Tools review: the wooden needles of my dreams
Addi Nature olive needles! I've been waiting for these a looong time. Since I first heard about them in spring (they debuted at the H+H trade fair in Cologne, but weren't available in retailers until a few weeks ago) – or indeed, my whole life. Finally, with a little help from Rosa Träume in Richterswil and my Zürich Stitching friend Judy, they're in my hands.
But before I tell you how awesome they are – and they are – let me back up a little. I need to explain why wooden needles are amazing, and why these particular needles fill a longstanding gap. I need to explain why I'm so excited.
I'm a lifelong knitter (nearly), and have been subscribing to Vogue Knitting for nearly as long as I could knit. Now, back around the start of the century, I saw these amazing wooden needles being advertised in VK – works of art from Brittany and Lantern Moon. I'm a sucker for pretty tools, so I gave Santa, in the form of Armin, some very specific instructions and he delivered me a gorgeous pair of 4mm rosewood Lantern Moon straights. At the time, straights were all I used.
I was smitten. I had assumed that wooden needles were just about the looks, but from the moment I put rosewood to yarn, it was clear to me that there was no going back. It was a completely different experience to anything I'd used before: compared with the colourful but sticky plastic needles I'd inherited from my mother, or cold and heavy metal, or really sticky and prone to splintering bamboo, these needles raised the tactile pleasure of knitting to a whole new level. (Note: I have since used better needles in all these categories. Quality counts, no matter what material you prefer. But hardwood is still a cut above.) I quickly found that wrapping butter-soft alpaca, say, around glass-smooth wood feels... honestly, it feels indecent. I realise this is making me sound like a cartoon of an old knitting spinster, desperately hard up for fun, but really: I just kept thinking, I can't believe how good this feels, is this even allowed?
Long story short, I vowed henceforth to abjure all but wooden needles and I started a web shop to bring these amazing needles to London. I was, and still am, convinced that well-finished hardwood needles are almost always the best possible choice: the yarn glides over the needle smoothly, but without losing control. The wood is warm and light in your hand. It simply feels amazing, and it makes for better knitting. Beginners have exclaimed to me over how much their tension improves using wood; experienced knitters find wood tames tricky yarns (in the immortal words of one customer using Kidsilk Haze, "The rate of expletives per row has dropped dramatically!").
But there was a problem. Like so many other knitters, I finally caught onto the joys of circular needles; only, I couldn't find wooden circulars that ticked all the boxes. Lantern Moon, the Rolls-Royce of wooden needles, makes circs with a swivel join to prevent cable snarl-ups – it's really nifty, but being a tight knitter, I find the yarn catches on that join. Okay using fatter yarns and needles, but sock or lace yarn (which I use a lot) becomes really annoying. The cables are also too fat (ie stiff) for magic loop. Colonial's rosewood needles have a pretty cool bump-join that doesn't catch, but their wood isn't finished to the same glorious smoothness as Lantern Moon (and again, you can't magic loop). And so on.
Enter Addi. I'd never even used an Addi needle, but as soon as I heard that the much-loved German manufacturer had turned its attention to wood, I knew this was going to be good. Addi is known for perfectionism: top-quality materials, solid, reliable workmanship, smooth joins... Now they were entering the wooden needle market, and with a characteristically appealing product. The olive needles are made from wood harvested from olive trees that are no longer productive. What would you call that? It's not reclaimed wood, it's certainly not recycled, but it is thoughtfully and responsibly harvested.
And it is beautiful. Just look at that grain.
So I was excited, and I hoped for the best. The only thing I wasn't sure of was, would the needles be smooth enough for my taste? To achieve a really smooth, fast-knitting finish, a wooden needle needs (a) very fine-grained wood, and (b) careful finishing. Not being an expert woodworker, I can't tell you exactly how it's done, but I believe this involves both the actual turning process and the varnish. This is why two ebony needles from different manufacturers can't both be expected to feel and handle the same. Since Addi is new to wood, I couldn't be sure of how they would manage this aspect.
I'm pleased to report that although they are a bit stickier than Lantern Moon, they're still lovely to knit with. Especially as, with sharp points and super-smooth cable join, every other aspect of the needle is finely judged to ensure speed of knitting. I suspect the wood may still develop a "patina" with use (as Lantern Moon needles do too), adding a smidge of extra smoothness and glide.
Perfect, smooth hardwood knitting experience? Very nearly. (I could use a smidge more speed, but they're still a pleasure to use.) Perfect cable joins? Check. I did notice a hairline gap between the brass cap and the wood, but not enough to affect my knitting. It's possible that with laceweight it will be more of a problem. Perfect pointy tips? Check. Perfect flexible cables (in gold!)? Check. Affordable price? Check – around €11, which is really amazing value. Perfect needles? I really think they might be.
Any possible downsides? Well: they are wood. And while that, to me, is perfection, there are two caveats. One: while gorgeously smooth, they will never be as super-slippery as metal. Again, to me, that's a plus. I like having that tiny bit more control – I find I have better tension, neater stitches, and I enjoy the process more. But if you're looking for top speed and don't share my control issues, you should probably go with Addi Turbo or ChiaoGoo Red Lace.
Two: wood is, by its nature, somewhat fragile. And my friend Samantha reported breakage halfway into a jumper. Which is obviously very disappointing. She says, however, that she is double-jointed and may have an unusual knitting style; at any rate, she has a history of breaking wooden needles. This is not going to be true for everyone. Personally, I have broken wooden DPNs (because they're basically toothpicks), and I have broken wooden straights by sitting on them (because I'm a klutz), but I have never yet broken a wooden circ and I hope these lovely needles will last me a good long time. I might hesitate to buy them in the smallest, 2.5mm size, though. At least, I'd be aware of the risk involved.
Oh, by the way? If you're wondering whether these will be available in the very popular Click interchangeables format – the answer is a solid "maybe". It will depend on how the fixed needles perform in the market, and on availability of the wood. Fingers crossed.