Interchangeable knitting needle sets have replaced circular knitting needle sets, like this one, for many good reasons.
I use interchangeable knitting needles almost exclusively. I have some double pointed needles and some fixed circular needles, but I have completely gotten rid of my straight needles. While there are cons to interchangeables, I find the pros overwhelm them.
If you’ve never used interchangeables and aren’t sure what they are, they’re sets of knitting needles that use detachable, mix ‘n’ match needle tips and cables. The tips and cables can be combined in a variety of configurations. The cables are typically plastic or nylon, although the incomparable Darn Pretty needles are now offering plastic coated metal cables. More on that later.
As far as the tips go, anything goes. I’ve seen interchangeable tips made out of every possible material, in a range of sizes & shape. I have used metal, plastic (acrylic), wooden and birch ply interchangeable knitting needles. Bamboo ones may exist, I haven’t sought them out because I generally don’t like bamboo needle tips. All of which brings me to my first point:
- Any aches or pains you get from knitting will probably be exactly the same whether you use interchangeable knitting needles, fixed circular knitting needles, double pointed needles, or straight knitting needles.
I’ve used interchangeable kniitting needles since some of the first sets came out, or at least the first sets that I was aware of, in the 80’s. They were made by Boye, I think, or Susan Bates, and they were metal. Like all metal needles, they hurt my hands. Switching to bamboo, wooden or birch ply needles solved that problem for me, but the type of needle; straight, circular, etc., has made no difference.
- It’s easier to work with your yarn when your needles are in a contrasting color. Fortunately, there are a LOT of color choices our there for interchangeable knitting needles.
- They come in all types of commonly used knitting needle materials. If you want wooden, laminated, metal, acrylic, you name it, you can find interchangeables in it. They even come in square, as well as round.
- The cables come in a variety of lengths and can usually be attached to each other to make longer, custom lengths. You’ll need special cable joining adaptors if you want to attach one cable to another. They’re inexpensive, under $2, usually.
- The cables and needle tips are replaceable. Lose or break one? No problem order another one.
- Most interchangeable kits use a screw type join. The screw size is the same for most interchangeable sets, no matter the brand name. Not only can you mix ‘n’ match within a set, you can mix ‘n’ match needle tips & cables from different companies! This may not hold true across all brands, but I have mixed ‘n’ matched interchangeable elements from Dyakcraft, Knitpicks and Knitters’ Pride, with no problems. I suspect my old Susan Bates parts and pieces would work, too, if I still had them. Note: A few brands, such as addi, use click joins instead of screw on.
- Two interchangeable knitting needles make a great substitute for double pointed needles! In recent years, interchangeable knitting sets have come out with shorter needle tips to make them easier to use on smaller diameter projects like socks and sleeves.
- Interchangeables can be used as straight needles. It’s easy. Just put a stopper on one end of a cable and put your needle tip on the other end. Instant straight needle! Of course, you can knit flat on circular needles, but it’s nice to have the option.
- A cable with stoppers on both ends makes a very convenient and easy to use way to hold stitches. When you need to go back and work then, all you have to do is remove one of the stoppers & replace it with a needle tip. Much easier than the old stitch holders.
- Interchangeable sets usually come with a few nifty accessories: screw on needle stops for holding or parking your work, or converting your circular needle to a straight, albeit flexible, needle. Size tags that you can thread onto the cable when you hold or park your work so you know which size needle you were working with when you get back to it – very, very helpful. And of course, the little wire gizmo for screwing together the bits & pieces. (If you lose it, a small paper clip will work just as well.) The cable joining adaptor is rarely included in the kits, but it should be!
- The Interchangeable knitting needle kit case: I considered including this under the accessories, but it’s just too useful and deserves to listed by itself. The kits are usually packaged in plastic or fabric cases that hold all of the needle tips, cables, etc. These are always practical & functional. Moet have enough space to include a few extra tools, like your favorite needle gauge, a cable needle or 2, a crochet needle (for picking up dropped stitches), small scissors, and some darning needles for finishing. The case can quickly become your one stop knitting tool storage.
