Indian Lake Artisans Hexagonal Knitting Needles

Since reading Carson Demers’ book, I’ve had ergonomics on the brain. Which may explain why, at this year’s New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, I was most excited by Indian Lake Artisans, makers of hexagonal knitting needles.

The idea is simple: Round needles have nothing “flat” for the hand to grasp. Like a round pen, the needles can roll around in your hand, putting more stress on your fingers to keep a steady grip.

If you introduce flat areas along the needle shaft—like the three-sided rubber thingy they used to put on pencils when we were kids—the needle is easier to hold and your stitches are steadier and easier to manage. As a bonus, that slight recess where the needle is flat instead of round creates room for your needle tip to slide into even the tightest of stitches.

Just to be clear, these aren’t novelty gimmicks, they’re fully functional knitting needles that happen to be hexagonal instead of round. Their shape gives you more to hold onto, which—depending on how you hold your needles and whether or not your hands tend to cramp or ache after too much knitting—may make your knitting much more comfortable.

In terms of “matching” these to patterns and yarns that call for round needles, there’s nothing to it. The circumference is ultimately very similar; and, since the goal is usually to achieve a desired gauge no matter what the means, the shape of your needle ends up being irrelevant. As long as we swatch (ahem), there should be no problems at all.

The Story of Squares

This isn’t the first instance of a nontraditional-shaped needle. Way back in the stone ages of 2006, the yarn company Kollage introduced square knitting needles. First came wooden single-pointed straights, and then two years later came the aluminum circulars. While they didn’t replace every needle in the world, they definitely gained a following among knitters with hand problems. When Kollage closed, Louet picked up the line. Knitter’s Pride followed suit with its Cubics, and, in January 2017, Knit Picks released its own Foursquare design.

It was a pair of those early square needles that started Indian Lake Artisans‘ Pam Hoffman on a journey. An LYS owner tried to demonstrate how easy the needles were to use, but couldn’t really get the hang of them. Pam left, wondering, if a square needle didn’t quite make sense, what shape would?

At first, she thought of a stop sign. “Here’s a shape that has flat sides in a circle,” she told me, “but maybe the ratio of flat to round was too short to make any significant difference for ease of gripping.” Then her eyes fell on the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil rolling around on her dashboard tray, and her brain clicked. If this had been a movie, she’d stand up and yell, “Eureka!” The date was December 23, 2006.

Pam designed a needle and enlisted the help of her husband Mark Bartholoma to create the prototype. In 2009, she was awarded her first patent, and in 2010, the first Indian Lake Artisans hexagonal needles hit the market.

They began with three-sizes of 14-inch single-points in three different woods. Today, they offer more than 300 variations of needles, from single-pointed straights and DPNs to circulars and interchangeable circulars. You’ll find their needles on the Indian Lake Artisans website as well as through select retailers.

Top: Maple
Middle: Cherry
Bottom: Walnut

The needles come in three different types of wood, each sourced in Michigan and chosen for the strength, density, and surface friction it brings to knitting. Maple is the hardest, smoothest needle. Cherry is a medium-range blend of strength and slight surface friction. Walnut has the softest feel and provides the greatest degree of “grab” to your stitches.

Made in Michigan

Pam is seriously committed to making this business as local as possible. The wood comes from a mill in Highland, their cutting tools from Flint, and the circular connector components from St. Clair. The whimsical-shaped “toppers” for single-pointed straights and interchangeable cords are made in Granville and copper-plated in Warren. The packages are made in Rochester and die cut in Dexter. Even their beeswax has been locally sourced from Benzonia.

The needles themselves are made by Pam and her husband Mark. He does the initial cutting, assembling, and sanding. Pam does the finish sanding and testing. That’s it. They have no crew of minions, no overseas factory, it’s just the two of them doing all the work.

That intensely handmade element comes through in charming little ways that are augmented by the innately variable nature of wood itself. My DPNs, for example, weren’t completely uniform in length.

This small local production, rather than sourcing lower-cost imports at a higher volume, comes at a price. Needles are listed between $30 and $35 per pair.

If you happen to have come into a big inheritance, the interchangeable circular needle sets would be unforgettable. For the rest of us, even a single pair (or two) in your favorite size would be a lovely gift to yourself.

One benefit of everything being made so close to home? You can place custom orders at no extra charge. They offer custom lengths of circular and interchangeable circular cords, from 22 to 100 inches, as well as a variable 4 or 5 inch shaft lengths. DPNs come in shaft lengths of 6 to 8 inches depending on size, but you can also custom order any of them in lengths from 5 to 8 inches.

