It was a particularly marvelous day when I discovered that you could actually use circular needles to knit back and forth and not just in the round. One of those knitting epiphanies. Changed my life. No losing needles, no dropping stitches, no poking the lapdog in the eye. I don’t think I could ever go back to plain old straights. Sometimes when we discover a new or better way of doing something, it can be an almost magical moment, because it’s just such an improvement. That one I sort of stumbled upon myself somehow, but at other times I’ve had people who have unveiled the secret to me.

I’ll never forget the first time went to my craft group meeting a few years ago. I had taken along some beautiful yarn – a gorgeous magenta cashmere-silk blend (still in my stash today because I haven’t found the perfect pattern yet). Someone there looked up from fondling it, and looked across at my knitting and the el-cheapo bamboo needles I was busy working with and asked, “but why do you have such beautiful yarn and you knit with such kak needles?” I must have looked a little taken aback because another kind knitter nearby jumped in and said “don’t let her bully you, use whatever needles you like”.

When I came home that evening and relayed the interaction to my husband, he looked at me in horror, and said “but why do you knit with kak needles?”. And so I went off to my LYS, and for the first time spent some really good money on a great set of needles. Had it not been for my bruised pride, I would never have known that needles could make such a difference! My wooden needles hold the yarn better, but slide the stitches easier, and I found I could actually knit faster using them, and my tension is more even.

Then, a few months ago, I saw Gina knitting with some curious looking needles – these ChiaoGoo flexible needles (remember the first time you saw circular needles and how weird that looked?) There is a cable, but they’re on separate needles. I was delighted – the novelty! I had to have a pair just because it looked like fun. Knitting with straights, only they’re not. I had no need for a new set of 4mm needles, but I couldn’t not order them. I just had to have my own to play with. (OK, not true. You can never have enough 4mm needles).

2020_11When I got them, it was so exciting! It was like getting a new toy, and I didn’t even realize the games I was going to end up playing. Initially it didn’t seem too different to knitting back and forth on a regular circular needle, I knitted along the row, and they shifted across the tip and onto the cable you’d expect, but when I got to the end of the row and turned around to start the next row, the strangest thing happened…

I only had one needle, with all the stitches on it. But I was missing the other. I looked at the needle in my hand in confusion. And then my other empty hand. What on earth went wrong? I scanned around myself to try and figure it out, and found it there, a needle tip, with the cable attached, no stitches – right there, in my lap. Bizarre. How did that happen?

Knitted the next row, turned around, only one needle left…looked around wildy – bare needle found on the floor. I tried to figure it out, before I realized that because it felt like I was using a circular needle with a cable, I was treating it as a circular needle: getting to the end of the row, dropping the left needle, passing the right needle to my left hand, and then moving to pick up the left needle tip with my right hand. Of course with a regular circular needle, the left needle is in fact attached to the cable. I was still dropping the needle. Only it wasn’t attached. So I kept losing it.

You’d think once I’d figured it out, I would have stopped doing it. But no. There I was, bending over at the end of each row, scrambling for my runaway needle. Under the chair, in my project bag. Sometimes I even realized it as I was dropping the needle in mid-air, and I giggled in amusement at having done this again, and fumbled trying to catch it. The knitters around me were also only too entertained at me on the hunt for a missing needle every 3 minutes. Sometimes I finished the row in a flourish and it went flying up in the air in a beautiful arc, with me squealing as it hit the floor. Somebody suggested it was a little like a knitter’s drinking game, take a shot, knit a row, toss a needle in the air, guess where it’s going to land before it falls on the ground. I’m not sure what the rules or the scoring system would be, but the hilarity watching this needle repeatedly being cast away definitely would have made more sense if there was alcohol involved.

I got the hang of it after a while, but it was almost a bit of a shame considering how much fun I had been having losing it, so I threw it up in the air with a bit of fanfare every few rows, watching it bounce on the floor, just to keep myself amused.

Ok, so I had fun using them, but you’ll want to know the practical stuff:

The bamboo has a softer feel than wood, and it’s a bit more grabby, but stitches slide well across them, so I like using them with cotton and bamboo yarn. The cable join to the needle tip is so smooth you really don’t even notice the join at all.

It has a bamboo stopper at the end, which stops the stitches from falling off the back (obviously), but also serves to weigh the cable down a bit so it doesn’t flap around too much. When I had finished knitting with them the first time, I instinctively stuck the tip of the needle into a hole at the back of the stopper, assuming it did double-duty as both cable stopper and end stopper, closing the loop so as not to drop any stitches. Alas my intuition was wrong, and the needle doesn’t fit into the stopper at all, it just falls off. They’ve missed a trick with that one. It would really be a very useful additional feature.

Needles 3

I packed my knitting away, worrying for the first time in a very long while that I might lose some stitches along the way before I picked the project up again. Of course, this almost never happens with circulars because you push the knitting far back onto the cable, and they are nowhere near the edge of the tips to slide off. At the same time, I realized there was a risk that the singleton needle was also at risk of disappearing to where all the odd socks go when you put them in the washing machine and they don’t come back out.

But the next time I was knitting using them, I discovered a trick to making sure this doesn’t happen with flexi-needles. This is also the reason why these are going to be your husband’s favourite needles.

What is the most hated phrase any knitter’s husband has? No prizes for guessing correctly.

“I’m just finishing my row”

I can just see the eye roll, the clenched fists, gritted teeth, steam shooting out of ears. After all this time, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about it. There’s nothing wrong with his eyesight. He can see I’m in the middle of the row. In all these years has he ever seen me just stop and put it down? Not once. But it still gets to him. Poor man. He’s usually a quick study, but this is one of those things he just has a mental block against.

But with the flexi-needles, I realized there is something I can do which means I don’t have to worry about dropped stitches or losing needles. If I am in the middle of a row, I shove the stitches on the right needle back to the cable on the right, and the remaining stitches on the left needle back on the left cable, and voilá. So when I use these needles, I actually stop in the middle of a row on purpose. How much does my husband love the flexi-needles?

A lot.

If it’s been a while since you’ve tried some new needles, or you want separate needles but can’t bear the idea of straight needles,  ChiaoGoo flexible needles are definitely worth having in your knitting tool box. They knit smoothly, they’re fun, and if you don’t act too ridiculously when you use them, your husband will want you to knit with them all the time.

Beth Burke

About Beth Burke

So much yarn. So many patterns. So. Little. Time.