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My Complete Guide To Knitting Needles – All The Best Knitting Needle Types And When To Use Them

The many Knitting Needles available can seem overwhelming. This guide is to give you a better understanding.

My guide helps you understand size, materials, and types of knitting needles. I also share why it’s important to knit a swatch and test your gauge. 🙂

Knitting Needles

Table of Contents

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The Click and Clack Of Knitting Needles

Click, clack, click, clack.

Do you enjoy the sound of them weaving their magic?

Some people describe the sound as a “whisper”. I love this idea, needles whispering sweet sounds of what’s to come.

There are so many knitting needles!

Some knitters have old versions tucked away in their cupboards. All have been used and loved by knitters of years ago.

What would past knitters think of the choices available now?

I remember learning to knit on plastic and metal straight needles.

The metal ones were freezing when picking them out of my knitting bag. I admit I broke some plastics! Now I use fixed circular needles with bamboo tips.

My favorite knitting podcast host; Andrea from Fruity Knitting said she knitted her beautiful projects on ancient wooden needles. Over time they became bent.

She spends most of her knitting budget on expensive wool, she opted not to pay so much for needles. Until her husband, who co-hosts the podcast and a complete knitting newbie, complained about the ones he used!

Andrew announced an artist is only as good as his tools. Perhaps in his case, it’s true. I beg to differ in regards to Andrea. The knitting she created using those bent needles was extraordinary!

Many knitters swear by particular brands and only use those. They try out many different knitting needles and find what is the best knitting needle for them.

Trying them all out is costly. If you do heaps of knitting, anything making it comfortable and quicker justifies the spending.

To find the types of needles and needle materials that suits you, you need to try different sorts.

Diameter & Length Of Knitting Needles

Sizes used in a knitting project depend on many factors – the thickness of yarn, stitch used and to some extent the design. The finer the yarn, the smaller sizes required.

They come in varying diameters and lengths.

The needle diameter determines the stitch sizes. The thicker the needle, the larger the stitch and looser fabric. With a smaller one, the stitches are tiny and tighter, thicker material.

You also need to know your knitting gauge.

Length

Long or short, straight or circular. The type of project determines the length of your needle. Most patterns have suggestions for the length.

A large project such as a blanket or sweater needs a longer needle or cord. Small, flat projects can be worked on any needle length. Small ones like socks need a short circular needle or double-pointed needles.

Most straight needles are 10-16″ (25-40 cm) long, and circular needles vary from 12″ to 60″. The length can be a personal choice.

If you have lots of stitches, you’ll need extra long needles. A shorter one may be more comfortable. A matter of personal preference.

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Knit Picks Radiant Needles have smooth layers of laminated birch and sharp, gradually tapered tips

Yarn

Another factor of the best-sized knitting needle is the chosen yarn. 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, the same sizing as the UK.

Knitting Needle Sizes

On my post, I show you everything you need to know on knitting needle size. Plus I have a handy international conversion chart with metric sizing, US sizes, UK sizes, and Japan sizing.

Knitting Needle Gauge

And if your knitting needle isn’t labelled with the size, a handy tool to have is a Knitting Needle Gauge. Read more about why it’s a good idea to have one in my post.

Knitting A Test Swatch To Determine What Size Knitting Needle You Need

Every knitter has a different tension. It’s how tightly they knit. The tightness of your knitting determines which needles.

How Is This Done?

A knitting gauge is how many stitches per inch you knit with a particular yarn and knitting needle. It’s essential to know yours. Most patterns list it for a project, and it’s more important than the listed needle size.

How To Find Your Gauge?

Knit a test swatch in the chosen yarn and suggested needle size. Measure how many stitches per inch you knit. If yours matches the pattern, great!

If it doesn’t match, adjust up or down a needle size until your gauge matches the pattern. There is an excellent tutorial by Davina at Sheep & Stitch to help you. 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

Metal

Many knitters prefer the slippery coating on metal needles as they are smooth and fast. Metal knitting needles often crafted out of aluminum, stainless steel, brass or nickel plated.

Metal needles have the pointiest tips, like lace needles. An excellent choice for certain yarn weights. The best knitting needles for lace and fingering yarns.