Reasons to Buy Beyond the Shape?

The key selling point of these needles is that the hexagonal shape puts less stress on your hands, allowing you to knit for longer periods of time. Which is important. But I also found them charming for a few other reasons.

First, the total shaft and connector length on the circulars and interchangeables is slightly shorter than what we see in other sets—about 4 inches on the circulars, 4 3/4 inches on the interchangeables. (By comparison, the regular Lykke interchangeables measure about 5 inches.)

That slightly reduced length gives them a greater feeling of agility in your hands. But if you like longer needles, they do let you custom order circs and interchangeables with longer shafts.

Comparing the taper of Lykke Interchangeables (top) with Indian Lake Artisans interchangeables (bottom)

Second, the taper. It feels different than what I’ve been using in other needles, not stubby but not too lengthy either. It’s rather like what I’d really want to see in…well, here we go again…a pencil. The taper feels just right, and the tip is precise without being snaggy.

Mind the Gap

Tight knitters, these needles will be your new best friend. With the hexagonal shape, each stitch sits on the outer points of the hexagon, slightly away from the needle.

That faint gap between each of the six edges isn’t significant enough to change your stitch appearance in any way, but it does make it much easier to insert your needle tip into your stitch. The gap holds open space so that even unyielding silk can be manipulated comfortably.

Other Details

The size is burnished on the needle, so that it’ll never rub off or snag on your stitches. Size is noted in US and metric. Cords are clear, on the fine side, and pleasantly pliant yet supportive.

The connector on the interchangeables is stainless steel with a screw mechanism made from a high-precision Michigan manufacturer Pam just happened to meet at a family event.

The circular needles have a swivel cord that further eases stress on the hands. That same swivel connection in the interchangeables means a far lower likelihood of twist pressure causing the cable to come unscrewed. Consequently, there’s no need for a key.

The join is smooth and easy, with no real snag or jump. So far I haven’t had a cord come loose.

Join details in the interchangeables (top) and fixed circulars (bottom).

The needles are finished with beeswax. As you use the needle, your hands rub the oil into the wood (and any residual oils on your hands as well), developing a smoother patina over time. The walnut was especially slow at first, but after a few swatches its surface felt just right.

As with any similarly porous material, be careful to avoid using any yarns that may “crock” excess dye onto your hands and needles.

The finials on the single-pointed straights look substantial but add almost zero weight. They’re also offered with a screw tip (called “topper stoppers”) that fits onto interchangeable cords to make them into stitch holders, or to make super long needles. This could be helpful for blankets, where you need a significantly longer bit of needle real estate to hold all those stitches. (My Two Ladies adjustable straight knitting needle system was designed expressly for this purpose.)

A New Paradigm?

What’s the verdict? Should you make a bonfire out of all your old wooden needles and vow only to be hexagonal from now on?

Ultimately it comes down to personal aesthetics, ergonomics, and budget. I would recommend you hit one of the shows where Indian Lakes Artisans is vending and spend a good amount of time trying these for yourself. Let your hands tell you what they think.

For me, the combination of the hexagonal shape and the taper of the tip gave these needles a pencil-like feel that was comfortable and familiar. With all those edges, everything stays in place in your hand. There isn’t nearly the same need to clutch and control, because the needle is doing it for you.

For anyone who loves writing by hand, or who has fond, easy memories of writing with a plain old No. 2 pencil, these needles will instantly feel at home in your hands.

You may find that they revolutionize how knitting feels to you. Or you may say, “Hmm, that’s interesting,” and return to your usual tools. Or you may fall somewhere in between and add a pair or two to your needle collection for a little variety. And as Carson mentioned in his book, variety in our projects and tools is key to a healthy, happy, and long knitting life.

 

 

Where to buy online: Indian Lake Artisans

Source of review needles: Indian Lake Artisans

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Latest comments
  • Thanks for the review. I don’t have ergonomic problems, but I’ll definitely try these needles. Didn’t like Kollage as the edges always felt sharp. But I like the idea of, and still use, Ticonderoga #2 pencils!

  • I bought a set of the Indian Lake Artisans interchangeable needles about 2 years ago and just love them. I have arthritis in my hands and had changed to four sided needles but was looking for interchangeable needles where the join did not always come apart- key or not. I met Pam and Mark at the Michigan Fiber Festival and after a big gulp about the proce, bought them. I have been using them ever since and just love them. I knit a lot so then are getting plenty of use. They are just the right shape for ease of knitting, the joint does not come apart and they work well with a vriety of different yarns. They come in a really handy case made by Pam. I would recommend them to anyone.

