Needle Notes:
Straight Single-Pointed Needles

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Straight needles are the knitter's equivalent of a Number 2 pencil. Many of us took our first steps with straights, while others who've lived a totally circular existence are just now discovering the usefulness of these simple tools.

Innumerable Incarnations

Single-pointed straight needles are used for knitting back and forth on a flat piece. They are available in every imaginable size, from the piercingly thin to the comically huge. You'll find them in a variety of materials, including bamboo, birch, plastic, aluminum, walnut, ebony, and stainless steel.

To read more about the potential benefits and drawbacks of each material, click here.

Going to Great Lengths

Standard needle lengths range from 10 to 16 inches, although you'll be able to find shorter needles in "learn-to-knit" kits for children. For small projects such as scarves or other narrower blocks of fabric, 10-inch needles are perfect.

If you're working on a larger item -- components for an adult-sized sweater, for example -- you'll need the extra few inches that 16-inch needles offer. Pieces will still be scrunched up, but you'll have more breathing room and less chance of stitches falling off your needles.

Why They're Useful

Straight needles are available everywhere, even at well-stocked hardware stores. They can be the least-expensive needles you'll ever buy. And, because their straightforward structure is easily manufactured in wood, you can find truly exquisite, handcrafted straight needles in all sorts of woods, from birch to ebony, rosewood, and walnut.

Smooth Action

Unlike circulars, straight needles have one consistent surface. This makes sliding stitches to and fro almost effortless. There's no struggle to squeeze the stitches from needle to nylon filament and back again, as there is with circulars.

It Dices... It Slices...

Straight needles serve other, non-knitterly purposes as well. Nothing beats a beautiful bouquet of needles in your favorite vase on a table.

Old aluminum needles are perfect tools for planting seeds, securing your tresses in a bun, creating decorative designs on cake frosting... and the list goes on. Plus, nothing intimidates a potential assailant quite like a quickly drawn pair of extra-sharp 2mm needles!

Now, the Drawbacks

If straight needles are so great, why doesn't everybody use them? As with everything, straight needles do have their drawbacks.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

For starters, straight needles -- especially the longer ones -- protrude from either side of you like a pair of oars. This makes it difficult to knit comfortably in confined spaces.

Many a knitter has used this to her advantage, inspiring seatmates to relocate by whipping out their 14-inch needles and clacking away.

No Going Incognito

Because you're working with two separate needles, it's easier to drop one of them by mistake when you've finished a row and are turning your work around. If you're on a crowded airplane, bus, or subway, retrieving dropped needles can be a challenge.

And if you're trying to knit furtively in public, nothing stops a performance quite like the loud clanging of a dropped needle.

Stiff Workout

With circulars, the bulk of your work will be on the nylon filament, which can rest comfortably on your lap while you work only the stitches on the needles. Straight needles hold all the stitches, which means you'll be lifting a heavier weight while you work.

Depending on how wide a piece you're knitting, and how bulky the yarn, this can get heavy quite quickly. Some people find that this added weight causes wrist soreness and fatigue.

Know Your Options

Now that you know more about straight needles, let's take a look at some of the most popular needles on the market. This list is by no means exhaustive, so don't fret if your favorite needle type isn't on the list. Just let me know and I'll add it!

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Previous Reader Comments

"I think the argument that circulars take the weight off your knitting is really not true. The only time the weight is off the needles on circulars is when it can rest in your lap. If it's long enough for that, it would also be in your lap on straights. Old time knitters often pinned their knitting to their garments, taking the weight off in the days before circulars. And many straight needles users tuck the left needle under the arm, which also helps. Don't forget that you can also knit circular items on straights, using the double knitting technique." teripittman, 11/28/01

"The first time I used circular needles was to make a knit-down-from-the-top sweater for my husband. Being a straight needle devotee, it took some time to get used to, but the sweater knit up faster than any other I've made. And the best part -- no making up of the sweater! But I still love my Boye aluminum straight needles with the paint worn off the tips from all the use!" sgilreath, 8/24/01

"On Needles... my local yarn shop is very pro-swallow casein, but I have never tried them. I have tried Brittany wood needles, which I ADORE, and Crystal Palace bamboo, which I did NOT like as much. I love the speed of the INOX and the Susan Bates Quicksilver. One note of advice: Some needles, such as the Quicksilver, may have a thin coating on the needles which drags a bit at first. Use any new needle for at least two hours before making a decision on it. Once that film is gone, they are a delight!" joygetha, 4/18/01

"You forgot the #1 use for single point needles: Back scratcher!" cputnam, 4/16/01

"I love straight needles!! I learned on straight needles and as soon as I tried a circular needle I hated it (I still use them for necklines, etc though). I just finished my first pair of socks and I have decided I love knitting in the round with dp needles. All and all I still prefer projects on straight needles. My favorites are made of smooth." lazylitn, 4/16/01

"To keep my collection of straight needles handy and easy to find, and to control my collection of spools of sewing thread, I thread various spools of one color family on my straight needles. The needles stay handy, I can easily tell what size I'm looking for, and if I need them I only have a few spools of thread to remove. This also corrals my collection of thread spools." mbritton60, 4/16/01

"I know that many people claim that circular needles take the weight of your knitting off your hands and wrists but I find the opposite to be true for me. Also knitting back and forth as opposed to knitting in a circle gives a brief pause as you turn the work, which I find helps relax my wrists. Changing from knitting to purling changes the action I am performing just slightly enough to help prevent repeptitive movement injuries. My favorite needles are Boye aluminum as they have a sharper point than many other brands, which is vital for me in the complicated cable work i enjoy. (It's just about impossible to knit 5 or 7 sts together with a blunt tip.) Boye needles also have a good, consistant surface, which makes sliding sts easy to do. I find that any needle I use warms to the touch just from the warmth of your hand as you knit and these needles do not split at the tip or warp easily like wood & bamboo, break from the weight of a heavy aran sweater, or separate at the join like circulars. Maybe because I knit continental style & pick the sts, I have never found them noisy." milan, 4/16/01

"Since I have carpal tunnel syndrome, I don't do too many large projects, so I concentrate on small projects with short straight needles such as dishcloths and doll clothes. That way I still get to do my favorite thing on a smaller scale. It doesn't matter what the project is as long as I get to stitch away!!!" jesse89, 4/16/01

"I know, many just love the circular needles, but anytime there is a possibility to use straight ones, I go for it. I learned to knit when I was only four years old. One needle under my right armhole and the other in my left hand which moves freely. I knit very fast. The only time I will use a circular needle is when I do 2-color knitting and like to see what I'm knitting on the right side. Of course, then the problem comes in that I have to cut my knitting." eliwilsch, 4/15/01

"Your discussion of straight needles was very interesting however as an "older" knitter, I can no longer use straight needles since Mr. Art-ritis came to visit me. The extra weight is too much." florence, 4/12/01

"I switched to circular needles when my two cats farmed the habit of sitting on each side of me and batting at the ends of my needles; very disconcerting." amohurley, 4/12/01