Recently, I've been on a bit of an organizing/cleaning/sorting binge. I'm tackling closets and storage spaces like a bit of a maniac. That's okay, every time I finish one I feel so good about it I take it's picture (later this week, I'll show you the Massage Closet - it's beautiful (in my eyes anyway).
I keep meaning to take "before" pictures so that when I get all sentimental and show off the "after" pictures, you'll understand. But, alas(?), I'm too interested in getting to the work to take pictures.
So.. where is this leading? Back to the Yarn Closet, where we learn (sort of) that while I'm clearly a bit unhinged when it comes to collecting yarn, I'm not quite as crazy as I look when it comes to knitting needles.
As is true of many knitters, even when I was finished with the Yarn Closet, I wasn't truly finished. I keep finding yarn lurking about the house, and having to go find it a home in the Yarn Closet (and then update the Ravelry inventory). Some of this is because there are projects I was planning to start, but then delayed, and the yarn got pulled. Some of this is because there are bonus storage places in the Living Room. So... that continues. But as I find the yarn, I'm putting it AWAY, and logging it into the Ravelry database.
But... the side-show to the Yarn Closet that is now eating my days is the corollary project - inventorying the needles.
For those of you not addicted to sticks and string, I'll diverge for a moment to explain why so many knitters seem to have large needle collections, and why, for that matter, anyone would want a large variety of needles:
1) The obvious reason: knitting needles come in different sizes. When the circumference of the needles changes, the size of the stitches those needles create changes. When the stitch size changes, the fabric changes. You simply can't use the same needles to make socks that you do to make a bulky cabled sweater. So, since I've never heard of a lending library for needles. tends to want at least one set of needles in every size one has ever been called upon to use. Unless you keep using the same yarn all the time, sooner or later, you need more needles.
2) Knitting Needles come in different types -- There are three basic types of needles: straight needles (what you see in comics etc. - two sticks with points on one end and a stopper thing on the other), which are great for knitting things in pieces that you'll sew together;
circular needles (two sticks with points on one end joined together by a flexible cable and which range from as short as 10" or so to as long as 60"), which work quite as well as straight needles for knitting pieces, but which also allow you to knit around and around creating a seamless tube -- which is lovely for sweaters, eliminating the need for seams;
and double pointed needles (sets of four or five sticks with points on both ends), which are wonderful for knitting tubes that are too narrow for the logistics of circular needles (like socks and sleeve cuffs and the tops of hats.
There are also things called Flex Needles (of which I have one pair). Flex needles are a sort of cross between straight needles and circulars - they have tips like circulars from which a cable extends, but they have stoppers on the ends like straight needles. This lets you create, in effect, a really long straight needle. I tried the one set, and decided that it's just as easy to use circulars for back and forth knitting.
3) Knitting Needles come in different lengths - Straights are typically no shorter than 8" and get only about as long as 14"; Circulars typically range from 16" (though 12", and even 11" or 9" do exist, they're really hard to work with) to 60"; Double points range from 4" to as long as 10" but rarely go above about 8". Which length you use depends in part on what you're making, but also on personal preference. You can use 8" double points to make socks, for example, but I rarely use any longer than 6" and actually prefer 4".
For circular needles, the differences in length are necessary to allow different circumferences in the tubes they make. You can make something as small as about 14" or maybe even 13" on a 16" needle if the yarn is forgiving, and you can get up to about 25" worth of stitches onto a 16" needle --- but that needle is just not going to hold your 36" sweater. As you can imagine, the situation is similar for longer lengths, until you get to the really long ones. There's a method called "magic loop" that will let you knit a sock (9" circumference) happily on a 40" needle. Some folks love it. I'm not one of them, but I can magic loop in a pinch. That means that I have circular needles in about 9 lengths, and double points in at least five lengths (see the picture above).
4) Knitting Needles are made of different materials, with different finishes. This is where we get picky. Yarn slides about differently on different materials and different finishes because some materials and some finishes are slipperier than others. The shiny metal needles are very slippery; if your yarn is also slippery, you're likely to lose stitches. The slipperiness of the metal needles depends on the finish; some are really slippery, some are only moderately slippery. Casein and plastic needles are not very slippery. Bamboo needles tend to be a bit "grippy", and birch is somewhere in the middle. That slipperiness difference can actually change your gauge (the number of stitches per inch you get when knitting a given yarn on a given set of needles). Gauge is important to making a garment fit. Sometimes, to get the gauge you really want, you have to change needle material and not needle size.
I periodically go on insane perfect-gauge quests in which I am determined to force whatever yarn I am using for a given project into the exact gauge the designer specified (you'll hear more about this with the upcoming Bohus Report). This means that over the years I have acquired needles in brushed aluminum, coated aluminum, nickle plated aluminum, birch, wood laminate, two kinds of bamboo, casein (a milk product), and several forms of plastic. If you've got antiques on hand, you may even have bone or ivory needles to play with. And still, sometimes I find that I can't get gauge with what's in the house, and have to go find a new brand. Recently, they've started making square needles (which work surprisingly well).
5) Needle sizes vary a bit by manufacturer. For most needle sizes, there is a fairly universal size. US Size 7 needles tend to be, fairly reliably, 3.5 mm in circumference. But, not every manufacturer has their gauge set precisely the same way (since the error tolerance on that sizing is greater than zero), so some US 7 needles are bigger than others. The difference between a 3.52 mm needle and a 3.57mm needle will show up in your gauge.
Worse yet, for some US needle sizes, the prescribed mm correspondence varies. US 1s are either 2.25 mm or 2.5mm. And US 2s can be 2.75 or 3.0. More gauge differences.
6) Some knitters, like me, have more than one project on the needles at the same time. Every now and then, this means that a knitter will be working on more than one project that uses a given size needle. This leads to duplication in the needle inventory.
Even so, I've discovered that my early days of buying a new needle when I thought I needed one have come home to roost. I looked at my Ravelry Needle Inventory and found that at one point, I'd input a lot of information about my needle collection. It included some numbers that causes one pause (7 sets of the same size circular needles in the same length? really??), but I have no idea whether that information includes double-entered data.
I haven't even tried to maintain the inventory since I input it literally years ago. That means that even if it was accurate then, it's not all accurate now. Worse yet, as I go digging up needles from the various temporary holding zones, I'm finding that I have more than I'd inventoried of some of them. This is not quite offset by the fact that as I've broken some tiny needles, I've not updated the inventory to reflect the loss. So... I may or may not have 10 sets of 2.75mm double points. (I'm pretty sure I don't, since I rarely use "standard" length double points.)
In my next posts, there will be a tour through the inventory process (what I'm doing differently to ensure accuracy this time), and a discussion of just what kind of insanity doing a needle inventory has led me to. I anticipate that in the end, I'll wind up selling off part of the inventory.