NeedlesThe absolute most important thing you can do to improve the quality of your knitted pieces is to improve the quality of your supplies.
For dolly knitting, this is easily accomplished due to the tiny yardages involved.
Needles should be slick and sharp. My patterns are mostly in sizes US-0 and US-1, and many manufacturers make needles this small. You have several options.
- Clover Bamboo double-pointed needles: these aren't as sharp as I like though, but have a nice slick surface that doesn't get sticky if your hands sweat a little.
- Susan Bates does make a color-coordinated sock needle set of sizes US-000 to US-1 for about $11 US, which might be worth it to you (I own them, but only use them as a backup).
- Boye also recently came out with the same thing, although I think there are 4 needles instead of 5; they are also all the same color (steel), and are much longer - but cost about $13.
For me, there is only one needle out there that is worth using: the Knitpicks fixed circulars. They are sharp (helps with accuracy and not splitting the stitch), they are slick (helps with speed), and they are fantastic! I have two 24" circulars of each in sizes 0-3 (they have two sizes labeled US-1 and two of US-2 for better accuracy). The 36" would be fine too, but the longer you get, the more unwieldy the needle will be. If you decide to venture to smaller sizes, I'd recommend the Addi Lace needles, since they are similarly sharp. However, the Addi Lace needles have a "coating" on them that has so far discouraged me from dropping $20 on one.
If you are interested in investing a bit more, try out the Knitpicks Nickle Plated DPN set. This is just downright sexy. It costs more than both the Susan Bates and Boye set, but there are five each of sizes 0, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 (US). They are a little sticky when you first use them (I think it's the polish on the metal) but quickly turn into quick, slick monsters. I use them to knit sleeves on raglan sweaters.
Point protectors are totally optional, but I poke myself in the chest if I brace the needle against myself, so I use them. For years I used the blue rubber ones made by Boye, but I recently discovered some green silicone ones made by Clover that I like so much more. There are 4 to a pack (as opposed to 2 of the blue ones sized to fit small needles), you don't have to jam them on the needle (so you don't eventually poke through the other end), and they grip impressively well.
Yarn and Threads
I've never regretted purchases quite as much as when I have bought mounds of cheap yarn to save a buck that day, but never end up using. It's like the old adage for tattoos: "the bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."
Still, you don't have to spend much to wrap your dolls in knitted luxury. The tiny amounts you need for even a complicated project (like my large poncho) still don't mean you'll have to buy much. I generally grab a ball or two of Aunt Lydia's (my favorite crochet thread - a good balance of value and quality) when it's on sale at my local Hobby Lobby. I've finally gotten a pretty impressive collection, and I need to figure out a way to store without the bulk of those big cardboard tubes.
That said, let me give you a rundown of the yarns and threads I have used so far. If you would like to add your own review of a yarn you've used (I will quote you), please email me and I will add it to this list!
A note on fiber content: I obviously prefer cotton or bamboo, but wool is quite nice too. Wool will not show gauge inconsistency to the extent that cotton will and blocks out better, but I love the sheen of a mercerized cotton. Try both and decide for yourself what you prefer!
Aunt Lydia's Classic Crochet Cotton (size 10): a good value, around $3.00 per 350 yd (solid) ball, and readily available for purchase in Hobby Lobby and Michaels stores, as well as online. This mercerized cotton crochet thread has been a doily-making staple for years. It comes in a wide variety of colors (new ones came out just this year - so excited) in both solids, shaded, and ombres (the shaded and ombre colorways have less yardage, but white and ecru have more, on the same-priced ball). Strong, mostly colorfast, smooth, and plied (it has 4 and they are tightly twisted), this thread offers beautiful stitch definition and an ideal drape on size US-1 (2.25 mm) needles. This is my go-to thread. I use it for almost all of my knitted examples. Occasionally you will find a ball that seems to have better "quality" than others (for me, this means less fuzz and more shine), and the newer colors seem to be thicker than older ones. Still, the gauge is pretty close and it shouldn't make a difference. I have never noticed pilling and it stands up well to being ripped out and re-knit. You pretty much can't go wrong with this thread. (I'm going to refer to this as AL from here on out.)
J&P Coats Royale (size 10): Very similar - almost indistinguishably so - to AL. Comes highly recommended with basically the same review. I don't think I'd be able to tell these apart if I didn't have the labels. They do have the prettiest shade of purple/indigo I can find, which AL doesn't have. Many of the other colors are almost the same. I think this might be discontinued.
DMC Traditions (size 10): I was not impressed with this thread. If I remember correctly, it only has 2 plies, is loosely twisted, does not knit to gauge (it is thinner than Aunt Lydia's), doesn't come in many colors, and is not very well mercerized (it's fuzzy). I bought one ball of this and never used it again. Don't waste your money on this. DMC generally has very high quality products; this just happens to not be one of them. I think this is discontinued, and I wouldn't be surprised if so.
Aunt Lydia's Bamboo Crochet Thread (size 10): It doesn't get much sexier than this. I can't tell you how excited I was (I probably cooed out loud) when I found that this is now made in several BEAUTIFUL colors. The palette is soft, all complementary, and wonderful. This thread, while not the strongest (I ripped a strand when I tried to crochet a magic loop!), is a little fuzzy but has the most wonderful hand and drape. It's priced a little higher than AL, but not by much, and comes on a 300 yd. ball - still a lot of doll sweaters! It's plied (4 plies, and they split if you are careless) and a little fuzzy, but in miniature looks a lot like a fine merino. I don't know about the color fastness, but rayon has a bad reputation, so I'd hand wash it in cold water. It might pill, but again - no big deal if this is not for human wear. Also, it doesn't like staying on the ball, so consider keeping the whole ball in a plastic bag. This is the definite choice your dolly would make if she's a lush!
Knitpicks Palette (fingering weight, 100% wool): Produced in over 100 colors, this is a good choice if you are looking to make a rainbow of sweaters for your doll collection. I was not impressed, however, with how loosely spun the 2 plies are. It blocks well and has all of the favorable qualities of wool: springy, forgiving of tension, and keeping color. It's reasonably priced and easy to get - if you buy $50 of other stuff from Knitpicks, since it's unlikely you'd want to pay $4 to ship 2 balls of yarn.
Knitpicks Stroll (fingering weight, wool/nylon blend): Much preferred over Palette for doll sweaters, this has a nice, soft hand, a tighter twist, and comes in an impressive array of colors. I really like this and if I had more of it (again, the $50 minimum I am willing to buy prohibits that), I would use it more often. It's a little pricey - around $4 for a 50g ball - but if you are knitting a pair of socks, the leftover would make a great sweater for your doll.
DMC Perle Cotton size 8: Again in a nice array of colors, this knits up well for doll sweaters. It has a slightly boucle look to it when knitted, due to the fact that it's two thicker plies spun together. I like it, though, for a textural change. I prefer AL or AL Bamboo over this one, but I still use it when AL doesn't make a color that I want to use (for example, dark gray). One skein made a short-sleeved raglan sweater for me (although I admit I didn't finish it because I found the same color in AL). This would be a good go-to yarn if you want to knit with cotton and are a little self-conscious about your gauge.
DMC Cebelia (size 10): Corded, strong, and very high quality, this is hard to find now in colors other than white and ecru, so grab it if you can find it. Although a lot of people notice a difference in the quality of this and AL, I don't think it's that noticeable for doll knitting. Also, a red doily I made from this bled like a stuck pig!
Yarns I hope to use and review:
Nazli Gelin Egyptian Garden (looks like an upscale version of AL)
Department 71 Crochet Cotton (might be discontinued since it's at clearance prices on Herrschners.com; but the rich variegateds are SEXY)
Knitpicks Gloss, fingering AND laceweight (I want to try a wool/silk blend)
Yarns I do NOT recommend:
South Maid crochet cotton - I have heard that this isn't even mercerized!
DMC stranded embroidery floss - this is only 8.7 yards, and will not be knitted easily.
Any crochet cotton larger than size 10: it is thick, cotton, and will not work. It will have NO drape. If you want to use a fingering or sport-weight yarn, do NOT use cotton.
DMC Baroque: the quality doesn't look good, and it only comes in a couple of colors. Just buy AL.