Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: KA needles

The search for the perfect needle is the philosopher's stone of knitting, and rather a ridiculous pursuit at that. Ultimately, the perfect needle needs to fit a) the project, b) the yarn, and c) the knitter.

With that in mind, I want to review a product I consider to be fabulous, but that I haven't seen much about (or anything, really) in the knitblogosphere--a quick Google search yielded only two reviews--KA needles.

One of my LYSes, the Wool Station, carries the full line of KA and I was first introduced to them about 18 months ago as a more affordable alternative to Addi Turbo--KAs run for about $8 a set. Now that I know more about knitting and have tried more brands of needles, I am increasingly happy I was introduced to the brand, because they have become my go-to needles for circular knitting (with one exception, which I'll get to in a minute.)

KA are a bamboo circular that comes in a full range of sizes and lengths. At first glance they look an awful lot like Clover circulars, which may turn some knitters off; they have a clear plastic, rather thick cable, like Clovers, and are, of course, bamboo. These similarities are merely cosmetic, however, for the KA are functionally superior in needle, join, and cable.

Let's start with the needle. Very light, with a polished and silken feel, the needles are cut on the straight grain from what the packaging claims is bamboo heartwood, harder than the typical bamboo needles. Who cares about harder, I wondered--I'm not trying to chisel anything. The advantage the harder bamboo yields, though, is in the tip. These are not blunt stubby needles (see photo above); the tips work well for all the types of knitting I've asked them to do, including cabling-without-a-cable-needle (which I would never do with a Clover!) and lace.

Next, the silken finish is superior to other bamboos; they're very similar to the Knitpicks Harmony and, dare I say it?, Addis. I've worked with Clover needles and have had a lot of trouble with stitches sticking on their rougher surface, but yarns, even acrylic blends, slide right over the KAs. They walk the line between slippery and grippy without tipping either direction.

I also appreciate the length of needle the circs have, even in the 16" size. Some brands (coughKnitpickscough) skimp on the needle-tip real estate, leaving the knitter with little to hang on to when working in small circumferences. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy feeling like I'm only pinching the needles with thumbs and index fingers--this is a sure recipe for hand and shoulder fatigue. The 16" KA needle ends are long enough for comfortably knitting a hat, neckband, or sleeve in the round.

As for the join and the cable, this is where the most special feature of the KA comes in--the join SWIVELS. So even though the cable is admittedly stiff and much fatter than, say, an Addi Turbo or Knitpicks Options, you don't end up with twisted-up cables or recalcitrant lines of stitches. (I do recommend giving the cable a good steaming or even immersing it in boiling water when you take it out, though.)

I've used these needles for knitting sweaters in the round, socks and sleeves on two circulars, and a little bit of magic loop. I don't recommend them for two-circ work because the cables are so inflexible; you spend a lot of time coaxing them to bend the way you want them to, plus the needles don't come in a 24" size so you're always sweeping the 29" out of the way. My surprise of late was discovering how well they work for magic loop, a technique I try to avoid as much as possible. I was working up a swatch in the round for a cabled sweater, and found I could magic loop on one of their 29" needles just great; the swiveled joins really responded well to the contortions required for magic looping, and I didn't have any trouble with laddering.

So--to sum up--I find KA needles to be versatile, affordable, expendable, and reliable. They're not statusy, but are quiet little workhorses ready for whatever you throw their way. You'll love them, but you won't cry if you lose a pair--for around $8 more they are easily replaced. And they swivel! (Second life as ninja weapons?)

They are available from a number of online sellers and maybe even your LYS. I buy mine at the Wool Station here in Bellingham, but they do not sell online. Buy local if you can, and tell me what you think of them!


YogaNan knits, too... said...

Thank you for reviewing these needles. They ARE hard to find, but I've been pretty happy with them, too. Am considering their interchangeable set--have you tried them?

Team Harris said...

Thank you SO much for this review. I realize it's almost a year old, but it was very timely for me. I have been hunting locally for a 16" US7. I'm used to using Clover. My LYS was out and they told me that between the holidays, the cold weather, and people knitting helmet liners for soldiers, they are having a hard time stocking them. I didn't want to wait and began hunting around. Called a LYS in Renton (near my husband's office) and they carried this size in KA. I am having them hold it for me and I'm picking it up today. I was skeptical about it, having never used them and having never even heard of them. So I did a google search and found your review and now I'm a REALLY happy knitter! Thanks for brightening my day. Maybe I'll come back and let you know how Iike knitting with it!