Lantern Moon Sox Stix
Rosewood, ebony, or blondewood
Jimmy Beans Wool
Lantern Moon has offered double-pointed needles for some time. Made in Vietnam, those needles come in rosewood, ebony, and blondewood, are 7 inches long, and are available in US sizes from 1 to 17. For general-purpose knitting in the round, these needles work very well.
For avid sock knitters, however, that 7-inch length is often a wee bit too long for speedy knitting, especially when working smaller socks. The stitches only occupy three or so inches of space on each needle, leaving the remaining real estate to stick out like several sets of extra oars when not in use.
Why Shorter Needles
Lantern Moon heard sock knitters' pleas and refined its DPN offering to include a line of needles in smaller sizes (US 0 to 5) but without the extra length. Also made in Vietnam, these needles are 5 inches long, just a bit wider than the palm of your hand, making for much more comfortable and speedy sock knitting. (They work beautifully for anything of narrow circumferences, not just socks—but I'm guessing that "Mitten Stix" didn't have the same ring.)
If you've never knit on such short needles before, it can seem a little scary at first. How will the stitches all fit, and what will keep them from sliding off?
But think about it: Your average sock has a circumference of 8 to 10 inches. Over three needles, that's 2.6 to 3.3 inches of stitches on each needle. Over four needles, even less. Plenty of space remains on either side to hold the stitches securely.
Unless you're knitting at a phenomenally loose gauge, once you have the first few rounds done, your sock will hold onto the needles all by itself. The natural grain in the wood adds extra surface friction to hold them in place.
Technically speaking, you could even make these needles shorter and still keep the yarn secure—but, rather like writing with a really short pencil, there's a certain point when the needles will get too short for comfortable knitting. I've tried knitting on 4 inch DPNs and found that my hands kept cramping up. For my relatively small hands, a five-inch DPN fits just right. If you have larger hands, you may need longer needles to get the right angle and hold. The key is to try everything and figure out what works for you personally.
It's In the Bag
Lantern Moon gave Sox Stix a lovely extra touch: Each set of five needles comes in a colorful plaid organza fabric pouch (also made in Vietnam), with each size given its own different color. No, the bag won't protect them from being stepped on, but it will keep them together and protect them from random scuffs and scratches. Plus, they're pretty. Once you're working your sock, you could even use the pouch to hold any accessories for the project—darning needle, thread cutter, stitch markers, cable needle, etc.
The Road Test
I've given these needles a pretty extensive run over the last few months, and I still haven't managed to break one. Mind you, I was reluctant to knit socks on wooden DPNs since the last time I did I snapped one of the needles during a lengthy cross-country flight. I've used bamboo DPNs since then, but not wood.
Ebony is the strongest wood in the trio. It is so dense that it won't even float in water (an FYI for anybody who likes to knit on boats). Ebony has a marvelous smooth hand and substantial, soulful feel. While ebony is known as a pure black wood, it actually can vary in hue. My ebony needles were a deep walnut color. If you tend to hold your needles with a death grip, you'll probably want to stick with ebony just to be safe.
The rosewood needles are less dense than the ebony, but still strong and durable with a lighter weight and cherry-like color. The blondewood needles are the lightest of all, most comparable to birch or pine. (I believe "blondewood" is a hybrid term that describes one or more types of wood—I couldn't find any references to the famous blondewood tree.)
I did my most intense swatching on the blondewood needles to see how they'd fare. I used them for a pair of socks that accompanied me on two cross-country flights, one ferry ride, innumerable long drives, and that even survived a visiting puppy and my 18-month-old nephew. (Yes, I know, I should've finished the socks long ago—but I'll save that story for another time!) My tension tends to get tighter and tighter when I knit on plane rides, but these needles stayed firm and straight—even when the plane I was riding did a surprise touch-and-go landing at Boston's Logan airport.
Tip and taper and the overall feel of needles in your hand are a very personal thing. Your best bet is to go to an LYS that will let you hold the needles and make a decision for yourself. If you can't do this and decide to buy a set anyway, I know they will still come in handy if you start a sock project but find your other needles too slippery, or the point too sharp and snaggy.
When Break-Ups Happen
Even though I didn't manage to break my needles, I'm still aware that making such thin little needles out of wood is risky. Frankly, it's almost crazy for sizes 0 and 1 unless you're an extremely relaxed knitter. They flex naturally when you knit, and I find this too disconcerting in the 0 and 1 sizes—I keep thinking they're on the verge of breaking. Lantern Moon knows that it's a risky proposition. Yet the demand is so high for these tiny sizes that they do the very best they can.
The wood is selected with the greatest of care, but they can't control every grain in every single needle. For this reason, the folks at Lantern Moon maintain a very generous and forgiving support policy. If you break a needle, they'll replace it. Period. You'll find contact information on their Web site.
Size marked on larger needles.
US 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Jimmy Beans Wool