The pointy tips are also great for intricate stitch work like lace made with very fine stitches, or detailed cable knitting.

Benefits

  • They are durable and inexpensive.
  • They suit working with hairy and fibrous yarns, the stitches slide along the surface of the needle and don’t catch.
  • Great for increasing your speed.
  • Sets of needles come with a case.
  • Easily They click when knitting. Soothing to some, irritating to others.

Downsides

  • They are cold, hard and inflexible.
  • They click when knitting. Soothing to some, irritating to others.
  • Avoid this type of knitting needle material if you have any problems with your hands such as Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Arthritis.
  • Surface can corrode or get scratched over time.

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Carbon Fiber

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 yarn or fine and silky yarns.

Benefits

  • Some people don’t like the smell of brass and others are sensitive. These needles would make a great alternative.
  • Lightweight

Downsides

  • Expensive
  • Hard to find

Plastic

They’re lightweight, smooth, and flexible. They become warm in the hands after knitting. Heat transfers from the hands to the needles.

Types of plastic include normal grey plastic and acrylic.

They’re subject to warping but they are the best for those on a budget. They’re also excellent for flying with.

There are even light up needles made of clear plastic with an LED light inside.

Benefits

  • If you plan to do lots of knitting with thick, chunky or bulky yarn and require huge knitting needles, choose these for their lightness.
  • Plastic needles come in many colors.
  • A good opportunity for encouraging young beginner knitters.
  • They’re an economical choice for a beginner knitter too.
  • Affordable

Downsides

  • Subject to warping
  • Not too durable
  • Don’t last as long as some other materials

Wood

Wooden knitting needles are quiet, smooth but not slippery. They’re sometimes made of exotic woods and have carved ends or painted decorations.

Types of wood include birch, rosewood and ebony.

Benefits

  • They’re warmer in your hand and lighter than metal needles and lighter.
  • Smooth
  • Comfortable to use

Downsides

  • They catch and slow you down.
  • Wood needles have blunter tips than others.

Bamboo

They’re lightweight but don’t slow you down as much.

Most of the knitting I do is on quality bamboo circular needles. I find them to be the best knitting needles for knitting cotton dishcloths and they feel light in my hands.

Different manufacturers produce these needles with variations in their tips and ends. The shape of the point is important when you transfer stitches from one needle to another.

Benefits

  • They’re excellent for beginners.
  • The best bamboo ones have a slight grip, and knitted stitches remain in place.
  • Great for slippery yarns.
  • Light on the hands
  • Made with sustainable materials

Downsides

  • Have a bit of grip
  • Can catch the yarn
  • Gets warm and sticky after lots of use

Casein

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.

Benefits

  • Nice colors
  • Smooth & lightweight
  • Warm in the hands
  • Slightly flexible
  • Very quiet

Downsides

  • Short and blunt
  • Expensive
  • Limited availability & hard to find

Glass

Though it may seem a bit strange, yes, they exist! Usually made with Pyrex to make them more durable.

Benefits

  • Beautiful
  • Available in a wide aray of lovely colors and patterns
  • Smooth
  • Stitches don’t slide off accidentally

Downsides

  • Breakable
  • Expensive
  • Not too durable
  • Have a bit of grip

Bone

An ancient material, possibly the first thing they were ever made out of. They’re very similar to the properties of bamboo.

Benefits

  • Smooth
  • Warm to the touch
  • Have a bit of grip
  • Slightly flexible

Downsides

  • Expensive
  • A bit of grip
  • Hard to find
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Types and Styles of Knitting Needles

Straight Knitting Needles

Straight knitting needles are the most common style. They come in pairs. Most common lengths are 7″ (good size for children) , 10″, 12″ and 14″.

Best for smaller projects with no excess bulk on the needles while you work. Scarves, baby blankets, and wraps use straight knitting needles.

You can use end caps which are placed over each needle tip for when you are taking a rest from your knitting. This stops the stitches from sliding off the needles.

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Circular Knitting Needles

Circular needles have two knitting needle tips. They’re approximately 5 inches long, connected by a flexible cord. The cord lengths vary from 16″ to about 50″.

The tips come in plastic, metal, wood, or bamboo. These needles may have flexible nylon cords or plastic ones.

