If you’re keen to explore a new hobby and think knitting might be the craft for you: congratulations! You’re about to embark on an exciting and rewarding journey of creativity and mindfulness. But first, before you get too carried away with all the beautiful yarns on offer, you’ll be needing to invest in some essential tools of the trade: knitting needles! Knitting needles come in a variety of styles and sizes, and it can be confusing for beginners to know where to start, so we thought we’d make it easier by breaking down the different materials, sizes and types, what kind of projects they’re best suited for, and how you can decide on the best knitting needles for your own collection.
Knitting Needle Types
There are three main types of knitting needles available for you to create your next knitted masterpiece with and these are: circular needles, straight needles and double-pointed needles. Essentially, straight needles enable you to work in rows, double-pointed needles enable you to work in the round, whilst circular needles allow you to do both.
Circular needles feature a flexible cord which connects the two needles to one another, and can range in size from around 16” to 48” long. Knitting in the round, which you may also hear referred to as ‘circular knitting’ is a different technique to ‘flat knitting’ and enables you to do something that straight needles do not, which is to knit a seamless circular tube. Straight needles are great for creating flat rectangular or square knits - think scarves, rugs, and flat pattern pieces - whilst other knitted creations, such as socks, gloves, hats and sleeves all feature circular elements, which circular needles are ideal for. Of course, all these things can be created by knitting rows with straight needles, but these would require sewing together at the end to create the tube that circular needles provide from the very beginning of your project.
If you are working on a larger knitting project in the round, circular needles are the perfect choice. It’s worth noting that circular needles can also, of course, be used to create flat knitting projects - especially if the project is larger than usual (like a blanket) and wouldn’t fit on traditional straight needles. If you plan to utilise your circular needles for a flat project, simply work back and forth as you would with a pair of straight needles, transferring the work from one side to the other in the same way.
Contrary to circular needles, straight needles are used to knit back and forth in rows, never in the round. This type of flat knitting means that the knitter alternates knitting on the ‘right’ side and knitting on the ‘wrong’ side at the end of each row, turning their work each time. Straight knitting needles are sold in pairs, and each needle is entirely separate from the other, featuring a tapered point at one end, and a stopper at the other.
If you were taught to knit by a grandparent, it’s likely you learnt with this type of knitting needle as, historically, other types weren’t available to older generations. Because each single needle needs to be capable of holding all your stitches, straight needles are best suited to smaller, flat projects, like scarves, or jumper pieces that will later be stitched together to produce a complete garment.
Double-pointed needles (which you may also see abbreviated to dpns) differ from traditional straight needles, in that they feature a point at each end, and are not sold in pairs, but rather as sets of three, four or five. The purpose of double-pointed needles is to enable you to work in the round for smaller-circumference pieces - like mittens, socks or sleeve cuffs - where there are too few stitches to stretch around the full circumference of a circular needle. They can take some getting used to but are incredibly useful when it comes to these more miniature knits.
Knitting Needle Composition
Now that we’ve explained the three main types of knitting needles you’re likely to find on offer, there’s yet another important aspect of your knitting needle selection to consider… and that’s the material they’re made of!
Metal Knitting Needles
Some of the earliest knitting needles were made from fine steel; these days your metal knitting needles are likely to be aluminium, although some other metals are also in use.
It probably goes without saying that metal knitting needles are incredibly durable - you needn’t worry about them snapping when you’re halfway through a row! Because of their strength, they’re a fantastic choice if you need to invest in particularly fine knitting needles, for use with thinner yarns and more delicate projects. Since the surface of the needles is exceptionally smooth, they are the perfect choice for speedy knitters, too! Less experienced knitters ought to bear in mind however that their slippery surface can be challenging, if you are still relatively new to knitting. Whilst metal knitting needles can cost a little more than bamboo ones, their strength and durability makes them an excellent investment.
Bamboo or Wooden Knitting Needles
A great choice of knitting needles for beginners, bamboo or wooden knitting needles offer slightly more grip, which means that the stitches will not slip and slide quite so easily as with some other materials, making accidentally dropping a stitch far less likely! They’re also comfortable to hold for the same reasons, and gentle on the joints, making them popular amongst those who suffer with arthritis in their hands and wrists. Although it’s worth noting that in larger sizes they can become increasingly weighty, due to their density. (For more information on sizes, see our handy knitting needle size chart, further below.)
