Knitting Needles

Knitting needles are available in a wide variety of materials: aluminum, plastic, and other fabricated substances, along with natural woods. You can make your own needles out of dowels sharpened on one end. Or you can buy rare antique, sterling silver, or gold-plated needles, or even needles with the ends adorned with precious gems. Whichever you choose, just know they all knit the same, and all can get lost in the cushions of the couch.

Novice knitters may prefer to use needles of bamboo or wood because the stitches are less likely to slide off. These materials help grip the stitches. With experience, you'll find a type or brand of knitting needle that becomes your favorite. To begin, it's a good idea to buy an inexpensive pair that appeals to you and start from there.

Needles come in a range of sizes, from a very tiny size 0 (you don't want to start with these!) all the way up to size 50 (you'll only use these in rare instances for specialty projects). Knitting patterns include a suggested needle size. You won't know the actual size you need to work the pattern until after you make your gauge swatch.

There are three styles of knitting needles: straight (single-point), circular, and double-point needles. The most common style is straight, single-point. These needles are sold in pairs and are available in both 10- and 14-inch lengths. They have a knob on the end opposite the point to prevent stitches from slipping off. The needle size is sometimes stamped on the knob or on the needle shank. Straight needles are best suited to working back and forth in rows to make a flat piece of knitting.

From left to right: circular needles; straight, single-point needles, double-pointed needles.
Clockwise from left:
circular needles; straight, single-point needles; double-pointed needles.

To avoid sewing seams, you can work in rounds using circular needles. Circular needles consist of two short needles connected by a thin, plastic cable. When choosing circular needles, look at the place where the cable connects to the needle. It should be smooth so stitches glide easily from cable to needle. Circular needles are available in most ordinary sizes, with cable lengths of 16, 20, 24, 29, and 36 inches. Use a length that comfortably holds the number of stitches you are using. Circular needles are used for seamless, knit-in-the-round items, but they can be used to knit flat pieces as well.

The third type is double-pointed needles. These short needles have an identical point on each end, and either end is used to knit. Double-pointed needles are usually sold in sets of 4 or 5 and are available in lengths from 6 to 8 inches. Shorter lengths are available for making socks or gloves. This type of needle is best used for knitting in the round or for making I-cords or other small, flat items made with few stitches.

In the next section, we'll discuss the variety of yarn available for knitting and how to choose one that will work best for your project.

Knitting Supplies, Tools, and Accessories

Needles and yarn will get you started, but as your knitting skills progress, you'll want to acquire the following:

  • Scissors: Any sharp, pointed scissors will do. Springs in handles are also great time-savers, since you simply squeeze to clip the yarn.

  • Tape measure or ruler: For the most accurate measurements, use a hard ruler. Use a yardstick for larger items. If using a tape measure, buy a new one. Old tape measures tend to stretch and lose their accuracy.

  • Tapestry needles: Tapestry needles (also called yarn needles) are oversize sewing needles used for sewing seams and weaving in yarn tails. A tapestry needle has a large eye, suitable for threading yarns. It's a good idea to have both blunt and sharp needles. The blunt style weaves seams without snagging stitches, and the sharp needle will slide through stitches when weaving yarn tails.

  • Point protectors: Point protectors are rubber tips that fit over the knitting needle tips to prevent stitches from falling off. They also keep the sharp needle points from jabbing something. Protectors come in several sizes, and you'll need a few to fit various needles.

  • Row counter: This gadget helps keep track of the number of rows worked. Some slip onto the needles and are turned after each row; others sit by your side and are clicked after each row. Or, in place of a purchased counter, paper and pencil also work.

    Knitting Accessories
    Clockwise, from upper left: scissors, point protectors,
    tapestry needles, row counter, tape measure.

Not what you’re looking for? Try these helpful articles: