Knitting sidekicks: Introduction & stitch markers

What is a notion?

The word notion seems to come from the sewing world, where it covers anything under the sun, except the machine and the thread. This includes buttons, zippers and any accessory you can imagine. In the knitting world, we can use this handy definition, but we will focus on gadgets that are secondary to the knitting (i.e. are not yarn or needles), but help accomplish the work. Buttons, zippers and other ornaments will be left aside.

Let’s face it, once you’ve settled with good yarn and needles, the rest might feel like an unnecessary expense. We won’t argue with this: most notions are about making your knit/crochet tasks easier, not possible. On the other hand, a few bucks might save you a lot of time and headache if you invest wisely.

We tried many notions readily available on the market, from local yarn stores to chain retailers. This list is — for brevity’s sake — heavily skewed toward building a small nest of really useful tools. There is a ton of different helpers and tools available, but we think those basics are a must.

For the presentation of results, we gathered inspiration from many reviews websites, most notably the Wirecutter. Each category of product will showcase, if possible:

  • A basic option: what can you use that you already have at home?
  • A better choice: looking at price versus quality, where do we think you can find the sweet spot?
  • A best-in-class: if money is no object, what is our current favorite?
  • A rest category: what we considered in our line up, and why it fell short.

Since there is always new products being released (albeit at a slower pace than computers or cars), we will keep adding to this post to keep it current. Most notions are self-explanatory enough to be simply compared instead of having each a full-blown review.

Main program: let’s talk about those stitch markers

Stitches markers have many uses for the fiber artist. You can obviously use them to mark stitches (either wrap them inside a specific stitch or on the needles, between two stitches, to mark a specific section), but also to count rows inside a specific pattern. I tend to overuse them: my stitch pattern has 12 stitches? A marker at every 12 stitches.

A quick google search will yield many, many, many results for stitch markers. The offering is huge, and we couldn’t test every product available on the market. We bought all the products we tested and are using most of them on a regular basis. Let us know if we forgot about your favorite, and we’ll do our best to get our paws on them.

Disclaimer: we didn’t like your favorite product? Take a moment to see if:

  • We are optimizing using a different set of rules than you.
  • What is our intended use case and if your is the same.
  • What our criticism is and if it applies to what you do.

For stitch markers, we looked at versatility (can they both be used on the needles and in the middle of a knit), sturdiness (do they look like they’re going to last a while?) and variety (since stitch markers are used as knitting mnemonics, a good color variety is nice to have). Since most notions will end up in a pouch or notion case, packaging wasn’t much of a concern to us. Here are those we made the cut.

Basic : an elastic, a paperclip, a loop of yarn…

Stitch markers are inexpensive, but in a pinch, you can pretty much use anything round and smooth. Tie up a contrasting loop of yarn (avoid anything fuzzy!) and you’re good to go. Small plastic hair elastics are also great in a pinch. A visit at the dollar store will yield you a ton for less than a penny a piece. Paper clips and similar office supplies are also quite handy, but be careful about getting metal snagging the yarn or scratching your needles.

Better : Knit Picks/Knitter’s Pride/Knit Pro plastic locking stitch markers

Left: Knit Picks locking Stitch Markers.
Right: Clover regular and large locking stitch markers.

$2 USD will give you 20 of those versatile stitch markers (and many Canadian retailers will carry them). They are available in two muted colors, which looks great but might be lost if you knit in a similar color. Knitter’s Pride also has them at a slightly steeper price tag and in different colors. I haven’t tried them, but I’m fairly sure they’re made at the same place.

You might find similar stitch markers under different brand names. Many stores will also sell them individually or in small packages, in an impressive array of color. Avoid the transparent looking ones. They might look cool on the shelf but didn’t last a test knit, breaking at the smallest amount of pressure. And remember to store them open, as the stress to keep them closed for a long time might weaken the plastic.


Transparent locking stitch markers. Can you guess which 3 I tried to close?

Best : Clover locking stitch markers

For a couple bucks more, you get the same thing as the Knit Picks, but more flexible, in more popping colors, and in two sizes (regular and large). Clover is available pretty much everywhere and one pack of each will last you quite some time. My only complain would be the small array of available colors, but you can easily complete with another brand, or even the “cheap and cheerful” no-name ones yarn store will carry.

