When you first learn how to knit, buying a pair of knitting needles can seem a bit intimidating, especially because they come in so many different shapes and sizes.
Picking the right tools for your project can make a world of difference in terms of productivity, knitting experience, and even the final look of your project.
Knitting needles come in a few different types: straight needles, circular needles, double-pointed needles, and cable needles. Each of these types of needles serves a different purpose. Likewise, different needle lengths are best for distinct projects.
Knowing what type of knitting needles to use for each project will transform you from a beginner knitter to an expert in no time. In this article, we will walk you through the different needle types, materials, sizes, and lengths.
Straight Knitting Needles
For beginners, knitting with straight needles seems to be the most straightforward (pun intended).
Straight needles are probably what you’re already familiar with; they look like two sticks, each with a pointy end and a capped end. This design ensures that you can easily pick up stitches with one end and avoid dropping stitches out of the other end of the needle.
Straight needles are used to make flat projects or sections by knitting back and forth, working on both the right side and the wrong side of the garment at the same time. You can use straight needles to make scarves, blankets, and even some rounder items like sweaters when knitted in flat pieces and sewn together.
While beginners can find working with straight knitting needles easy and rewarding, more advanced knitters may sometimes feel frustrated with the limitations of straight knitting needles.
For example, straight knitting needles cannot be used to knit in the round, so if you want to knit hats and sweaters, you will have to knit in pieces and sew them together, or use a different set of needles.
Making larger garments with straight stitches are also quite difficult. Since the longest straight needles are only 14 inches, you may find knitting bigger garments like blankets a bit more difficult, as all the stitches are held on the needles. Or, again, you will have to knit in sections and sew them together, which is not always ideal.
Straight Needles Lengths – Pros and Cons
Straight knitting needle lengths range from 9 to 14 inches. There are a few pros and cons to each different length below.
|Short (9 inches or less)||Standard (10 inches)||Long (14 inches)|
|Pros||Very lightweight and hold the right amount of stitches for lace-weight knitting.||Versatile and can hold a reasonable number of stitches.||Can hold a lot of stitches at once, perfect for large, chunky garments like blankets or afghans.|
|Cons||Cannot hold a lot of stitches if knitting a bigger garment.||Cannot hold a lot of stitches if knitting a bigger garment or blanket.||Bulky and difficult to maneuver. (Can cause hand fatigue if held for a long time.)|
Depending on your project and your skill level, you may still benefit from knitting with straight needles.
If you are a complete beginner, we recommend working with shorter and slimmer to average knitting needles first, using DK or worsted weight yarn to practice so you can easily see the stitches and practice the hand movements.
Once you have mastered knitting with straight needles, you can move on to test your skills with other types of knitting needles.
Double-pointed needles (DPNs) usually come in sets of four or five needles. As you can probably guess, each DPN has two pointy ends that allow you to pick up stitches and knit with both ends.
When DPNs are in use, they work together to form a complicated contraption that allows you to knit in the round. Three or four DPNs are used to hold the stitches, while the remaining DPN is used to knit in the round.
Most knitters use DPNs to knit small garments like socks, mittens, and hats. Since DPNs are often white short (the longest available are usually 8-11 inches), they cannot be used to knit bigger garments like sweaters.
When you first start working with DPNs, knitting in the round can be quite difficult, especially when you first establish the round. You will need to make sure that the stitches are not twisted, especially when joining the round.
DPNs can also be a little bit difficult for beginners because you may drop stitches out of the other end of the needle if you are not careful.
That said, DPNs are beloved by many skilled knitters who specialize in socks and hats because they are designed to make smaller garments. Working with DPNs allows you to make even the tiniest garment in the round, like baby socks and mittens, with no problem at all.
