using dpns — the right size

15 Feb

This is the first in a series of comments* on how to use double-pointed needles. If you’ve looked at the patterns in the Loumms Year of Socks, you’ll see we are huge fans of DPNs. But we are all too aware of how daunting they can seem if you’ve never used them before. How do you manage so many sticks? How do you protect yourself from the increased risk of bodily injury? How do you make them work?

*I was going to say ‘tutorials’, but I think that would imply a degree of expertise in the matter rather than simply being opinionated on preferences.

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A good place to start  is knowing how to choose your needle. Using needles that are appropriate to the size of the project is a huge help, and I don’t mean thickness. I mean length. Not so long ago, DPNs were used for anything made in the round, including crazy Fair Isle jumpers.

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They still come in all kinds of lengths — from about 5 inches to over 12 — however, as much as I love my double-points, those 12-inch mothers scare me. I use my circular needles (two needle tips joined by a length of laminated cable) for knitting all of my larger pieces, often in place of straight needles. For socks, mittens, legwarmers, sleeves — anything narrow, I prefer DPNs. The type of project I’m working on will dictate the length of the needle I use.

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When it comes to small projects, or smaller parts of projects such as the crown of a hat, I make sure the needles I’m using are no longer than 7 inches.  This is because if they’re longer than that, they become unwieldy and awkward. Even if the needles are light, they will nonetheless cause the project to become unbalanced, which in turn will effect your gauge AND your patience. Plus, if your knitted fabric is being unnecessarily pulled by the weight of the needles, it can cause runs between the joins.

However, using needles that are too small, your stitches will bunch and it can become impossible to judge your progress (/catch errors in lace before it’s too late). Plus, using needles that are too small increases the risk that your stitches will push themselves off the needle as they relax, when resting or in transit.

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The way I measure what length needle will work for what project is by taking into consideration how wide the project will get at its widest point. I tend to choose the shortest length possible for the project in question, that will still give me a decent amount of needle purchase on either side of the project when perfectly centred, and will allow my stitches to relax rather than bunch when I’m not working on it.

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For instance, if I’m knitting socks that are 4 inches at their widest point when flat, I’m going to want to use needles that give me at least 3/4 inch space free on either side of the centred piece — or 6-inch long needles. If I’m knitting a crown-down hat that is 10 inches at its widest point when flat, I’ll usually knit on 8-inch needles until the stitches become uncomfortably bunched and then switch to circs.

This will give the project balance while I’m knitting, thus not unduly straining the stitches, as well as allow the project to travel well — which is what I’ll cover in the next post.

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