Sorting Old Knitting Needles

This plethora of needles needs sortin'!

This plethora of needles needs sortin'!

Have you inherited a pile of knitting needles from Grandma, Mom, Auntie, or Sis? Did you buy a plethora of needles at a yard sale? Are you confused as to what you even have on your hands?

Well don’t fret! This tutorial is going to review how to sort these needles, figure out what you have, and even make suggestions on what you might need to fill in the gaps (because there’s nothing worse than going to start a new knitting project and realizing that you don’t have the right needles – boo!).

About Needle Sizing:

There are far too many needle size measurement scales kicking around out there, but hey, sometimes it takes a while to get a standardized system in place! Canadian and modern UK knitting needles use the metric system (thank gosh!), relying on millimeters. American knitting standards are different (cause they don’t rock n’ roll to the metric beat down there) and their sizing system is numerical, from size 000 (1.5 mm) to size 19 (15 mm). A good gauge will list both needle sizing systems on it.

Heres’ the monkey wrench to throw into an already confounding sizing system – the Old English sizing scale, which can be found on many of grandma’s older needles. Neither metric nor American, this now-defunct sizing standard had its highest numbers on the smallest needles! I like to call that backwards. A 2.0 mm needle would be a UK size 14. Of course.

What does all of this mean? It means that if you want to use vintage or second hand needles then get yourself a quality, reliable needle gauge. It means that you cannot trust the numbering system on a needle unless it explicitly identifies a metric (such as mm at the ned of a number). It means that if you let your guard down, you may knit with the wrong needles for your project and curse the knitting gods for their cruel sense of humour.

Bring order to the chaos!

Bring order to the chaos!

Step 1: Spread that treasure trove of pointy sticks out on a table

Step 2: Try to pair up the most obvious mates.

Step 3: Put any circular needles in a separate pile. That’s a whole other can o’ worms!

Step 4: Set aside any oddballs that seem to be flying solo, are damaged, or are just plain odd (looks like a knitting needle but has a hook on the end? That’s an Afghan hook. Mysteries of the universe revealed!).

needle gauge action!

No marking on your needle? Identify the size in mere seconds..

Step 5: Sort the pairs out from smallest diameter to widest diameter. Don’t sweat the lengths.

Step 6: Look around and see if you also inherited a gauge. Don’t have one? Get one! They are fun, handy, and worth their weight in gold (figuratively, not literally).

Step 7: Use that gauge and figure out what sizes you have. Once they have been identified, wrap them together loosely with a rubber band, or separate them by any system that your clever brain can cook up.  Here’s a keen example: http://www.designsponge.com/2011/03/diy-project-knitting-needle-case.htmlt

If you really want to geek out and go down the dark, dark path of uber-organizing then check out www.ravelry.com, which has an online tool that lets you digitally catalogue your needle collection. Woot!

Helpful core needle sizes to have (especially if you are a newer knitter):

Straight  needles: 4.0 mm, 4.5 mm, 5.0 mm, 6.0 mm. 8.0 mm

Double pointed needles: 4.0 mm, 4.5 mm

Circular needles: 4.5 mm 40 cm long (great for knitting hats)


Helpful? Confusing? Let me know! What ever you do, keep on knitting on!

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