Friday, April 19, 2013

The magic of short DPNs

When I learned to knit in the round, all I had were DPNs. Not just any DPNs, but massive wooden dowels that had been sharpened to a point at either end and only very lightly sanded down. These kinds of needles are usually given away for free with the purchase of a 250g or so cake of chunky acrylic or novelty yarn, sold all over the city but particularly in little shops near universities, as soon as the weather starts to cool off in the autumn. The cakes (and corresponding free needles) are perfect for the occasional knitter who wants to make a scarf -- and as there is an idea in China that if you knit your boyfriend a scarf, you've "caught" him, this activity is particularly popular among female university students.

I'm not a university student, but I was once a new knitter, and these cakes of yarn are affordable, attractive, and much more accessible than the yarn that the "real" knitters buy, which is sold by the pound and more often than not is very fine.

All that is to say, I had amassed a collection of those crude wooden DPNs meant for one-time scarf use because every time I purchased a cake, I got a pair for free. I had all sizes from 7mm to 12mm, and only once did I find a seller who had them in the "small" size of 6mm. I got four of those.

So I was all ready to start knitting in the round. But trying to knit a hat, which is about 20" in circumference, on three splintery wooden needles, each of which measures 14" in length, proved to be too challenging a task.

Eventually I learned about, and acquired, circular needles, in both 32" and 16" lengths, as well as nice, smooth, 25cm/8" (I think) DPNs, both in stainless steel and bamboo.
The bottom half of these sleeves are knit flat, in garter stitch, just the way I like it. But do you see the tops of those sleeves? Short DPNs, to the rescue! To-be-released Bloc Pullover by Kathleen Dames in Applelaine Apple Pie (lavender) and some wonderfully soft alpaca/wool blend mill ends purchased from one my two favorite Taobao shops.
Those met all of my knitting needs for a while, but then I started knitting sweaters, and the sleeves were always a drag, especially toward the wrist, when the tube grew ever smaller.

All that faffing about, sliding stitches from one end of the DPN to the other, or even worse, pulling the length of the cable through while magic looping just wasn't doing it for me. For the most part, I avoided socks, leg warmers, arm warmers -- anything usually knit in a small tube, and especially when those tubes came in pairs.
Thanks to my short DPNs, I am now happily knitting away on socks. But doing the same sock twice is still proving to be a challenge. Left: Hedera by Cookie A in Patons Kroy. Right: Unisox by Nicole Montgomery in Regia Monaco Color.

And then I had a thought -- maybe I just needed some shorter DPNs. For months I searched Taobao for short DPNs. There were tons of DPNs on there, but only "short" (25cm, which I already had, and weren't short enough for my purposes) and "long" (40cm), which I have absolutely no interest in. (I knit Continental style whereas most Chinese knitters seem to knit lever style, and thus the long length can effectively rest between their thumb and forefinger. Interestingly, these super-long DPNs are quite scarce in other parts of the world, and I occasionally see posts on Ravelry asking where they can be found. The answer is China). I saw that the sets of 5" DPNs were available from Chinese sellers all over Ebay, so I redoubled my Taobao searching efforts, trying all the search terms I could think of that might lead me to the prize, but to no avail.

Finally, one day, while I was searching for a silk/wool blend to stripe into my Rondeur sweater, I came across this shop, which carried the 13cm DPNs I'd spent so much time looking for. They also carried circulars in hard-to-find extra-long lengths. Hallelujah! I immediately put in an order for a set of the DPNs. 

While perusing the craft section of a local bookstore, I found this book of top-down sweater patterns. The original is Japanese. I will be getting lots of use out of my DPNs when I knit all those in-the-round sleeves!
 They arrived not too long after, and I've been happily knitting away with them since, as you can see in the above photos. For RMB60 (approx. USD10) for 13 sets of needles, five per set, in sizes 2.25mm through 5mm, I think it was quite a deal. I confess, I'm still lusting after a set of Karbonz for the smaller sizes, though, because I'm terrified these tiny bamboo needles will just snap on me one day as I'm working on a sock. Besides, the Karbonz are beautiful. 

Bonus eye candy: I purchased these Clover "Amure" (I guess that's the "Japanese" version of Amour) hooks at the same time. Between the Addi Click set I bought in February in Germany, my DPNs, and these hooks, I'm clearly in tool-upgrade mode. I do a lot of crocheting in the hot seasons, and I noticed that when I crochet for hours on end, the cheap metal hooks start hurting my hands. I have some inexpensive plastic-handled hooks as well, but the heads are falling out on some. I really wanted the Tulip Etimo Rose limited edition set, but that was more than double the price of the Clover Amours, and I would have to buy the whole set rather than pick and choose the sizes I wanted. Anyway the Amours seemed to have just as good reviews, and they're colorful too (just not pink). Pictured with them is a book of top-down crochet patterns, also originally published in Japanese, found during the same bookstore trip.

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