Your choice of tips depends on the type of material you like in straight needles. Although they’re designed for knit in the round, they also knit back and forth.

Circulars are essential for those times you are knitting wide projects such as shawls. Two 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. Small circular 9 inch sock knitting needles are very popular with knitters.

Using these 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.

Double Pointed Knitting Needles

Double pointed needles (referred to as DPNs) are short needles with points at both ends. Commonly sold in sets of 4 or 5. Designed for knitting in the round.

The technique is knitting in a circle or 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, gloves, baby hats, adult hat crowns or seamless sleeves.

Interchangeable Knitting Needle Sets

Interchangeable needle sets have short needle tips. Like the ends of circular needles, they have a range of sizes, and different lengths of cords.

They combine to create circular sets of different lengths and sizes.

Some styles can create different lengths of straight needle sets. Interchangeables are assembled by screwing the pieces together.

Other versions snap in place and some use a small key to attach the connection points to the cords.

A set of interchangeable knitting needles can seem expensive and high end. Considered as luxury needles by some, interchangeables make life so much easier.

However they’re cheaper than buying each needle size and length separately. They give increased versatility for your knitting.

The tips are made from a variety of materials, metal, wood and durable plastic like the Denise Interchangeable needle set.

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Knit Picks have Needle Binders to keep everything neat and tidy

Giant Knitting Needles

Size 50 Knitting needles come in straights and circular needles. They are light and versatile – use them for scarves, big throws, blankets or rugs.

The best knitting tools for super sized projects. Knitted projects take no time with big yarn.

Knitting with these takes practice and can feel awkward. Not recommended for people with wrist strain.

When working with big straight needles, make sure you’ve got 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 these experience less tiredness in their hands and wrists. People find they knit more evenly. Knitter’s Pride make a metal version, many are wooden.

Most people have to go up a needle size to get their standard gauge. It’s crucial to test before taking on a new project with a differently shaped version.

Hexagonal Knitting Needles

Traditionally a knitting needle is a solid round length with a pointed tip. These look similar to a pencil. Companies like Indian Lake Artisans create beautiful wooden hexagonal-shaped needles.

The benefits of using these are –

  • Multiple resting points for your fingers
  • Relax your grip and still maintain control
  • Stitch gauge remains the same, yarn rests on the outer ends of the hex shape
  • The needle wood tip is sharp

Ergonomic Knitting Needles

Designed with comfort and easier knitting in mind, these needles have many unique design features and the way they’re constructed to make them more ergonomic.

As a result, they could take some getting used to, but if you have hand pain/hand strain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or just want something to keep you knitting for longer, these are an excellent choice.

Vintage Knitting Needles

These are needles from as recently as the 1980s, to as far back as the 1920s. A favorite of collectors and knitters who like lightweight needles, these were made of many different materials.

Knitting Needles For Kids

Usually shorter in length than an average sized needle, and with blunter tips, these are specifically designed for small hands. They’re most commonly made of plastic, but can be made of bamboo or wood too.

Handmade Knitting Needles

There are some lovely hand crafted needles that are often made of wood or bamboo. They have an heirloom quality and are made to last.

Knitting Needles For Beginners

On knitting forums, experienced knitters recommend starting with bulky yarn for beginning knitters. This type of yarn uses thicker needles, your first project knits up quickly.

Decide on the type of yarn you’ll be using. Once you’ve got your yarn, look at the label. It tells you the size of needle best corresponding to said yarn. You’re set.

When you’re a beginner, you’ll start to understand your tension, whether loose or tight. Beginner knitting projects like a scarf have a suggested needle size. Basic knitting is way easier.

Best to start with that. Gauge won’t matter so much in these projects.

Later with complex patterns, start swatching and know your gauge.