- Save time, money & space! An interchangeable knitting needle set replaces: a range of circular needles in a variety of lengths, a range of straight needles, a range of double pointed needles, and a few tools, all in the space of one compact, well-organized kit. No more tangled messes like the one at the top of this article. It’s really hard to overstate how helpful and convenient this is.
- Cables break. Modern cables use a plastic or nylon with no “memory,” so you won’t have to wrestle with them, but they aren’t indestructible.
- Palm knitters will have more problems. I am a palm knitter, so I’m well acquainted with these. A “palm knitter” is a knitter who tucks the end of the needle tip, where the needle tip joins the cable, into their palm. (I find it helps me stabilize my knitting. It might help with some other knitting problems, but I’m not sure.) This causes a few problems when using interchangeables.
- The needle tip will unscrew from the cable at random intervals, no matter how tightly you screw them together.
- It puts a sharp bend in the cable just below the metal joint. It’s possible to straighten the kink out by dipping the cable in boiling water for a minute, but the bigger problem is that this causes a lot of wear & tear on the cable. It will break sooner rather than later. When that happens, depending on the length of the cable, you might want to tie it off & save it for your flat knitting projects, or just throw it away.
- Increased potential for UFO’s! Interchangeable sets come with a variety of sizes, 4 through 11 (common) or 3 through 10.5 (rare). It’s very easy to start a new project when you have the needles just sitting there waiting to be used. This problem is generally worse when you get your first interchangeble set and can’t wait to try them ALL out. Be warned! Your supply of unfinished objects (UFO’s) is likely to multiply!
- Interchangeables don’t come in the smaller sizes. If you like lace knitting, or sock knitting, or any other type of project that requires a needles smaller than size 3 or 4, you’re going to have to buy fixed circular knitting needles or stick with straight needles.
- With one exception, all of my interchangeable needle sets have had at least one tip come loose from it’s metal setting. I’m told jeweler’s glue is a good way to fix this problem. The one exception: Darn Pretty needles by dyakcraft.com. They don’t use metal settings. Instead, the screw is embedded inside the wooden needle tip. You get what you pay for.
- The needle size probably won’t be printed on the tips. Why? I have no idea, but you’ll want to add a needle size gauge tool to your kit.
Darn Pretty needles from dyakcraft.com – Beautiful, handmade laminated wood and metal knitting needles. My all-time favorites and my most expensive. They feel as good as they look. There’s always a waiting list for their laminated wood interchangeables. (Since the fire at their original supplier’s factory, they don’t seem to be making wooden knitting needles out of hardwoods anymore.) Right now, they’re offering $50 off their interchangeable sets in hopes that you’ll take the $50 to your local yarn store (LYS) who has been struggling in the pandemic. (No affiliate link – darn. I’m willing to be paid in needles!)
*Knitpicks.com offers a wide range of their own brand of interchangeable knitting needle sets. I own more of their sets than I’m willing to admit to. I love the tapered tips of the colorful birch ply sets, but I didn’t care for the acrylics. The acrylics have a blunter, wider point. I also broke one, possibly because I wasn’t being as careful with them because I didn’t like them.
Yarn.com, also known as WEBS, and recently bought by *LoveCrafts.com, has a very wide range of interchangeable knitting needle sets, but most are Knitter’s Pride brand. I bought a set of Knitter’s Pride square, rosewood interchangeable needles from them several years ago. The rosewood felt lighter than any other needle I’ve ever used. The edges of the square needles weren’t entirely comfortable until they were covered with yarn, but the most significant thing about these needles was that they seemed to be very fragile. I shattered one of them. It appears I’m not the only one who had problems with the strength of the rosewood needle tips. They’re only offering laminated wood needles now, which I’m sure are as strong as my other interchangeable needle tips.
*Lion Brand is also offering Knitter’s Pride Interchangeable Royale knitting needle set, but they are currently out of stock. I believe this set offers each size in a different color, to make it easier to identify the size you want without a needle size gauge tool. You can probably get this set at yarn.com, too.
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