The best thing about having a shop: you get to put things in it that you love, that you want other people to love. And yes, Ann and I have to agree on what makes the cut, so all items in the MDK Shop are guaranteed to be fully charged with DOUBLE LOVE. Two persnickety knitters love each and every one of these things.
The story of Interchangeable Needles and Me is personal and opinionated, but I think it might have resonance for other knitters.
I have always seen the appeal of interchangeable needles. Even when I was new knitter, I quickly began accumulating needles in random sizes, materials, and styles (straights and circs, and heaven help me, dpns). Each type of needle required a designated place to live and a way of keeping track of what I had. I’m terrible at keeping track, with the result that I kept buying new needles. It was just easier. Today, decades into this knitting thing, I’ve got a circular needle holder that is so crammed with randomness that it usually takes me a good 10-15 minutes at the start of a project, just to determine if I have the needle I need. Which I often don’t. (Somewhere in the sea of project bags is that needle. I just know it.)
Can you handle the realness? Here’s my beloved circ “organizer,” handmade by Cristina Shiffman lo these many years.
The other great advantage of interchangeable needles is that you can change the length of the cable to accommodate more or fewer stitches as you increase and decrease. This lets you use the same needle tips through a complex project, such as a sweater, which helps to keep a consistent gauge. You can knit the neck on the shortest cable and the body on a longer one. If you’re swoncho-ing or slanket-ing or otherwise working an epic number of stitches, you can even connect two cables to make a super cable.
Many years ago, I tried one of the early interchangeable sets. The needles were hollow plastic. They clicked on easily enough, but one day a needle snapped off while I was knitting, sending liberated stitches flying. I was traumatized, to say the least. The convenience of having a full set of needles at my beck and call, in a tidy clamshell box, was outweighed by anxiety about reliving that experience. Every time I knit with them after that, especially with a heavy or not-very-slippery yarn, I braced myself for disaster.
Over the years, interchangeables got a lot better. Many fine needle manufacturers make them now. But I resisted. Like all knitters, I’m picky. If I didn’t like the slackness, or non-slackness, of the cable, that was the end of it. If the needles were not pointy enough: hard pass. There were even aesthetic obstacles: I like a simple, functional presentation; I don’t want to be putting something clunky into the curated happy place of my knitting world.
But the big reason for my interchangeable avoidance was always this: fear of the needles detaching from the cable. All the sets that I thought looked good either had needles that could (and did) detach without warning, or required using a tool to affix the needles securely. Memories of that miserable moment, and a reluctance to fiddle with small tools that I might lose, kept me accumulating random needles and rummaging for the right one when it was time to cast on a new project.
This Changes Everything
Then came the glorious day, this past June, at TNNA, the yarn industry trade show. An excited pal came up to me with a lightweight bamboo circular needle, made by a company in Japan called Tulip. “Have you seen these?” The tip was pointy, the join was as smooth as any circular needle I own, and the cable had a perfect amount of slack.
I made a beeline for the Tulip booth, to inspect these wonders. And also to cross-examine.
Q. How do the needles get attached to the cables?
A. You screw them on.
Q. Do you need a tool to secure them?
A. Nope. Just screw them on.
Q. Do they come unscrewed?
Q. Why not?
A. Because Tulip figured out a way to keep them screwed on. (There’s a tiny rubber ring inside.)
And then the kicker. They had a question for me: would I like to try a set?
Reader, I took them home. On the plane, I cast on my first project on my Tulip interchangeables, and I haven’t looked back. I can’t think of a project that I’ve knit since June on any other needle. The needles have never come unscrewed, or even loosened as I knit.
I’m a multi-tasking knitter, so a secondary question I have about interchangeables is what to do when I need a needle size that is already deployed in another work-in-progress.
Guess what: there are stoppers in the set. I simply unscrew the needles, screw on the stoppers, and the project sits there securely, waiting for its needles (and its inconstant knitter) to return. (This is also a great way of holding stitches just because you need to hold stitches.)
My Personal Tulips in situ, living their best multi-tasking life.
Another issue that comes from multi-tasking: what happens when you’ve got all three cables at work in projects? Doesn’t that render the remaining needles kind of useless? Surely I’m not the only knitter for whom a fourth or fifth WIP is par for the course?
There is a solution: more cables. We carry Tulip individual cables in three lengths. Cables take up a lot less room, and are more versatile, than multiple individual needles.
Nowadays, I keep my Tulip set in my Main Knitting Bag, because it’s compact and light enough to carry around. The space in my brain that used to be devoted to wondering whether I had the right needle size, in the right cable length, has been freed up.
Maybe now I’ll finally memorize how to do Kitchener stitch.