Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lace Needle Review

Long promised, and my last post before heading up to Stitches East, here is my review and comparison of various knitting needles with a particular slant towards lace knitting. There are lots of needle reviews in blogland, so the usual disclaimers apply – this is my opinion, based on my experience (or lack thereof), and my preferences.
IMHO. YMMV. NAYY.

First, here are our contestants from my needle collection (Click photos for a larger version on Flickr):

needle tips

1. Addi Lace
2. KnitPicks Options
3. Aero
4. Addi Turbo
5. Boye (old Wrights)
6. Inox (Silver)
7. Inox (Gray)
8. KnitPicks Harmony
9. Addi Natura
10. Clover Bamboo
11. Jenkins Woodworking
12. Destiny Circular (no photo, to be reviewed at a later date)

All needles are US5/3.75m except the Clover Bamboo which is a US6/4.25mm (the only plain bamboo I had) and the Jenkins which is a US4/3.5mm. All the needles reviewed are circulars, which is my strong preference for lace knitting. Well, I knit pretty much everything I can on circs.

For each needle I’ll describe: material, tips, finish, join, cable, weight, cost, projects I’ve knit with them, and overall impression. The top three things I’m looking for in a lace knitting needle are: a very pointy tip, smooth finish, and smooth join. Pointy tips are essential for making single and double decreases a joy rather than a pain. You don’t want a lot of drag with delicate yarns and open stitch patterns. But neither do you want a needle too slick for the yarn. Needles flying out of the knitting = bad. Gaps, bumps and bends at the joins are to be avoided so your stitches will glide smoothly from cable to needle tip.

Having a flexible cable can make knitting more comfortable too. A quick soak in some hot water will take care of many cable kinks. And if your project has any substance, its weight will eventually solve the cable issue.

needle joins

I don’t mind a needle with a little weight to it. Some knitters have complained that the KnitPicks Options are too heavy. But I have a large hand and the weight gives me more feedback on the needle, and hasn’t bothered me yet.

Now, on to the needles!

METAL:

1. Addi Lace
Clear-coated brass, tapered very pointy tips, smooth finish with a slight grippy feel, smooth straight joins, cables a little stiffer than regular Addis, medium-light weight, fairly expensive. Purchased from Moonrise for $12.

Projects: Mystery Stole in Zephyr laceweight, Forest Canopy Shawl in Handspun BFL fingering weight

These are now my go-to lace needles. The points are very pointy, with a nice taper. The brass finish does discolor a bit with use, but this doesn’t bother me. The finish is very smooth but with just enough drag to it that slick fibers still have a secure feel on the needles. The join is great, but the clear red cable is just a little bit stiff, though not bothersome enough for me to get around to giving it a dip in hot water.

Rating: A+

2. KnitPicks Options
Nickel-plated hollow brass, slightly tapered very pointy tips, slippery but not quite as slippery as Addi Turbos, KnitPicks Classic have a smooth straight join, Options have interchangeable screw-in connectors with smooth straight joins and the ability to change cable lengths or add stoppers, very flexible cables, heavy weight, inexpensive (can be purchased as a complete set or as individual tips and cables). Available only from KnitPicks.

Projects: Argosy Scarf with handspun fingering wt, Hypoteneuse in Silky Wool, swatch for Twinings in handspun Merino/Tencel, early rounds of Sea Fever with Ultra Alpaca.

The Options system, which is also interchangeable with the new Harmony tips, are a good addition to the lace needle collection. The tips are very pointy, to the point (HaHa) of being sharp, though the taper is fairly short. The finish is great for yarns with lots of texture, or silk as it can tend to be a little sticky, but perhaps too slick for fine mohair. Watch out for the heavier needle falling out of the first few stitches of a row if using very fine laceweight. As my MIL used to say, regardless of all that, I do like these needles. They have been perfect for the Silky Wool and for knitting the light worsted weight Ultra Alpaca at a tighter than usual gauge.

Rating: A-

3. Aero
Teflon-finish, moderately tapered and slightly rounded tips, smooth finish but not slippery, slightly angled joins can develop a teeny gap, cables retain curl but can be softened with a brief hot water soak, medium-light weight, moderate price. Only seem to be available from Canada - Ordered from Beehive Wool Shop.

Projects: Mystery Shawl 1 in Silk and Ivory fingering wt, Mystery Shawl 2 in Zephyr laceweight, Mystery Shawl 3 in Anny Blatt Fine Kid, Oriel Lace Stole in Miracle Alpaca/Tencel DK.

Though in close up view, the points on the Aero’s are no pointier than an Addi Turbo, the feel of the needles is better for lace. Perhaps it’s a combination of the not-so-slick finish and a very-slightly longer taper. The angle join can hang up stitches just a little.

Rating: B+

4. Addi Turbo
Nickel plated brass, moderately tapered and slightly rounded tips, very slippery, smooth straight joins, flexible cables, medium weight, expensive. Available from many sources.

Projects: Flower Basket Shawl in Brooks Farm Primero (because I didn’t know any better), Tangled Yoke Cardigan in Classic Elite Wool BamBoo, lots of socks on two circs.

I love the smooth drag-free finish and unless I am using a particularly slippery yarn (say, Kidsilk Haze), Addis are my needle of choice for most projects. However, the rounded tips that make it great for splitty yarns and general knitting, make these less suitable for lace knitting. I knit my first lace shawl with Addi Turbos with extremely slippery black kid mohair! How I managed to keep my sanity I’m not sure. But, I did keep knitting lace!

