Many people are intimidated by the concept of using double-pointed needles, since it requires coordination of not two but four (and even five) separate needles. The truth is, once you get the hang of them, DPNs are extremely easy and useful tools.
Why go for DPNs?
Double-pointed needles, or DPNs, are for knitting small circular objects such as socks, hats, and even sweater sleeves. Using DPNs, you can complete the full project — including the most drastic decreases and increases — without having to change needles.
With circular needles, you’re limited by the length of the nylon cord between the two needles. Even the smallest circulars won’t let you decrease beyond a certain number of stitches, while DPNs will.
(The one exception to this is when you use the needles from two separate circulars to complete the narrow points of your project, but you still have to introduce new needles in the process.)
You’ll find DPNs in birch, ebony, rosewood, bamboo, coated aluminum, plastic, and casein. There’s a reason why you won’t find ultra-smooth Addi Turbo-like DPNs.
You need a certain amount of surface friction on your needles to place drag on the yarn and keep stitches secure.
Standard lengths range from 9 to 3 1/2 inches. If you like the feel of full-length needles in your hands, you can use the standard longer needles for even the smallest circular projects.
If you like to be more compact, try the new 5″ DPNs from Brittany. Unless you’re making extremely wide socks, these needles will hold all of your stitches comfortably and eliminate the extra few unnecessary inches you get in the 7″ needles.
Test Before You Buy
A word of warning about any DPNs shorter than 5″. If possible, try holding two needles in your hands and making sure they feel comfortable.
Depending on how large your hand is and the way in which you hold your needles, these ultra-short needles may poke into your palm. I had this problem with a pair of 3 1/2″ ebony DPNs and eventually had to abandon them or face blisters.
There are only a few potential drawbacks to DPNs, most of which can be easily overcome with a little practice. The trickiest part is getting started, since you’ll need to coordinate all your cast-on stitches on multiple needles.
For easy, step-by-step instructions on how to get started, read Getting Started on DPNs.
Avoiding Lousy Ladders
If you knit all your stitches at a consistent tension, you may end up with “ladders” of loose stitches at the juncture of each DPN. These ladders will run the entire length of your work. If you’re knitting socks, you can end up with a ladder of stitches along the entire foot of the sock — not good aesthetically or structurally.
Ladders happen because the gap between each needle loosens the stitches around it. To compensate for this, simply knit the last and first stitch on each needle more tightly. This may sound like a hassle, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find yourself tightening stitches without even thinking about it.
Another way to avoid ladders is to migrate stitches from one needle to another every few rows. This works best once you’ve finished with any increases or decreases. Otherwise, you may be confused by the varying number of stitches on each needle.
Limited Expansion Possibilities
Although DPNs give you infinite decrease possibilities, the same is not true for increases. DPNs can only hold so many stitches before they start to crowd the needles and slide off the ends.
The most common example of this is when using DPNs to knit seamless sweater sleeves (one of my favorite practices). As you make your sleeve increases, you’ll discover that the first and last needles get overcrowded.
To keep from running out of needle space, simply transfer a few stitches from each needle onto the middle needle.
Unlike their fussy circular cousins, DPNs are easy to store. I’d even go so far as to say they’re a pleasure to store, especially the 5″ ones.
You can carry around a full range of sizes in any standard zip-up pen case. To separate each pair, you can use a simple rubber band. If you plan to store them for any period of time undisturbed, however, be sure to use a coated rubber band (like the ones used for pony tails). Otherwise the rubber can deteriorate and damage the needles.
And now, a final piece of advice: DPNs usually come in sets of five. Most people only use four of the five needles, leaving the fifth one tucked away at home somewhere.
Carry this fifth needle with your project wherever you go. You never know when you’ll drop a needle, leave one in a hotel room by mistake, or snap one in half during a long flight. I’ve done all three of these things and lived to regret it.