In the first of our Knitting for Beginners series, we take a look at the tools of the trade, with advice from The Knitter’s Bible by Claire Crompton explaining all you need to know about knitting needles.
There are three types of needles, in a range of sizes, lengths and made from different materials.
Straight knitting needles
Straight needles are used in pairs and have a point at one end with a fixed knob at the other. Stitches are worked using the pointed end; they cannot be removed from the other end. They are used for flat knitting, working across a row of stitches moving them from one needle to the other, turning the work and working back again, and continuing back and forth. These are the simplest and most accessible needles in knitting for beginners.
Double-pointed knitting needles
Double-pointed needles are used in sets of four or five and have a point at each end. Stitches can be worked with one end and can also be removed from the other end. This means you don’t have to turn your work at the end of each row. In fact you can continue knitting in a spiral and produce a seamless continuous tube. This is called circular knitting.
Circular knitting needles
Circular needles consist of a pair of needles joined by a flexible nylon wire. They have a point at each end and, like double-pointed needles, you can work from both ends and so knit in rounds to produce a seamless tube.
Should I use plastic, metal or wood knitting needles?
Plastic, metal or wood, including bamboo are used to make needles. Each has its own characteristics and can help or hinder your knitting experience. Metal can be cold and inflexible to work with, but it is more slippery than other materials and can help you knit faster. Wood, bamboo or plastic on the other hand are warmer and more flexible, and are smooth rather than slippery. They grip the stitches a bit more which is quite useful when you’re beginning to knit and don’t want stitches sliding off your needles. Wood and bamboo warm up in the hands and are light to use. Try different materials and find the one you are most comfortable with.
Do I need a sharp or blunt knitting needle tip?
The tip of the needle is also something to consider. Some needles have a blunt tip and some have a sharp tip. A blunt tip is harder to insert into stitches but is better to use with a loosely spun or thick yarn. A sharp tip can split the stitches but is useful when working pattern stitches or knitting with a tight gauge (tension).
Knitting needle sizes and lengths
The size of a needle is determined by its diameter and there are three sizing systems. In the US, needles have the American size and metric equivalent. In Britain, they have the metric size with the old UK size. You can see view our knitting for beginners needle conversion chart here.
Three standard lengths are available, 10in (25cm), 12in (30cm) and 14in (35cm). Use longer needles for projects with a large number of stitches and shorter needles for fewer stitches. The stitches should fit snugly along the length of the needle, not crammed together where they can easily fall off the end. Long needles can be awkward to knit with; you need a lot of elbowroom to work comfortably. Many knitters find it easier to use a circular needle instead, working as for flat knitting, and turning the work at the end of every row.
Continue our Knitting for Beginners series by learning about Yarn Weights.
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