Rating: C+

5. Boye
Aluminum, blunt taper with moderately pointy tips, smooth finish, slightly angled joins with a bumpy join and stiff cable, lightweight, these were old needles in the stash – price and availability unknown.

Found these in the needle drawer, haven’t knit with them in recent memory, but thought I should compare them in case someone has an old set. The points and finish would be fine for lace. The joins could become annoying, and unless the cable softened it would fight lightweight lace yarn quite a bit.

Rating: C-

6. Inox (Silver)
Nickel-plated ??, moderately tapered and pointy tips, smooth finish but not slippery, smooth straight joins, flexible black cables, lightweight. Price and availability unknown.

This is another needle stash discovery, and they look like an old set of what is now Inox Express. Unlike most Inox needles, the join is straight and it lacks the little pinched spot in the cable common to the Grays. I haven’t knit with these in a while, but think these would be fine for lace.

Rating: A-

7. Inox (Gray)
Teflon-finish, moderately tapered and pointy tips, smooth finish but not slippery, angled joins can develop a teeny gap, cables retain curl but can be softened with a brief hot water soak, medium-light wt, moderate price. Available from many sources.

Projects: I’ve used the smaller Inox grays for socks and miscellaneous projects, but not for lace. These needles are virtually identical to the Aeros, except that the angle of the join is much greater, and they are readily available. Personally, I don’t like the angle. Others like the way the angled needle rests in their hands.

Rating: B+, maybe an A- since they are reasonably priced and easy to find.

WOOD:

8. KnitPicks Harmony
Laminated dyed birch, slightly tapered very pointy tips, smooth finish-slightly grippy, interchangeable with KnitPicks Options (see above), very flexible cables, lightweight, inexpensive (can be purchased as a complete set or as individual tips and cables). Available only from KnitPicks.

Projects: Striped Scarf with border from Weldon’s No. 5 using handspun Merino/Tencel sportweight, swatched Classic Elite Wool BamBoo (a little splitty).

A wood version of the very popular Options needle, with all the positive qualities, but in a lightweight non-slick needle. The colors in person are not nearly as garish as the website would lead you to think. They are however, a little distracting with a dark or highly variegated yarn, making it a little harder to see your stitches on the needle. With a light-colored yarn, it’s not a problem. Though the tips change material from wood to metal at the join, there is no gap and where laceweight will get hung up.

Note: I ordered three sizes of tips and had a problem on the very first use with a split in the lamination on one set. An email to KnitPicks went unanswered, but a quick phone call to Customer Service took care of the problem and they are sending me replacement tips.

Rating: A-

9. Addi Natura
Bamboo, tapered moderately pointy tips, smooth but grippy finish, straight brass join, flexible cable similar to Addi Turbo, lightweight, expensive. Available at some LYS and online.

On an early lace project, I had read about and so tried the Naturas. For a confirmed bamboo needle lover, these would be suitable for lace. Me, I didn’t like the grippy finish or the join. The transition from the bamboo to the brass ferrule has a small depression that caught laceweight yarn constantly, though I think these needles would work much better with a sportweight yarn or heavier.

10. Clover Bamboo
Bamboo, moderately tapered blunt tips, slightly ridged grippy finish, straight joins with a little pinch in the cable, fairly stiff cables, lightweight, moderately expensive. Available at some LYS and online.

Honestly, I would knit lace with these as a last resort. The blunt tips, grippy finish and stiff cables are all great for regular knitting but would make lace knitting a chore. There are many die-hard bamboo needle lovers, and I would suggest the Naturas or Harmony tips over the Clovers.

Rating: D

11. Jenkins Woodworking
Brazilian Rosewood, very long tapered very pointy tips, smooth fine-grain finish, smooth straight join, very thin flexible cable, lightweight, very expensive. Available only from Jenkins Woodworking by special order.

Projects: Secret Stole in silk/cashmere laceweight

These gorgeous, custom-made rosewood needles arrived looking like a piece of fine jewelry. Handmade and signed by Ed Jenkins, these needles are fabulous. The tips have a very long taper that makes double decreases effortless. The points are sharp. While you may want a slightly faster finish for some yarns the fine grain of the rosewood and smooth finish on these is nearly perfect. The cables are very very thin and flexible, great for the lightest of laceweight yarns. These needles were highly recommended by Anne Hanson of Knitspot, and I have to completely agree with her.

Rating: A+

12. Destiny Circular (no photo)
Rosewood and Ebony circulars from Lantern Moon with a silky finish. I don’t own any of these, but will get a photo next time I’m at TNL and add some details later.

So, my top five lace needles are (drumroll please):

needle top five

1. Addi Lace – great overall lace needle, pointy tips, just-right finish, smooth joins, nice cable. And, tied for First Place…..

1. Jenkins Rosewood – a true luxury lace needle, very pointy long-taper tips, beautiful finish, smooth joins, very thin cable.

3. KntiPicks Options – when you want a fast finish with a pointy tip, interchangeable system lets the cable grow with your project.

4. KnitPicks Harmony – the shape of the Options in a lighter, less slick wood tip.

5. Aero or Inox Gray- reasonably priced, readily available needle, great for someone wanting to try lace without spending a lot or having to order needles online, smooth finish, good tips.


Just for grins, many of the needles were still attached to knitting when I took their photos!

needle jumble