  • I’ve been using the circulars for quite a few years now – I didn’t realize they now have interchangeables (and will try to forget that I know!) They are gorgeous needles and Pam is a delight to deal with. I’m lusting after one of their yarn bowls too. I love the shape. Sadly, i often find the hardwood surface is a little too grabby for my impatient soul, but as my hands and I age, I have a feeling comfort will win out over speed.

    If the needles are a bit beyond anyone’s budget, I’ll add that the shawl sticks are a delight, and stay put quite nicely.

  • I tried finding an online source for the Indian Lake Artisans but was unsuccessful. Your link yields a “data error” message. Any suggestions.

    • Susan, try this link: http://indianlakeartisans.com

      .

    • Clara Parkes’s fans crashed our website, YIKES! All the traffic crashed the site. We are working on a solution but in the meantime access will be hit and miss. It’s like the old days, all circuits are busy. Please be patient, we’re not going anywhere. We know you are going to love the needles.

  • I fall into the “Oooo…shiny” category when it comes to craft tools and stationery supplies. At a Vogue Knitting event a few years back, I had a very pleasant chat with Matt and purchased a pair of their (then new) circulars for a learn Continental knitting class since wood is a little more grippy than metal. Boy, were these needles great! I reached gauge within minutes, had no fatigue and by the end of the class, was simply enjoying myself and not thinking about anything but my pattern. Anyone who’s tried them really likes them.

  • Santa brought me a set of the Maple indian Lake Artisian needles last year & i love them. The maple is the sliPpery & not grabby. They are very comfortable & easy on your Hands. Theybwork well with all yarns. Also came in a very pretty red case that is very compact to carry. I tried the other woods & like the maple best to knit faster.
    Give them a try. Youll be glad you did

  • i cannot say enough good things about these needles! i have replaced all my needles with these – ummmmm i might have a small fortune in NEEDLES. i don’t drop stitches like before; my TENSION is more even; no mord joint pains from KNITTING too much

    Mark and pam are wonderful people too. and i learned more about the Michigan SOURCING 😃

  • Great needles! I would like to know where to find the point protectors shown in the photo above..

  • Write your comment here…

  • Thank you everyone for the overwhelming response to Clara’s review. We are happy to meet you all and hear from some old friends. If you were wondering, All the love has overwhelmed and crashed our website. Our tech experts are working on a few things but in the meantime you’ll probably all have to take turns. Like in the old days, “all circuits are busy.” Please be patient, apparently we’ve lit up the sky.

  • sO sorry that the website is down….these sound wonderful!! I hope that I can get my hands on some soon!!!

  • OMG! THESE MAY BE THE NEEDLES OF MY DREAMS. I WAS ONE OF THOSE KIDS THAT HAD TO USE THE PLASTIC HEXAGONAL GRIPPIE THINGS ON PENCILS (WHICH I DIDN’T MIND BECAUSE THEY WERE PLASTIC AND GUMMY AND CAME IN COOL COLORS) AND THAT SHAPE ALWAYS FEELS THE MOST CORRECT TO ME. PLUS SUPPORTING SOME MAKERS WHO ARE MAKING IT HAPPEN? SIGN ME UP!

  • Something is wrong with this site – it converts to all caps?
    Anyhow, I learned to knit on #2 pencils because as a kid, all my friends (who didn’t have knitting needles) were using #2’S AS KNITTING NEEDLES. mY MOM WAS A KNITTER AND WANTED TO USE KNITTING NEEDLES TO TEACH ME. BUT i WAS INSISTENT THAT i HAD TO USE WHAT MY fRIENDS WERE USING! i CAN TELL YOU THAT #2 PENCILS ARE NOT IDEAL FOR KNITTING AS THE YARN VERY QUICKLY GET DIRTY FROM THE GRAPHITE! FORGET ABOUT FROGGING!

    ANYHOW, i AM GLAD THAT KNITTING NEEDLES ARE BEING MADE WITH THAT HEX SHAPE. iT IS VERY ERGONOMIC!

  • thank you clara for always fiNding great prodicts for us to try.

    I learned to knit using Sharpened no. 2 pencils 40+ years ago. So these will have to go in mY arsenal of tools. Ive yet to find a wood needle that i actual like but these sound perfect.

    I use signature Needlesfor my knitting, so these sound very much on the line of the same quality.

    Cant wait to get these and try them out

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