The many types of Knitting Needles can seem overwhelming at first.
This guide was created to give you a better understanding of what to look for.
In this post I share all you need to know about Knitting Needles.
The Click and Clack Of Knitting Needles
Click, clack, click, clack.
Do you enjoy the sound of knitting needles weaving their magic?
Some people describe the sound of working knitting needles as a “whisper”. I love this idea, that the needles are whispering sweet sounds of what is to come.
There are so many knitting needles out there.
Some knitters have old versions tucked away in their cupboards. All have been well used and loved by knitters of past years.
What would these knitters from the past, think of the myriad of knitting needles available to us now?
I remember learning to knit on plastic and metal straight needles.
I was always struck by how cold the metal needles were when picking them up out of my knitting bag. I will also admit to breaking some plastic needles.
Now I use fixed circular needles that have bamboo tips. One of my favorite knitting podcast hosts; Andrea from Fruity Knitting talked in one of her episodes that she knitted many of her beautiful projects on an ancient wooden pair of needles. Over time they became slightly bent.
As she spends most of her knitting project budget on expensive wool, she has opted not to pay so much on knitting needles.
That was until her husband, who co-hosts the podcast and a complete beginner to knitting, complained about the knitting needles he had to use!
Andrew announced that an artist is only as good as his tools.
Perhaps in his case, being a beginner that is true. I beg to differ in regards to Andrea, as the knitting she created using those needles was extraordinary!!
Many knitters swear by particular brands and will only use those.
Often this is due to trying out many different knitting needles and finding what suits them best.
Trying out different needles is a costly exercise. If you do heaps of knitting, anything that makes your efforts more comfortable and quicker, you can justify the spending.
There are many types of knitting needles, more on those further down my post.
Finding what best suits you, will take a little bit of trying out different sorts.
My guide will help you understand the size, materials, and types of knitting needles.
I also share why it is so important to knit a swatch and test your gauge.🙂
Table of Contents
- Size of Knitting Needles
- Knitting Needle Size Conversion Chart
- Knitting a Test Swatch to determine what knitting needle size to use
- Materials used for Knitting Needles
- Types and Styles of Knitting Needles
- Knitting Needles for Beginners
- Key Takeaways and Recommendations
Sizes of Knitting Needles
Size of needles used in a knitting project depends on many factors – the thickness of yarn, stitch used and to some extent the design. The finer the yarn, the smaller size needles required.
Knitting needles come in varying diameters and lengths. The essential size you need to look for is the diameter.
The diameter of the needle determines the size of the stitches on your knitting needle. The thicker the needle is, the bigger the stitches. The thinner the needle is, the smaller the stitches. It also has to do with knowing your knitting gauge, more about that below.
The thicker the needle, the larger the stitch and the more elastic and loose the resulting fabric. With a smaller diameter knitting needle, the resulting stitches will be tiny, and the material will usually be tighter and thicker.
Long or short, straight or circular. Depending on the type of project you are taking on will determine the length of your needle. Most knitting patterns will have suggestions about the length. A large project such as a blanket or sweater will usually need a longer needle or cord. Small, flat projects such as a scarf, can be worked on any needle length. Small projects like socks need a short circular needle or double-pointed needles.
Most straight needles are 10-16 inches (25-40 cm) long, and circular needle cords vary from 12″ to as long as 60″. The length of the knitting needle is more of a personal choice. If you are using lots of stitches, then you will need long needles. A shorter knitting needle may be more comfortable. This is a matter of personal preference.
Another factor of what will be the best-sized knitting needle is the yarn chosen for the project. (Thicker yarn means fewer stitches can fit on a needle). Different countries have different numbers/measures. In Australia, knitting needles are in metric sizes (millimeters) mm. In Canada, they refer to the same sizing as the UK.
Different Types of Knitting Needles Explained
Knitting Needle Size Conversion Chart
This handy international conversion chart shows metric sizing. It also gives the US, UK, and Japan sizing based on the information by Cotton and Cloud.
Knitting a Test Swatch to determine what size knitting needle you need.
Every knitter has a different tension which refers to how tightly they knit. The tightness of your knitting determines which needles to choose.
So How Is This Done?
Know your gauge. A knitting gauge is how many stitches per inch you knit with a particular yarn and knitting needle. Most patterns will list a gauge for the project, and this is more important than the listed needle size.
How To Find Your Gauge?
Knit a test swatch in the chosen yarn and suggested needle size and measure how many stitches per inch you knit. If your gauge matches the pattern that is great! If it does not match, then adjust up or down a needle size until your gauge matches the pattern. There is an excellent tutorial by Davina at Sheep & Stitch about knitting gauge. Read about it here.
