Knitting needles – making sense of it all
If you’re absolutely new to knitting, the world of knitting can make little sense. We’ve covered yarns in another article, but the knitting needles may be an equal source of confusion for anyone not familiar with the craft. Luckily things are a lot easier than they first seem when it comes to needles.
Basically, there are just two ways to knit: you can either knit flat, i.e. back and forth from one needle to another, or you can knit in the round. Some needles are made for the former, some for the latter, and with some needles you can do both.
Single-pointed needles, or just needles, are usually 40 cm long, with a stopper in one end. As you cannot slip the stitches from both ends, these needles are used only when knitting back and forth, i.e. flat.
Double-pointed needles (DPN’s) are used for any smaller garments that are knit in the round: socks, mittens, hats, sleeves for sweater etc. They’re sold in sets of five needles. Four of the needles hold the stitches, while the fifth needle is used to work new stitches one needle at a time. The most common length is 20 cm, but shorter DPN’s can be useful i.e. when knitting baby garments or gloves.
Circular needles are the most versatile needles around. It’s simply two needles joined by a cable. They’re great for knitting back and forth (the stitches don’t slip as easily as from regular needles) and also for knitting in the round. Circular needles come in many different lenghts, from mini-circulars (xx cm) to 120 cm (for blankets or huge sweaters).
All these different needles come in a vast range of sizes, i.e. thicknesses. The thickness of your knitting needles will depend on the yarn you’re using and ultimately the gauge you’re trying to obtain.
Unfortunately, the world of knitting has not managed to agree on one global sizing system for knitting needles. The metric system is commonly used, but the US and UK have their own sizing system, and not all patterns include all needle sizes. To steer clear, please see our needle size conversion chart.
Needle materials and shaping
To add to the choices, knitting needles are also made from many different materials: wood, bamboo, plastic, metal, even carbon fibre or glass(!). The choice is highly a matter of personal taste. Instead of material, focus on comfort and the shaping of the needle tips. When knitting socks or gloves with smaller needle sizes, a sharp, pointed tip makes it easier to work tighter stitches. Likewise, twisted stitches such as knitting through back loops or multiple stitches such as purl three together work-up easier with pointed tipped needles.
Rounded, blunt tipped needles work best with larger yarn weights or yarn that easily splits, such as cotton, loosely spun fibers and acrylic yarns.