Clover also makes many other different types of markers. I find them either overkill or not as versatile as the normal ones. Keep it simple.

The rest


Cocoknits round and locking (calabash-style) stitch markers. They come in a pricey ensemble and the coating will wear eventually.

Calabash stitch markers: Also available and very popular are calabash-style stitch markers. I’ve had mixed experiences with those. They are usually very pretty, but I find them too thin to be really versatile. Using them on the needles is usually cumbersome as their diameter is rather small (making them impossible to use for bulkier knits) and your needle may get stuck in the smaller part of the marker.

I gave a fair shot, but ended up disliking the Cocoknits. The packaging is stellar, but they charge quite a premium for a finish that will wear out if it gets in contact with metal. Hiya Hiya also makes them, as well as many other brands. I would just stay far from them: the finish flecked out on my knit the first time I used them, and I had to tweeze them out.


Stay away from those plastic coated calabash-type markers. The green coating got stuck in the fibers of my knitting, and I had to tweeze it out. Garbage.

Those markers are also available in a metal finish. You don’t get as many colors (obviously) and I’m very uncomfortable using metal against my needles. If you’re dead set on getting metal markers, go to a hardware or sewing notions store and save 90% out off the retail price. You’ll know what you’re getting into.

After showing this to my friends, many were quick to point out that they aren’t really meant to be on the needles. I don’t find them visible enough on my knitting to be useful and I’m pretty sure that my “rough” treatment accelerated their decay, not caused it.

Round stitch markers (also called o-rings): I use them in a pinch, but find them to be not as convenient as locking stitch markers (who can obviously stay closed and used in the same fashion). We tried the ones from Cocoknits, Clover and ChiaoGoo.

Cocoknits has some in metal with the same plastic coating as their locking markers, plus some in uncoated metal. The same disclaimer we gave for the calabash-style applies here. Clover makes flexible ones out of plastic in two sizes. In a knitting frenzy, I often send some flying by applying a little too much pressure on them. ChiaoGoo gives some with their needle kits, which can be good in a pinch (and are very pretty), but are a little too thick for my liking.

Split ring stitch markers: They are the predecessors to locking stitch markers, and a dig in old knitters stashes will reveal many of them. You get the same feeling as round markers, but a notch inside of them allows you to use them as regular stitch markers. Having a huge stash of both locking and round markers, I never was tempted to buy them, but tried many different kinds at my favorite local yarn stores. They seem sturdier but more cumbersome than locking stitch markers, and I would advise getting the latter. On the flip side, I recently started using the Prym ones (because I liked their shape and colors) and I must admit that I like them a lot. They are available in 3 colors (white, red and purple), 2 sizes and you can find them both at LYS and craft stores.

From the left: ChiaoGoo round markers, Unknown-brand markers (impulse buy…), Prym split ring markers.

Fancy, artsy stitch markers: Finally, if you have deeper pockets, you can get fancy stitch markers crafted like jewels. I find them to be more of a statement than a really useful tool, and they’re often heavier and more cumbersome to use. Your mileage may vary. Note that many of them are shaped like a mini necklace and are a replacement for o-rings, not stitch markers.

Conclusion

I must admit that I never really thought about stitch markers before writing this article. They are inexpensive and ubiquitous, and often the first purchase (along with a darning needle) a new knitter makes. Surveying yarn store owners made me realize that many of them don’t extensively test the markers they sell, and don’t get a lot of returns (probably because they’re often final sales). A bad purchase is often enough to deter a customer to come back, and notions are so inexpensive you have no excuse not to try them.

Since most notions are very similar, what will differentiate them is often the packaging. Pretty sells, but what good does it make if you end up trashing it? Many yarn stores are starting to offer stitch markers in bulk, or pre-packaged in nondescript plastic bags, and I’d like to see more of this.

Are there any of your favorite notions that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

2 comments

    • You can get o-rings (plastic or metal), but also safety pins (with and without the loop at the end). Since they’re not made for that specifically, be careful about the finish (this applies to any marker, though).

      I enjoy the very industrial feeling of getting supplies at the Hardware Store. 🙂

      Like

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