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Knitting is a fun and sustainable craft—not to mention a great way to fill your home with coziness—but it can be daunting for complete beginners as there’s so much to learn. The vocabulary around knitting (what’s a purl stitch again!?), the different types of yarn, and the variety of needles might scare off some would-be knitters.
Don’t worry—we’re here to help! This article covers everything you need to know about knitting needles. While it might look like there are far too many choices, in reality there are different ones for different types of knitting and yarn, and beginners only need to consider a small range of options.
Read on to learn about the various materials, the right sizes for each type of project, and the best knitting needles for beginners.
There are three main things to consider when choosing your needles:
You can find straight, chunky, wooden needles, or circular, thin, plastic needles, and a lot of options in between. The combination you choose should depend on your experience level and the requirements of the project you’re working on.
(One important note: This article covers knitting needles only. Crocheting is a related craft that uses yarn and stitches, but it requires a hook—a completely different tool—that isn’t covered here.)
Beginners should learn to walk before they should run (er, purl before they knit cables?). There’s plenty of time for Aran Isle sweaters later, but the best knitting needles for beginners are those that are chunky enough for you not to need a magnifying glass to see the stitches and that the yarn won’t slip around on.
Skillshare knitting instructor Davina Choy recommends needles of 6 millimeters and above for beginners, as they’re nice and chunky (see more below on knitting needle sizes). Wood is also an easier material to work with than plastic or metal.
Straight Knitting Needles
Most knitting needles are straight, and these are the best type to begin with. They’re usually tapered at one end and have a knob or bead at the other to stop the stitches sliding off. Some straight options are double pointed (more on that shortly).
Circular knitting needles may look like some kind of scary medical device, but they serve a couple of important purposes. Circular ones have two pointed ends and a cord or tube connecting them. They do all the same things that straight needles can, so even relative beginners could use them, although most people start off with straight needles first.
One reason to use circular knitting needles is because they put less pressure on the hands and wrists. The weight of the yarn falls onto the loop and rests in your lap, rather than being held by the needles supported in your hands. Taking the weight off your hands is important if you do a lot of knitting or are already suffering from (or want to avoid) hand strain. It’s also really practical if you’re knitting big pieces.
Totally unconnected to this, these are also used to knit pieces “in the round”. That’s basically just a way of saying round items, like socks or hats, without a seam.
Interchangeable Knitting Needles
Interchangeable knitting needles are similar to circular ones. However, the tips of the needles can be changed and the length of the cord adjusted, which can suit different types of projects. They usually come in sets and are color coded. Patterns will usually clearly state if interchangeable needles are required.
Double-Pointed Knitting Needles
Advanced knitters may need to use double-pointed knitting needles sometimes. These can be used when knitting in the round on projects that are too small for circular needles, such as glove fingers. In these cases, you’d usually need to use three or four needles, as in the picture above.
Cable Knitting Needles
You’re entering advanced knitting territory now! Cable knitting needles are used for knitting cables, or intricate cable-like designs, to knitted items. They enable the knitter to cross one section of stitches over another, thus creating the classic cable look.
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In addition to these different types, needles come in different sizes—both their length and their width. And which you choose depends on the project: If you want to knit a chunky blanket, you wouldn’t choose small, fine needles, just as you wouldn’t choose a thick needle to knit a baby hat.
As with many types of measurement, there are different systems in different countries. These can generally be divided into four main units of measurement: US sizes, metric sizes, UK sizes (used in Canada), and Japanese sizes. Japanese sizes tend to be the same as US sizes. Even if you’re based in one location, it pays to be aware of the different sizes and to find a handy conversion chart you can use. You may find patterns and yarn brands referring to different measurement systems to the one you’re used to.
Knitting needles can also be made from a wide variety of materials. Not all of the difference is just aesthetic: Some materials are better for beginners than others, and others are more durable or prone to wear and tear.
Wood Knitting Needles
Wood knitting needles are good for beginners as they have a bit of friction so the stitches won’t slide around or fall off too easily. More experienced knitters might find this friction annoying.
Bamboo Knitting Needles
Bamboo knitting needles are similar to wooden ones in that they have a natural grip and are quite chunky, so they’re good for beginners.
Plastic Knitting Needles
Plastic knitting needles are slippery, so they aren’t the best kind for beginners to use as the stitches can fall off easily. They’re a better option for advanced knitters who want to work quickly and without friction but who aren’t concerned about dropping stitches.
Resin knitting needles are a less common type of plastic needle. They’re dense and smooth to work with and loved by some advanced knitters. Resin needles are less easy to find than some other types, though.
Metal Knitting Needles (Aluminum or Steel)
Metal knitting needles—typically made from aluminum or steel—are also quite slippery, so they aren’t the best for beginner knitters. Aluminum ones tend to be lighter and easier on the hands. Steel ones are heavier but more durable than many other types, so they may last longer.
Glass Knitting Needles
While they might sound fragile, glass needles are actually the opposite because they’re made with the same type of glass as some kitchen bakeware. They’re smooth to knit with and favored by some keen knitters because they look good, too!
Even armed with all this knowledge, you’re not on your own when it comes to choosing the right needles for your project. Knitting patterns will usually tell you what size or type of needle to choose (you’ll probably have to choose the material yourself, though).
Yarn labels also often state what type of needle is best for the particular yarn, although you should take this more as a recommendation than a guide because the needs of your particular project may differ.
Get Started Knitting Today
Knitting is essentially a skill rather than an art form, so practically anyone can learn to do it. It’s a manual and repetitive task, so once you’ve progressed on the learning curve, it won’t seem so confusing. If you’re a complete beginner, watch a few tutorials before diving in, and then rewatch them slowly with needles and yarn in hand to follow the instructor’s steps.
Before long, you’ll be knitting your own clothes and gifting your knitted goods to every new baby in the family. Have fun!
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