“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.” ― Elizabeth Zimmermann
Materials used for Knitting Needles
Many knitters prefer the slippery coating on metal needles as they are smooth and fast. Metal knitting needles are most often crafted out of aluminum, also brass or nickel. They also make a clicking sound as you knit, which can be rather soothing to some, irritating to others. They are relatively durable and low cost.
They suit working with yarns that are hairy and fibrous, the stitches slide along the surface of the needle and don’t catch.
Many metal needles have the pointiest tips; this makes them an excellent choice for certain yarn weights. The pointy tips are also great for intricate stitch work such as lace made with very fine stitches, or detailed cable knitting. Some of the downsides to Metal needles is that they are cold, hard and inflexible.
Avoid Metal needles if you have any problems with your hands such as Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Arthritis.
Similar to the features of metal, this high tech material is super light and has a non-slip surface. Popular with knitters who work with lace weight yarns that are very fine and silky. Some people don’t like the smell of brass and others are sensitive. These needles would make a great alternative.
Plastic knitting needles are lightweight, smooth, and flexible. They become warm in the hands because after a bit of knitting your hands warm up and the heat transfers to the plastic knitting needles. A downside to their flexibility means that they are subject to warping.
If you are planning to do lots of knitting with thick, chunky or bulky yarn and require huge knitting needles, then choose plastic knitting needles for their lightness.
Plastic needles come in a wide range of colors. That’s a particularly good opportunity for encouraging young beginner knitters because they have so much choice. They are a more economical choice for beginners too.
Wooden knitting needles are quiet and smooth but not slippery. They are sometimes made of exotic woods and have carved ends or painted decorations. They are warmer than metal needles and generally lighter in weight.
The downsides of wooden knitting needles are they hold on to the yarn and slow you down. Many wooden knitting needles have blunter tips than other knitting needles. With specific yarns or stitches, slowing down can be a good thing.
Bamboo knitting needles are very lightweight but don’t slow you down as much. Different manufacturers produce these needles with variations in their tips and ends. The shape of the point is quite important when you transfer stitches from one needle to another. Bamboo knitting needles are an excellent choice for beginners. Bamboo has a slight grip, and knitted stitches remain in place.
Most of the knitting I do is on Bamboo circular needles. I find them easy to use and light in my hands.
Casein knitting needles are made from milk protein. They have similar qualities to plastic needles. They are gorgeous and come in tortoiseshell or pearly colors. The points of these needles are short and blunt.
Types and Styles of Knitting Needles
Straight Knitting Needles
Straight knitting needles are the style of needle that most people think of. They come as a pair and come in lengths of 7″, 10″, 12″ and 14″. They are best for smaller projects where there is no excess bulk on the needles while you work. Knitted projects such as scarves, baby blankets, and wraps use straight knitting needles.
Circular Knitting Needles
Circular needles consist of two knitting needle tips. The needle tips approximately 5 inches long, connected by a flexible cord. The cord length can vary from 16″ to about 50″. The needle tips come in plastic, metal, wood, or bamboo. The cords on most new needles are flexible nylon.
Your choice of circular needle tips depends on the type of material you like in straight needles. Although circular knitting needles let you knit in the round, they can also knit back and forth.
Circulars are indispensable when knitting wide projects such as shawls. Straight knitting needles are too short to hold all the stitches. Circulars can knit in the round on a small scale, such as knitting socks.
Using circular knitting needles means you can rest the weight of the project in your lap. Many stitches go across the cord, making the knitting lighter on your wrists.
Handy Tip About Fixing Kinks In Your Cables
Kinky cables are easily fixed. Heat some water to almost boiling. Pour the water into a bowl – enough to cover your needles. Use a chopstick or something similar to make sure the needles are entirely covered (so you don’t burn yourself). Leave them for about 30-40 seconds, more if they are not beginning to relax. Once the cables have relaxed, carefully remove them from the hot water and lay them flat on a towel. The cables should be kink free.
Libby from Truly Myrtle shares her experiences of the circular needles she loves.
9-inch circular knitting needles, for example, make small tubes. Knitters either like them or hate them.
Staci at Very Pink.com 9 inch circular knitting needles tutorial and review is excellent!
Double Pointed Knitting Needles
Double pointed needles (commonly referred to as DPNs) are short needles with points at both ends.
They are commonly sold in sets of four or five and are designed for knitting in the round, meaning knitting without a seam.
The technique of knitting in the round is knitting in a circle. Accurately described as knitting in a spiral.
