This Foundations article will offer you insight into a few common knitting tools (also called notions) you can find at your local craft store or yarn shop, as well as a substitute or easily made alternative. While none of these are necessary for success, they will make undertaking a larger or more complex project just a little more enjoyable. I’ve included my top ten here:
1. Stitch Markers
These babies come in every color and size under the sun. Stitch markers are incredibly useful for marking where a pattern repeats during a knitting row, and can help you easily backtrack if you make a mistake. Most lace patterns will indicate where to slip your marker in the pattern, itself, so you know exactly where you should be when you’re managing hundreds of stitches in a single row.
Stitch markers typically come in three sizes, but some are universal. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can easily slip the marker back and forth, to ensure you don’t get it stuck on your needles.
While stitch markers are useful, I tend to lose them easily, and many of cheaper options are made with plastic. If you’re looking to reduce your plastic waste, there are many handmade or wooden markers available. These can be a bit pricey, but they tend to last a good while if you don’t lose them.
You can also use a small piece of waste yarn tied in a slip knot. They're a little more awkward to manage than stitch markers, but they will get the job done while giving your scrap yarn pile some use. In a pinch, I have used small hoop earrings, dental floss (unscented, of course), safety pins, large-hole buttons, and lengths of spare cable. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
2. Row Counters
For projects where fit is important, counting rows are necessary to the success of a project. Having a handy row counter will save you from the ever tedious row counting. While there are electronic row counters that can be worn as a watch or necklace, my personal favorite is the katcha-katcha counter, named for the sound it makes when the counter is pressed.
Row counters are pretty straightforward- they count rows. I like to use them for counting tassels for larger projects, inventory, and playing drinking games.
While mental math is great, it can be tedious if the project is particularly large. An old fashioned pen and piece of paper are also excellent ways to keep track of your rows, and craft websites such as pinterest offer a variety of DIY options for row counters…that is, if you want to take a break from knitting.
3. Tapestry needles
An essential tool for any knitting wanting to keep their ends neatly tucked. Tapestry needles are much larger than sewing needles, and have a dull edge to prevent split yarn. Most craft stores offer plastic needles, but I would recommend any metal, as they tend to come in shiny colors, making them much easier to see when your needle case falls in your WIP pile.
In a pinch, a crochet hook is an easy substitute for a tapestry needle. The success of this substitute depends on the size of the crochet hook you have available. I’ve also been known to navigate the clumsy waters of a bobby pin, and, while I wouldn’t recommend using it on a regular basis, it will save you the embarrassment of overlooking a loose end.
4. Cases & Tool Bags
Cases are a great way to keep all of your notions in place when traveling, or if you enjoying having all of your tools available in a neat, accessible package. I would recommend a leather travel case, and you can find a sturdy one on websites like Etsy or, for a few bucks less, most thrift stores have leather pouches or handbags that will also do the trick.
For vegans, most sustainably sourced pouches will do. I would recommend finding organic fabric whenever possible, as they are less likely to be treated with any lacquers, paints, or pesticides that can rub off on natural needles or more delicate projects.
Real talk: my studio is a mess. Do you ever wonder why you don’t see photos of my beautiful, pinterest-worthy work space? Your girl is a whirlwind when it comes to making the beautiful pieces you see out of the Whiskey Knits studio.
This said, I’m trying, I really am. I have all of my flat needles stored in a pretty little blue and white vase, which allows me to see the sizes that I need fairly quickly. My circulars and crochet hooks are stored in a soft iPad case, with my notions in a very old-timey Singer sewing box. Once you begin the lifelong journey of amassing more tools than you could possibly need at once, you’ll find the method of storage that works for you. While there are many ways to store your items, nothing beats a good travel case. My travel case is a pouch stored in my everyday purse.
5. Ball Winder
A ball winder is probably the spendiest of the tools on this list, but gee golly I wish I had purchased one sooner. A ball winder is a delightful device that will take your yarn from a skein to a cake, allowing you to pull your working yarn from the center of the ball instead of letting it roll around every which way. Back in my retail days, I was fortunate enough to be gifted a very nice one, but you can find a winder that will do the trick for about $15-80, depending on how fancy you’re feeling. Ball winders come in a few sizes, but I’ve been able to easily get by with the standard size.
