This Canadian Company Changes Lives, One Square Knitting Needle at a Time

24 August 2022

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Of all the knitting tools I’ve encountered, square needles are the most enigmatic. For knitters who experience pain or mobility issues in their hands and arms, they’re hailed as life-changing. But for others, they’re viewed with suspicion. Are there gauge issues with square needles? Do they feel weird in your hands? Are they slower than conventional round needles? Are they worth the investment?

To find some answers, I went to Canada’s very own source for square knitting needles: kollage SQUARE™.

What I discovered was a company as unique as the knitting and crochet tools that they make.

The kollage SQUARE™ Story

Career Services is non-profit organization based in Brockville, Ontario. For more than forty years, they’ve provided employment services to people with disabilities. They offer training, real work experience, one-on-one coaching, and community placement opportunities to thousands of individuals who face barriers to employment.

When one of those community placement businesses, a local manufacturer of square knitting needles, went up for sale, Career Services saw a chance to knit together a revenue-generating opportunity with their inclusive social mission. And so, kollage SQUARE™ became a subsidiary of Career Services.

Today, every purchase of a kollage SQUARE™ product allows Career Services to expand their mandate to help people with developmental disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment.

But what about the needles themselves—and all of those burning questions? I reached out to Ryan Billing, Retail Accounts Manager with kollage SQUARE™ and Program Coordinator with Career Services, and we had a chat about all things SQUARE.

The Ergonomics

Square knitting needles are widely seen as the ergonomic answer for anyone looking to reduce stress on their hands and wrists when knitting, but especially for knitters living with hand and wrist pain and mobility issues related to conditions like arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
The science is simple. When you hold a round needle, your finger and thumb are always in contact with a rounded surface and that causes contact stress. When you rest your finger on the flat edge of a square needle, no matter what grip you use, contact with the flat surface reduces stress on the nerves in your fingers, and by association, your hands and wrists. Reducing stress and strain, and the pain associated with them, means that knitters who might otherwise be forced to stop knitting altogether don’t have to give up the craft they love; more generally, it means longer, more comfortable crafting sessions.

As Ryan explains, that can have a huge impact on a crafter’s life. “Square needles are a game-changer for anyone who struggles with hand and arm tension issues and is unable to knit for a sustained period. Many of our users tell us that our needles and their square design are the only reason they can continue to knit.” For kollage SQUARE™ and Career Services, that synergy is a key part of their mission. Ryan continues, “Helping people overcome a barrier and continue to follow their passion meshes well with our ideology.”

image description: a crochet hook and four different square knitting needles

What About Gauge?

Ask anyone who is on the fence about square needles, and they invariably bring up the issue of gauge. From stitch night communities to knitting bloggers, the consensus seems to be that square needles produce a tighter, more even knitted fabric, and that a square needle of any given size will knit up at a smaller gauge than a traditional round needle of the same size.

Round needle sizes are based on the diameter of the cross-section of the needle. Square needle sizes are based on the diagonal distance between the corners of the square cross-section. Without even doing the math, it’s clear that the perimeter of a 3.75 mm round needle is larger than that of a 3.75 mm square needle. 

Needle Cross Section

Apply a little math and it becomes clear that whenever those two measurements are the same, the perimeter of the round needle will always be eleven per cent larger than that of the square needle.

On paper, eleven per cent seems like a big deal, but does it have a practical impact? Ryan assured me that the gauge issue was “a popular myth,” and that, “For most if not all users, gauge is not affected when users switch from round to square needles.”

Curious—and a little skeptical—I decided it was time to see for myself. Using a pair of round KnitPicks Rainbow round needles and a pair of kollage SQUARE™ needles, both 3.75 mm, I knitted two gauge swatches using Estelle Superwash Merino (in the Sky colourway, from Yarns Untangled in Toronto). After washing the swatches and allowing them to dry with no manipulation whatsoever, it was time to measure.

Needle Gauge Test

Much to my surprise, my stitch counts over 2 inches were 10.5 for both swatches. Row counts were 15 with the round needles and 14.5 with the square needles. For me, at least, round and square needle gauge was very nearly identical.

But even if your gauge is smaller than expected with square needles, it’s not the end of the world. Remember, a gauge swatch is your friend; most knitters find that moving up one needle size does the trick.

As for ergonomics, while the needles initially felt unfamiliar in my hands, I soon got the hang of keeping my fingers on the flat surfaces and I found myself knitting faster and with less fatigue.

The Product Range

kollage SQUARE™ needles are made from aluminum and manufactured at the company’s facility in Brockville, Ontario.

The product range includes square circular needles from 2.25mm/US 0 to 8mm/US 11, featuring stainless steel joiners and firm (traditional) or soft cable options in lengths ranging from 23-150 cm/9 to 60 inches. The swivel connector—one of my favourite features—means never again having to wrestle with kinked or twisted cords.

They offer chunky needle sizes, straight needles, double-pointed needles, a line of traditional round needles, and interchangeable sets with a patented click-type fastener that won’t come undone until you disconnect it.

And crocheters rejoice! kollage SQUARE™ makes a line of crochet hooks featuring ergonomically shaped wooden handles, with options for pointed or rounded tips.

All products are backed by a lifetime guarantee.

image description: a variety of knitting tools in their packages, all from brand kollage SQUARE

Being Square in a Round World

Having experienced the needles for myself, I only had one more question for Ryan: If square needles are so great, why don’t more people use them?

Turns out, there is no single answer. “Square needles are a niche product,” Ryan explains. “Users have a connection to the tools they’ve always used and can be reluctant to invest in something new, especially if it’s an unknown, or if they have a certain style or technique that they’re accustomed to.”

I wondered if distribution might be a factor: Square needles are not as widely available as traditional round needles. But according to Ryan, distribution is another unique aspect of the kollage SQUARE™ story. “We value the connection the end user has with their local yarn store. We believe in building relationships with real people—both at the retail and user level. While we offer direct purchase from our website, www.kollagesquare.com, our preferred model is to work with stores and distribute our products through those channels. We want people to be connected to their local store and we love to make new relationships and offer our products in new stores.”

kollage SQUARE™ hopes to continue forging those key relationships in North America, and beyond, to European and South American markets.

The Future is Square

We invest a great deal of time, money, and physical effort to practice the simple—yet wonderfully complex—act of making loops in lengths of string, and the benefits are innumerable. So why not do everything we can—from hand exercises and stretches to using ergonomic tools—to make sure that we can continue to enjoy these benefits for years to come?

Gauge comparison image by Michelle Woodvine; all other images courtesy of kollage SQUARE™.

Copyright © Michelle Woodvine except as indicated.
Head shot of Michelle Woodvine

About Michelle Woodvine

Michelle Woodvine is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor on a quest to never stop learning and making. When not wordsmithing for others, Michelle can usually be found working on her trilogy of speculative fiction novels, learning a new skill, or goofing around with her family (including her very own rocket scientist, two teenage boys, and one feisty ginger cat). Follow the weird, wonderful, and wordy adventures @woodvinewrites or visit www.woodvinewrites.com

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