Knitting Needles come in a variety of sizes, materials and styles in order to enable knitters to create a range of stitch sizes and knitted pieces. Knitting needles are typically made of wood, metal or plastic and come in sizes 0000 - 50 and are available in straight, circular, double pointed and interchangeable styles.
While different types of needles have different attributes, material choice really comes down to personal preference. In order to find the right needle for you, you will need to try out each type and decide what you like. However, here are a few general guidelines for commonly used knitting needles.
Wooden needles have become the standard in the knitting world, with bamboo needles firmly holding the place for the most popular needle type. Wood needles can be made of any hardwood and offer knitters an even knitting speed, a smooth finish and a warmth and softness to the touch that metal and acrylic needles lack. Wooden needles are generally the most expensive style. Bamboo needles offer a cheaper alternative to traditional wood needles with the same warmth and softness that wooden needles offer.
Metal knitting needles are most often crafted out of aluminum but can also be made from brass or nickel. Metal needles are more durable than their wood or plastic counterpart and offer knitters faster speeds while knitting and the smoothest surfaces. Metal needles are particularly useful with yarns that tend to catch and can make knitting with them a smoother, less frustrating experience. Metal needles also provide the classic "clicking" sound while being used. Some people enjoy the sound of knitting needles at work while others dislike the sound and opt for quieter options.
Plastic needles are 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 in weight. 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.
Knitting needles can also be made of poured resin or glass. Both options offer a smooth, dense needle for knitters but are harder to find and less commonly used.
Straight knitting needles are the style of needle that most often comes to mind when people think of knitting needles. Straight needles come as a pair and can most commonly be purchased in lengths of 7", 10", 12" and 14". They are best for smaller projects where there is no excessive bulk on the needles while you work, such as scarves, baby blankets, wraps or projects that are knitted in sections and then sewn together (known as piecing).
Arguably the more versatile style of needle, Circular needles can be used for projects of most sizes. Circular needles consist of two short pointed ends joined with varying lengths of cord, usually made of plastic. 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.
Double pointed needles (commonly referred to as DPN's) are short needles with points at both ends. They are commonly sold in sets of four or five and are designed for knitting in the round, meaning knitting without a seam. DPN's are best for socks and baby hats and are occasionally used for seamless sleeves.
Interchangeable needle sets offer an excellent option for the dedicated knitter. These sets are comprised of short needle tips, similar to the ends of circular needles, in a range of sizes, and different lengths of cords. The cords and needle tips can be combined to create circular sets of different lengths and sizes. Some styles of interchangeables can also be used to create different lengths of straight needle sets. The needles are generally assembled by screwing the pieces together, although some snap in place and some use a small key to attach the points to the cords. While purchasing a set of interchangables can seem expensive, they are generally less than buying each needle size and length separately. Interchangeable sets also come with a case, which makes storing the different pieces simple and efficient.
While most projects and yarns will list a needle size, this is merely a suggestion. Everyone knits differently and the tightness of your knitting has to be taken into account when choosing your needles. 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 per inch you knit, then adjust up or down a needle size until your gauge matches the pattern.
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Gillian Grimm lives in New York City where she balances writing, cooking and crafts in a tiny apartment with, two kids, a dog, a cat and a husband. As the daughter of a Journalist, she grew up all over the United States, switching schools, towns and newspapers every few years and loved every minute of it! She now works as a freelance writer, primarily in the craft industry but with a few forays into travel writing, narrative non-fiction and educational matters. Gillian was recently published in the literary journal the "The Northville Review". You can find more of Gillian's work at "Dried Figs and Wooden Spools".