The rows are counted as rounds, with the last stitch of one round leading straight onto the first stitch of the next, creating a seamless tube.
DPNs are best for socks and baby hats and adult hats when working the crown.
Also occasionally used for seamless sleeves.
Staci at Very Pink Knits video tutorial using Double Pointed needles is excellent!
Interchangeable Knitting Needle Sets
Interchangeable needle sets have short needle tips. Like the ends of circular needles, they come in a range of sizes, and different lengths of cords. The cords and needle tips combine to create circular sets of various lengths and sizes.
Some styles of interchangeable can create different lengths of straight needle sets. Interchangeable Knitting needles are assembled by screwing the pieces together. Some snap in place and some use a small key to attach the points to the cords.
Interchangeable knitting needles can seem expensive. They are generally cheaper than buying each needle size and length separately. Interchangeable sets also come with a case. Making storing the different pieces efficient and straightforward. Consider your needs and size of your purse to choose the best interchangeable knitting needles.
Marie Z. Johansen of Musing Crow Designs provides needle recommendations.
Take a look at the Interchangeable knitting needle Comparison Chart by Angela at Knitluck.
Here is another by Judy Laquidara at Patchwork Times.
Giant Knitting Needles
These knitting needles are giant! Size 50 Knitting needles come in straights and circular needles. They are compact, light and versatile – use them for anything from scarves to big throws, blankets or rugs. Knitted projects take no time at all as the yarn used is the big sort.
Knitting with giant needles does take a little practice and can feel a bit awkward. Giant Knitting needles are not recommended for people who suffer from wrist strain. When working with big straight needles, make sure you’ve got the ends of the needles supported on either side of you. Use the couch or pillows.
Square Knitting Needles
The square design of the needle shafts (the tips are still pointed), helps stop the needles from twisting and turning in your hands as you knit. Knitters who use square knitting needles experience less tiredness in their hands and wrists.
Knitters have found they knit more evenly.
One thing to note is that most people have to go up a needle size to get their standard gauge.
So as always it is crucial to swatch before taking on any new project with a differently shaped knitting needle.
Hexagonal Knitting Needles
Traditionally a knitting needle is a solid round length with a pointed tip. Hexagonal shaped needles look similar to a pencil.
Companies like Indian Lake Artisans have created beautiful wooden hexagonal shaped knitting needles.
The benefits of using hexagonal needles as are-
- there are multiple resting points for your fingers
- you can relax your grip and still maintain control
- your stitch gauge remains the same as the yarn rests on the outer ends of the hex shape
Ergonomic Knitting Needles
Prym’s Ergonomic Knitting Needle design hit the European market back in 2016. They are now also available to the US market too.
Prym, a German-based craft supplies company, came up with using flexible synthetic material and some exciting features to make knitting more comfortable. The teardrop-shaped tip is a unique feature, as is the triangular shaped shaft. The clickable heads of the straights are clever as you can keep the needles together when you are not knitting.
Roxanne Richardson of Rox’s Knits has an excellent video review on the Prym Ergonomic Needle range.
Her honest and helpful review of the 4.5mm/US 7 80cm/32 inch in length circular knitting needle is worth watching to understand more about how these needles work.
Phil from A Twisted Yarn, one of the featured knitting bloggers in our Top 100 Knitting Bloggers post, also wrote an excellent review of the Prym Ergonomic straights version.
Knitting Needles For Beginners
On many knitting forums, more experienced knitters recommend starting with bulky yarn. This type of yarn uses thicker needles, and your first project will knit up quickly.
Otherwise, decide on the type of yarn you’ll be using for your first project. Once you’ve got your yarn in hand, turn it over and look at the label. It should tell you the size of needle that best corresponds to that particular yarn.
When you are a beginner knitter, you will start to understand your tension, whether it is loose or tight. Beginner knitting projects like a scarf will have a suggested needle size. Best to start with that suggestion as gauge won’t matter so much in these projects. Later with more complex patterns, start swatching and know your gauge.
Key Takeaways and Top Recommendations
So there you go, plenty of helpful information about Knitting needles.
Enjoy all the fabulous new knitting projects and new found knowledge.
Something I forgot? Leave a question or comment at the end.
- Learn about Size of Knitting Needles
- Knitting Needle Size Conversion Chart
- Learn how to Knit a Test Swatch to determine what knitting needle size to use
- Materials used for Knitting Needles
- Types and Styles of Knitting Needles
- What are the best Knitting Needles for Beginners?
Now It’s Your Turn…
I’d like to hear what you have to say. What did you think about today’s guide?
Or maybe you have a question. Either way let me know by leaving a comment below right now or send me a message on twitter.
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