Best Knitting Needles Brand

I’ve reviewed the needles offered by different companies in the posts below:

  • Addi – German company with over 100 years of experience. Known for slick, fast aluminum and metal needles.
  • Aero – Vintage aluminum needles manufactured in the 60s, 70s and 80s, these are quality needles to last a lifetime.
  • Boye – Affordable needles great for beginner knitters.
  • Brittany – A small, sustainable family-owned business from the US, they sell needles made from birch and walnut wood.
  • Bryspun – Made in the USA by a New Zealander company, designed for those who have arthritis, hand strain, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • ChiaoGoo – A Chinese family owned giant, they manufacture a wide variety of needle types and with different materials.
  • Clover – A Japanese company, known for their Clover Takumi bamboo range of smooth natural bamboo needles.
  • Crystal Palace – Their range is entirely bamboo, polished and cured to make them durable and made from Japanese bamboo in Japan.
  • Deborah Norville – Manufactured by Premier Yarns, with smooth birch wood, an exclusive line created by the famous TV personality.
  • Denise – Small family owned business from the USA. Known for interchangeable plastic needles.
  • Hiya Hiya – Known for their sharp metal needles, they’re crafted with precision and are perfect for intricate knitting.
  • Hobby Lobby – This online craft store stocks generic needles and some from different well-know brands.
  • Knit Picks – An yarn company and seller of a wide variety of quality knitting notions, their needles are made from laminated birch.
  • Knitter’s Pride – Known as KnitPro in Europe and Australia, they have numerous sub-brands with a variety of needle styles.
  • Kollage – Made by the Dutch company Louet, they sell square needles designed for comfort and ease of use.
  • Inox – A subsidiary of Prym, these are made of smooth aluminum.
  • Lantern Moon – Now shut down but products still available, formerly manufactured luxury wood needles made from rubberwood.
  • Lion Brand – Lion Brand® Yarn Company is a fifth-generation, family-owned business in the USA. They have their own brand of plastic needles.
  • Lykke – Handmade in Nepal by local craftspeople, this company gets it’s name from the Scandinavian word meaning happiness.
  • Neko – Primarily known for their curved DPNs, a unique take on the classic double pointed needle optimized for comfort.
  • Pony – A company based in India, they produce a wide variety of needles of different materials and styles.
  • Prym – Specializing in ergonomic needles, made of comfortable and smooth plastic.
  • Signature Needles – A family owned US business, products manufactured in Wisconsin. Luxury colored aluminum needles.
  • Susan Bates – Perfect for beginners, these are affordable and versatile.
  • Tulip – A Japanese company manufacturing smooth needles made of local bamboo, these are quality and very well made.

Plenty of helpful information for you about the best knitting needles. Hope you found this guide useful, and feel free to bookmark it as a handy reference. Your fellow knitter friends might appreciate it if you shared this too.

Something I forgot? Or have a question? Leave a comment at the end.

About Jodie Morgan

Hi. I’m Jodie Morgan, owner and creator of Knit Like Granny. (Yes, I’m a real person :) ) Thanks for being here.

I created Knit Like Granny to help show 1,000,000 people the benefits of knitting & highlight alternatives to fast fashion.

I love knitting and have met so many other fabulous knitters through this site. I enjoy learning and helping others discover the joys of working with yarn.

Please say hello!

8 thoughts on “My Complete Guide To Knitting Needles – All The Best Knitting Needle Types And When To Use Them”

  1. There some knitting needles that does not work very well with yarn.I would say most of the time let say 95% I work with wool.the best choice would be bamboo .The tip of the knitting needles is very important,some of them the tip is to big.

    Reply
    • Thanks very much Christiane for sharing your thoughts on what knitting needles work best with wool. I too like knitting with Bamboo needles but I have also enjoyed working with metal tips.

      Reply
    • Hi Mary Jo. Thanks for getting in touch. Welcome to the wonderful community of knitting 🙂 I hope you enjoy your knitting adventures. When starting out, our readers have recommended using larger sized needles. This means the project will knit up more quickly and you get practice without too much difficulty. I would try plastic needles, as they are usually more inexpensive. Size US 10 (6mm) would be a good start. They come in different lengths, so start off with a shorter length, anywhere up from 8 inches(approx 20cm). I will also check in again with my readers, to see what other tips they suggest. Cheers Jodie

      Reply
  2. Would square needles be best for children as the advantages for the disabled would be the same as for beginners, e.g easy grip, less slip off?

    Reply
    • Hi Margaret. That’s a very good question. I am always impressed with kids’ ability to learn a new skill. Trying tubular needles first and see how they go would be my recommendation. I say that because there are so many to choose from including size and material they are made from. Cheers Jodie

      Reply

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