Made from environmentally friendly bamboo exclusively for Deramores, our range of Hooked knitting needles are the perfect choice for those who favour the comfort this material provides. Smooth, light and free from any chemical treatment, they truly are a joy to knit with!
Plastic or Acrylic Knitting Needles
Both acrylic and plastic knitting needles are very affordable, and provide a good compromise between the grippier surface of wood and bamboo needles, and the more slippery surface of metal needles. Plastic knitting needles enable your yarn to glide nice and easily, but not too much - a handy benefit for less confident knitters. Because plastic needles are often hollow, and acrylic is a lightweight material, they’re a fantastic option if you need to invest in chunkier needles too, as they won’t become as weighty to manoeuvre as thicker bamboo or wooden needles would be, due to their solid construction.
Carbon Fibre Knitting Needles
A newer material to the world of knitting needles, carbon fibre brings with it a host of benefits to make your knitting experience more enjoyable. Unlike their wooden counterparts, carbon fibre needles will not break, nor will they bend as some metal needles can. The strength of carbon fibre makes the material a great choice when it comes to creating incredibly fine knitting needles and, like plastic and acrylic, it provides the perfect balance of grip and glide.
Knitting Needle Sizes
When it comes to knitting needle sizes, you’ll need to take both the length and width of the needles into consideration. The length of your needle will determine both how comfortable you are working with them, as well as how many stitches your needle will be able to hold.
Beginners often find longer knitting needles difficult to manoeuvre and prefer to learn with shorter ones; however, as the projects you work on become larger, longer needles will become necessary. Of course, as mentioned earlier, one alternative to long straight knitting needles is long circular needles, which can also be used to produce larger flat knits.
As you’ve perhaps already discovered, knitting needles come in a vast selection of sizes; these correspond, for the most part, to the type of yarn you’ll be using to complete a given project. (For information on knitting needle size labelling and conversion, see our handy knitting needle size chart.) If you take a closer look at the label of each ball of yarn, you’ll find that alongside fibre content, care info and a number of other important details, there’ll also be a recommended needle size for knitters.
The finer the yarn, the smaller the knitting needle size is likely to be. At the smallest end of the scale (UK needle sizes 10 - 17) are the knitting needles reserved for working with 2, 3 or 4 -ply yarn. Sizes 5 - 9 are ideal for working with midweight yarns like DK and Aran, and for chunky yarn, opt for UK size 0 and beyond.
Learn more about yarn weights, fibres and more in our handy ultimate guide to yarns. If you’re a beginner knitter looking for the perfect yarns to help you get started, we’ve put together a guide on the best yarns for beginners, to help you start your knitting journey.
Choosing the Right Knitting Needle Size
These are, of course, only recommendations or suggestions, and there are many knitters who will stray from these - after all, everyone knits slightly differently; if you usually produce very tight stitches, you may want to opt for a larger needle.
The best way to decide on the perfect knitting needle size for a given pattern is to determine the pattern gauge, or tension (US and UK terminology for the same thing). Knitting needle size recommendation aside, most patterns will also list a gauge or tension for the project, which refers to the number of stitches per inch. You can knit a test swatch to find your gauge by using the recommended yarn and knitting needle size, measuring how many stitches per inch you knit using that needle size, and comparing this to the recommended gauge listed in the pattern. If they are not aligned, you can make adjustments by increasing or decreasing your needle size accordingly.
If knitting in the round on circular needles, remember to always select a needle length that is smaller than the intended circumference of your finished project. For example, if you are knitting a baby’s hat that measures 18” in circumference, opt for 14” circular needles. If you used needles longer than the circumference of the finished piece, you’d soon find that you wouldn't be able to stretch your stitches comfortably around the full width of the needle.
Ultimately, you’ll find that your knitting needle collection has a lot in common with the pot of pens on your desk. Some of us are happy to use the same old ball-point for every task. Others will prefer different pens for different projects - a Biro for the shopping list, but a fountain pen for the journal… and it’s the same with knitting needles.
You may develop a preference for one material over all others, depending on whether you’re a fast or slow knitter, or how you feel about the comfort of each needle in your hand. Alternatively, you might let the pattern do the talking, and simply opt to buy your thinner needles in the strongest material, and your fatter needles in the lightest material.
However you choose to invest is entirely up to you; the more projects you create and the more time you spend knitting, the more you’ll get to know your own preferences, and discover exactly what works for you.