Honestly, you don’t have to wind the yarn if you don’t want to know. I know many folks who don’t mind the skein rolling, or prefer to pull a little bit of working yarn at a time. It is tedious, but if you want to wind a ball of yarn by hand, you can check out this tutorial from New Stitch A Day.
If you purchase your fiber at your local yarn shop, many places will wind it for you for free. This is a great way to make sure you can neatly store your cakes, but make sure they don’t stay this way for too long. Cakes are great for organization, but the winding stretches out the yarn over time, and can cause nautral fibers to loose their elasticity when knit. I wouldn’t store yarn in a cake for any longer than a few months.
6. Stitch Holders
Stitch holders are great for projects like mittens, when you need a few stitches at a time held until you come back to that portion of the project. They usually come in three lengths, and are sold as a pack.
If you need a small amount of stitches held, a safety pin will do just fine to keep your stitches in place. Waste yarn is also a great alternative, although this keeps the stitches less rigid, and it’s a little harder to get your needles back in the proper place.
7. Cable needles
I find this to be an arguable necessity- when I’m knitting a project that requires cabling, I know to bring these with me. As a knitter that doesn’t particularly enjoy the process of cabling, nor do cable needles serve much of a dual purpose, consider this a popular but optional item to keep in your tool bag. I’ll be talking more about cable needles in the next Foundations article.
Cable needles only come in three sizes, so it can be a little difficult to maintain a good gauge with such limited options. Personally, I cable on DPNs, as they come in a larger range of sizes, and allow me to select the most effective tool for my needs.
DPNs work well for cabling, and they’re a little more versatile. If you’re feeling bold, DPNs can even be used as stitch holders. In an emergency (yes, knitting has emergencies), I’ve been known to use a bobby pin.
8. Embroidery or Fabric Scissors
I’m a fan of aesthetics, which make embroidery scissors my go to for tool cases. Seriously, though, they’re beautiful, and if you’d like to splurge on a useful item that will last you a good while, I would recommend checking out The Silver Needle. These fine folks create shears that have a nice heft to them, and they stay sharp. Best of all, they can be resharpened, so you won’t have to spend more money on flimsy shears that wear out quickly. Fabric scissors are also a great bet, but any pair of craft scissors will do.
Whatever you choose, I would recommend having a dedicated pair of scissors for knitting, or at least fabric. This way, they stay nice and sharp, and you don’t have to worry about getting any bits of packaging or other debris in the fiber of your project.
Ok, look, I know there are many ways to cut string, but let’s be honest: nothing beats a great pair of scissors. This being said, I have been know to use knives, lighters, and yes, even so bold as to rip the yarn apart with my bare hands, all of which can be very satisfying feats after completing a difficult project.
The problem occurs when you’re trying to finish your project neatly. If you’re looking to do something nice for someone by going through the effort of knitting them a handmade anything, any pair of scissors capable of cutting fabric will do. Heck, even kitchen shears will do the trick.
9. Stitch or Square Gauge Ruler
I may sing this song every time I use my knit gauge ruler....
I digress- to keep your bag as light and functional as possible, having a multi-tool like a stitch gauge ruler is handy. There are an infinite number of places you can find these tools online or at your local yarn shop. I would recommend a square gauge ruler, as it allows you to swatch (more on that later), measure, and check your needle sizes, all in one reasonably sized tool.
These alternatives can be broken into a few devices that will do the job, but can leave your tool bag a confusing mess. To replace a square gauge ruler, you will need a needle gauge, a fabric ruler, and a knitting gauge.
Of course, these aren’t necessary for every project, but having these ensures you can start any project without having to run to store first.
Insanely cheap, t-pins are a much-needed item to tackle that lace project you’ve been eyeing for a while. We’ll talk more about using t-pins in the Foundations article, but they help your finished project stay in place after it’s washed, so you can show off all of those pretty stitches you’ve learned. They’re pretty easy to find in the craft or sewing section of thrift stores. I’ve found the older pins are less likely to rust, as they’re made entirely with aluminum, instead of being aluminum-plated.
You can use sewing pins to keep your project in place while it blocks. Keep in mind that sewing pins are nowhere near as strong as t-pins, so you will need to use many more sewing needles to secure your project and make sure they don’t break during the time it takes for your project to dry.
Now that you have these tools at the ready, you're set to go out and get knitting! Do you have a project you'd like to show the world? Tag me @loveandwhiskey on Instagram for a chance to win some Whiskey Knits goods!