Double-Pointed Needles Lengths – Pros and Cons
DPNs come in various lengths, the shortest being 4 inches and the longest being 8 inches.
|Short (4-5 inches)||Standard (6-7 inches)||Long (8 inches+)|
|Pros||Can be used to knit very small garments like baby socks and hats in the round. Lightweight and best used for lace-weight knitting.||Versatile and applicable for most projects that use DK yarn. Can cap one end with a stitch stopper to transform DPNs into straight needles.||Most seen in larger average to bigger DPNs to make chunkier pieces and hold many stitches at once.Can cap one end with a stitch stopper to transform DPNs into straight needles.|
|Cons||Can't hold a lot of stitches. Very short so you may risk dropping stitches.||Can't hold a lot of stitches.||Very bulky so they can be difficult to work with. Can cause hand fatigue.|
A cable needle is a variation of a double-pointed needle. Many cable needles, like this set from Clover, look like a DPN but with a U-shaped bend in the middle to hold only a few stitches at a time to make cable patterns with your knitting. However, other shapes, like hooks, can be quite popular.
Cable knitting is an important technique that allows you to create beautiful patterns with your knitting. With cable knitting, you can make twisted ropes, braids, and diamonds, which you often see in beautifully knitted sweaters and blankets. Think of those stunning Aran or Irish style sweaters and scarves.
A cable pattern is established when you put on hold a set number of stitches on a separate cable needle and knit the subsequent stitches first. Then, you can knit the stitches on the cable needle, pushing it to the front or to the back to create a twisted effect.
Depending on the pattern, you can make so many different shapes and designs with this technique. The U-shaped bend is designed to hold the stitches, so you don’t have to worry about dropping any stitches as you work on your pattern.
Cable needles are nice to have in your toolkit, but they are not required, especially if you don’t plan on doing any cable knitting projects.
If you want to learn cable knitting, you can purchase a cable needle to make the process easier, but if you are confident in your abilities, you can substitute a DPN for a cable needle, which will do the job just fine.
Cable needles are used to hold only a few stitches at once, so they don’t need to be very long. Most cable needles sold on the market are around 3.5 to 4 inches long, which is plenty to help you make very defined cables.
Circular needles are the most versatile, allowing you to work on flat garments as well as knitting in the round. They’re especially helpful for working on larger items with a great number of stitches.
You can easily recognize circular needles. They have two straight needles joined together by a cord in the middle to create one continuous tool. If you tend to misplace knitting needles, using circular needles will help you make sure that you always have two needles of the same size.
When knitting in the round, you can use shorter circular needles to make small garments like hats. Longer circular needles (32 inches or more) can be used to make sweaters and ponchos in one continuous loop.
If you want to make smaller garments like socks and mittens, you can use the magic loop method with a 32-inch knitting needle to achieve the small round. This technique makes knitting in the round so much easier. In this way, long circular knitting needles are the most versatile tools that allow you to make any garment imaginable.
Working in the round with circular needles is arguably much easier and faster than using double-pointed needles since you don’t have to do as much adjusting the stitches or switching needles.
Many also prefer to use circular needles to help hold stitches. Especially for larger items, many of the stitches – and therefore much of the weight of the item – can be held on the cord. This means there is less weight on your wrists, making circular needles a more ergonomic choice.
Circular Needles Length – Pros and Cons
The length of circular needles is measured from tip to tip, so the total length includes the cord that holds the two needles together.
Circular needles come in so many different lengths, the shortest being 8.5 inches and the longest being around 60 inches. However, the three most popular sizes for circular needles are 16, 24, and 32 inches. We will cover the pros and cons for each approximate length below.
|Short (~16 inches)||Medium (~24 inches)||Long (~32 inches+)|
|Pros||Very beginner-friendly and lightweight. Can be used to knit flat or in the round to make small garments like hats.||Beginner-friendly and lightweight. Can be used to knit flat garments or in the round to make bigger garments like sweaters.||Very versatile. Can knit bigger garments flat or in the round. Can make smaller garments in the round using the magic loop method.|
|Cons||Limited in what it can make because of its short length.||Still quite limited since it is not long enough for the magic loop method.||Less beginner-friendly.|
Since circular knitting needles are highly versatile, suitable for beginners and advanced knitters alike, we recommend having a set of circular knitting needles around so you can practice and improve your knitting skills.
