Knitting Needles: Types & How to Choose
When choosing a needle for your project there are two main things that you will need to consider. First, you will need to decide which type of needle you need. The second thing you will need to decide is the material of the needle.
The main types of needles are circular, single point (straight needles), and double point. Let me cover the reasons for using each type.
These might be the most versatile knitting needle out of them all. Circular needles are the perfect choice for knitting in the round and also knitting flat pieces. They consist of a needle tip on each end with a cord joining them. One thing to consider when selecting your circular knitting needle is length. Circular needles typically come in lengths of 16", 20", 24" and 32".
They are most commonly used for larger projects such as seamless sweaters, large blankets or scarves that are knitted horizontally because the cord offers more space for the stitches. Another benefit of circular needles is that the weight of the project is distributed across the cord and can rest in your lap while you knit, making the knitting lighter on your wrists. Circular needles can be used for most small projects as well; making them an excellent all around needle choice.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- When knitting in the round, the length of the needle should be equal to or smaller than the circumference of your project.
- Look for needles with smooth joins (where the cord meets the needle) so that stitches will glide without snagging.
- Cables that swivel move with you as you knit, turning at the base, so that it doesn’t snarl or kink.
- If you are allergic to nickel, check the join material before purchasing.
Single Point (Straight Needles)
This is the knitting needle to use when you want to knit flat (back-and-forth). They don’t give you a lot of variety for projects since you can’t use them to knit in the round. If you use them to knit sweaters, mittens or hats, you will have to sew your projects together when finished.
They are straight with one pointed end and one end with a stop.
In their defense, single points are really great for when you don’t want to have to worry about stitches falling off the non-working ends or for when you don’t want to fuss with the connecting cable used with circulars.
For beginners, it can be argued that a circular needle might be a better option. These needles are more versatile, but they don’t have the simplicity and tradition of single points.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Wooden needles, such as bamboo or birch, are less likely to have dropped stitches than metal needles.
- If knitting lace, go for straight needles with sharp tips, sometimes called lace tips.
Double-pointed needles are the oldest method for knitting in the round. They have points at each end, allowing you to knit from either end. They usually come in sets of four or five because you generally work with that many at a time. They are generally used to knit items in the round that are too small for circulars, such as socks, mittens and sleeves.
Double points aren’t beginner-friendly needles. Having a point on both ends results in a much higher chance of dropping stitches. If you use double-pointed needles to learn to knit, you should only use two needles until you’ve mastered your stitches.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Look for sets of 5 needles so that you’ll have enough for any project.
- Tip protectors can be used to prevent stitches from sliding off the needle, and can be used to turn needle into single points in a pinch.
Ok, so now, when we have learned the basic needle types, let’s move on to the variety of materials. Knitting needles are typically made of metal, wood (primarily bamboo), and plastic.
It's ideal for hairy or textured yarns because they slip over the metal smoothly instead of getting caught, and because metal needles have the sharpest tips, they're perfect for complicated lace work and cable knits, as well as ideal for making very fine stitches.
Wooden needles have become the standard in the knitting world, as they are quite smooth, but still tend to have more grip than metal needles. Wooden knitting needles are a great choice for beginning knitters and any other knitters who like a warm, organic feel to their needles. Bamboo needles give a similar feel to wooden needles, but they are often cheaper, easier to find and available in a wider variety of sizes.
Plastic needles the least expensive type of knitting needle and may be a good choice for someone who is interested in trying knitting out for the first time. They offer smoothness comparable to wooden needles and are the lightest. Plastic needles come in extended sizes and are therefore the best choice when very large stitches are called for. They are also often used when knitting alternative materials such as shredded plastic bags, lengths of rags for rag rugs and rope.
Determining What Size You Need
The best way to determine the size of needle needed for a project is through finding the gauge. Gauge simply refers to how many stitches per inch you knit with a particular yarn and needle. Most patterns will list a gauge for the project and this is more important than the listed needle size. In order to find your gauge, knit a test swatch and measure how many stitches you knit, then adjust up or down a needle size until your gauge matches the pattern.
Try out as many types of needles as possible to find which one works best for you.
Let me know if you liked this short guide and if you have any questions. Which type of needles do you use? I will be happy to discuss in comments!