A needle is the most important tool in the process of hand-knitting. In fact, the use of a needle is inevitable in this process of hand-knitting to produce knitted fabrics. The needle used in knitting is not quite like the small and sharp sewing needle. Most of these knitting needles have a long shaft and a taper at their end. Both, the shaft and the taper play important roles in the knitting process.
The active (unsecured) stitches of the fabric are held together by the shaft. This prevents them from disentangling. The taper is used for forming new stitches.
The size of a knitting needle is determined by its radius, which in turn determines the size of the stitch. The radius affects the length of the yarn loom drawn from the previous stitch. Fine needles are used for making petite stitches, whereas large needles are used for making big stitches. In case of uneven knitting, one can use several types of needles. One can influence the stitch size by wrapping yarn about a single needle for a multiple times. Large needles are used for large-scale projects.
Knitting needles come in several types and sizes. Probably invented in the 19th century, a straight needle is used by a large number of people the world over. This needle is capped at one end with a knob/head and tapers at the other end. It is used widely in the process of knitting two-dimensional fabrics mostly in squares and rectangles. The straight needle is used extensively in domestic knitting. It allows a person to create fabrics using extremely simple stitches.
Another knitting needle called the circular needle has two tapered rigid ends that are connected by a flexible cord. The long flexible cord holds the active stitches, whereas the tapered ends are used for creating new stitches. A short, straight rigid needle tapered at both ends is a popular variety of knitting needle.
Circular knitting (socks, sweaters etc.) whereby a needle with a small radius is essential uses this short type of knitting needle. Another short type of knitting needle is used for forming permutations in the order of stitches in cable knitting.
Different countries use different sizes of knitting needles. They have set their size standards for different types of needles. One can determine the size of a knitting needle with the aid of a needle gauge. Although most needles have their sizes written on them, their size label fades out with the passing time. Needle gauges have holes of different sizes in which a person can insert his knitting needle to determine its size. They are in a size range of 3-5 inches.
Contemporary knitting needles are made from materials like aluminum, steel, wood, bamboo, casein, plastic and glass. Plastic needles have no pointed edges and can be safely used by children. Previously, wood and metals were used for making knitting needles. The beautiful antique needles were created using tortoiseshell, walrus tusks and ivory. But soon they were banned as they made use of endangered species of animals.
A knitting enthusiast can store his needles in several types of needle storages. Straight needles can be stored in attractive cases. Cylindrical containers with padding on their bottoms keep the needle points sharp. Circular needles can be kept dangling on hangers. In case they are coiled tightly, one should soak them in warm water before using them.
Despite the presence of high-tech knitting machines in the markets, many of us still prefer to use the good ‘ol knitting needles. These needles probably won’t ever fail to amuse use and keep us engaged.