When you get better at knitting, you can learn different techniques and be as creative as you’d like with your knitting.
Interchangeable needles are highly versatile knitting needles that allow you to switch up the size and length of your circular needles when your project requires them.
Since knitting needles come in so many different sizes (as small as 1.5mm and as big as 15mm) and different lengths (as short as 8.5 inches and as long as 60 inches), it would be quite a waste of money to buy hundreds of circular needles just to have all the sizes and all the lengths for a wide range of projects.
Interchangeable needles have different sized needle tips that can be snapped together with different length cords to transform your collection of needles to any combination of size and needle length that you’d like. Many circular needles are also sold as interchangeable sets, with a few cord lengths and a full set of needle sizes.
If you are an expert knitter, having a set of interchangeable knitting needles can be quite a godsend since you will be able to work on a wide range of projects with just a few tools.
Interchangeable knitting needles also have their weaknesses. For example, the joint between the needle and the cord may not be smooth enough or may need to be tightened frequently so the yarn won’t get caught while you knit.
The joint may also become undone due to the movement of the needles, so you will risk dropping the stitches in the middle of the round if you are not careful.
When buying interchangeable needles, you should pay attention to the joint between the needle and the cord to make sure that it is smooth and secure enough so it can get the job done without causing any problems.
About Needle Sizes
Knitting needles come in various sizes that will help you work with different types of yarn. This is different from the needle length.
When you buy yarn, each type of yarn would have a recommended needle size printed on the packaging to help you choose the best size for your project.
This is mostly based on the yarn weight, or thickness, but you can adjust your needle size up or down based on your natural knitting gauge (whether you’re prone to looser or tighter stitches) as well as the overall effect you’re going for (looser or more solid knit). Sometimes the ply of a yarn corresponds to certain weights.
Using the correct needle size will also help you achieve the right gauge for your project. When you follow a pattern, having the correct gauge when you first choose your yarn and needle size will allow your final project to have the correct shape and size.
Below is a quick guide to what needle sizes are commonly used for each type of yarn:
|Yarn Weight||Needle Size|
|Lace (very lightweight)||1.5mm - 3mm|
|Fingering (lightweight)||2mm - 3.5mm|
|Light worsted - worsted/DK Yarn||3.5mm - 5mm|
|Chunky||5.5mm - 8mm|
|Bulky||8mm or bigger|
|Jumbo||10mm or bigger|
Note that when you use a smaller size needle, you will have a smaller gauge (tighter stitches), and when you use a bigger size needle, your gauge will be larger (looser stitches).
About Needle Materials – Pros and Cons
Knitting needles can be made of wood, bamboo, plastic, aluminum, or stainless steel. Each material has its own pros and cons, which you can see listed below:
|Pros||Sturdy but lightweight. Usually offers some grip to the yarn.||Sturdy, smooth, and lightweight. Offers some grip to the yarn.||Sturdy, very smooth, and very lightweight, so stitches slide easily.|
|Cons||Poorly made needles can have splinters that can damage your yarn and hurt your hand. Well polished needles may be slick.||The grip can make it difficult to move the stitches.||Smooth so you may drop the stitches. Can be heavier.|
Many skilled knitters prefer one material over others, so you should take the time to experiment with different needle materials to find one that works best for you.
We hope that this ultimate guide has been useful in helping you find the perfect knitting needles to add to your collection. As noted above, there are so many different types of knitting needles in different sizes, lengths, and materials. However, you surely don’t have to feel pressured to purchase all of them!
Depending on your skill level and the type of projects that you love to work on, you may find that one type of needles may work better than others. After some experimenting, you will find the ultimate go-to knitting needles that will accompany you through many projects to come.