed of metal. If you like wooden needles and are looking for a special set, these are definitely a great option.

Now if you have some double pointed needles (or circular, for that matter), you will want to have a method to storing them that goes beyond tossing them in a cup. While a double-pointed needle bouquet may look kind of cool in the moment, you will probably be singing a different tune when it comes time to locate a set. I swear by my della Q cases. I ‘ve had this one for 4 or 5 years and I love it.

Beautiful silk taffeta with a stripe accent — 5years old and it looks brand new!

Inside it’s clearly labeled and made from beautiful chocolate brown silk (there are a bunch of other colors, too). Mostly, what I value is that it’s clearly labeled and easy to fold up and put in my knitting bag. These days I use it mostly for storing my wooden needles.

Love the clear labels & the extra spots for overflow on the right side.

When planning the Socks with Sarah KAL before the Christmas holiday, though, I happened to be browsing needle cases for my mom. It’s kind of a funny story — she had showed up at my house on Thanksgiving ready to start knitting her first sock and when I asked if she had X needle, she held up two zip-lock bags of tangled needles dpns & circs. I almost passed out. When I recovered my breathing, I immediately started seeking a nice needle case for her. Well, you know how it goes, one thing leads to another and while I was looking I found the Lily Solely Socks case.

Again with the gorgeous silk taffeta from dellaQ — I love the stripey interior and the little zipper pouch for extra stitch markers, etc.

Perfect for this KAL.

I tossed it into the cart (if you like to flip-flop between dpns & circs, the Combo Sock Case might better fit your bill). I love this little needle case. It is super small & holds just what I need for socks.

So. Pretty. And. Cute.

It’s true that there are a lot of options when it comes to needles — needle cases, too, for that matter. This post has covered my needle evolution over the years — I’ve tried to be relatively thorough, but some details like needle tip length and cable flexibility I just didn’t dive into today. I don’t want to overwhelm you with all the minute details, but if you have further or more specific questions, please feel free to ask!

Like so many things in knitting, I think the best way to find your favorite is to try them out. I think it’s pretty cool that everyone’s story is a little different — why we use the tools we use, what methods we use, the changes we’ve made throughout the years to how we do things. The tools we use & the reasons we use them are as unique as we are. Be sure to share your stories & preferences on the Socks with Sarah Ravelry thread — your KAL friends want to know what you think!

By the way, there’s still plenty of time to join the Socks with Sarah KAL! Want to know more? Check out this blog post and then pop over to throw your hat in on the Sock with Sarah Ravelry thread. We all look forward to seeing you there!

13 thoughts on “All About Socks: Needle Basics”

      1. Thanks so much! I have worked with 9″ circs, but never 12″ — the needles I’m familiar with a 12″ would be wicked tight on those stitches, but I bet those bent edges totally make the difference. Fab! Thanks for sharing!

        BTW, I totally love picking up the stitches along the heel flap. It’s like my favorite part of the sock. I’m such a loon — I’m pretty much the only person I know who does!

  1. As a dpn user I am always fascinated by the magic loopers and those doing 2AAT, although I will always love working with my trusty dpns the idea of being finished with both socks at once is more than a little appealing. This was a great breakdown of the different types of needles and different ways of using them, wonderful job.

    1. Well, it is really up to you. If you were in a class with me I would say, yes, start on dpns. And if you want to follow me stitch for stitch on the first pattern of the KAL dpns will just be easiest. If you haven’t yet you can read about why I picked the beginner pattern here and why I’m recommending those pesky dpns for those knitting along directly with me. That being said, there are a ton of people active on the KAL thread who swear by magic loop and/or 2circs, so if you want to go that route you can probably get some support there. So… Yes, I recommend dpns, but it’s very much up to you!

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