An Introduction To Knitting Needles

The Tools Of The Trade

There is such a variety of knitting needles available on the market it can be hard for a beginner (and also seasoned knitters) to choose which type of needle you should be picking for your project.

As your needles will play a big role in the success of your project it’s vital that you chose the right one, preferably the first time. I will be going through all of the different types of knitting needles commonly available to help you make those important decisions.

Materials

Before we go into discussing the various different types of needles I just wanted to talk about the different materials that knitting needles can be made out of because this can have a big impact on your knitting experience.

As with yarn the different types of knitting needle material will have different textures and a different feel in your hands. Once you have started experimenting with different materials you will find one that works for you as a general set but you will also need specialist needles for specific yarn types as well.

Plastics

This type is generally preferred by beginners as they are comfortable hold, work well with most yarns and are mostly inexpensive. I would always recommend a beginner start out with these if they haven’t got any needles to borrow because if you decide that knitting isn’t for you then you haven’t invested a large amount of resources into it.

A couple of reasons I personally love to work with plastic needles (acrylics being my favorite) is because they can be decorated in loads of interesting colors and patterns, and they can work with pretty much any yarn type.

Being able to work with many yarn types and not have to change needles is a bonus for beginners because if you are comfortable with how a set works you’ll soon be able to recognize your tension and it makes swatching that much easier and quicker. I have worked with yarns ranging from lace through to wool blends and acrylics on my plastic needles and they all glide fairly well over plastic coating.

Wood

In my experience wooden needles can sometimes be a bit hit and miss when it comes to quality. When buying wooden needles I would recommend buying them in person where you can so that you can actually feel the wood because you want it to be smooth (just like plastic). However, I have found that many wooden brands can be coarse causing the yarn to stick and snag as it’s being worked which can sometimes ruin the yarn.

Good quality wooden needles are often carbonized and will have that in the description and I would always go for either bamboo or rosewood where you can. These types can be a little more pricey however you are paying for quality and it will be worth it in the end when you have a gorgeous finished project.

Metals

These needles will often come in one of two formats: coated/plated or solid metal. I have used both versions of metals needles and in various different metals too (most commonly nickle plated or aluminium ) and I have to say that I love both and I encourage you to trial both types as well. Both are quite light and comfortable to hold and work well with most yarns, however do be careful with slick yarns such as silk because they may not grip as well and you do not want any dropped stitches so you may wish to switch to a different needle material for that.

Having worked with metal needles for a while I have only ever noticed two issues:

  1. If you are working with a heavy project the needles may start to bend in the middle, however don’t worry as a little warmth and manipulation will straighten that out again
  2. The tips can often corrode with lots of use. Now while this doesn’t bother me in the slightest some folks may find that their yarns may stick to the tip of the needle if it has developed any roughness. In the past I have used a nail file or fine sandpaper to gently remove the roughness and smooth things out again.

Straight Needles

Let’s start with the basics. These are the traditional needles that you would have seen older generations using. They are great for knitting flat pieces like blankets, scarves, and sweaters.

Due to the length of time that they have been around you’ll now be able to find a wide variety of brands, types of material, and sizes (commonly 10″ or 14″)  all of which can be overwhelming to a beginner. As such you may find that you need to try out a few different types of needle sets to figure out what works best for you. I personally settled on the Knitter’s Pride Karbonz set as I really like the taper (how quickly the main bit of the needle thins down to a point) and the brass tips for easily picking up the next stitch.

Circular Needles

These are specialist needles that are usually chosen for working in the round for projects like socks, arm sleeves, and the bodies of sweaters. You can work flat knitting with circulars – and I often do – just treat them as one great big long straight needle and turn your work as required.

Circulars also tend to come in two types: solid and interchangeable.  Solid circulars are needles that are created as all one piece and you are not able to change the cable length nor are you able to change the needle size. You’ll often find that these types have wood (often bamboo) needles with a plastic cable and are sold in sets so that you have the same gauge on each sizing. I find solid circulars work well when you are knitting up a hat as you generally only knit them on one set of needles anyway. My favorite though are my solid circulars by Addi in their Turbo range as they are perfect for making socks on the tiny 8 inch cables; never again will i need to do magic loop when making socks!

Interchangeable circulars are my favorite for the majority of my projects as they are so versatile. As long as you have a range of cable lengths and a set of different needle sizes you can go ahead and make any combination that you desire. There is one potential downside to interchangeable circulars and that is the possibility that the needle will unscrew from the cable, I occasionally get this with a set of older interchangeable needles but I simply check at the start of each row and tighten if necessary (it’s really not a bother as I love my older needles). My newest set (of a couple of years now) are my Knit Picks Nickel Plated circulars and I adore these. They are so versatile and I love the nickel plated covering as it makes the yarn glide over so smoothly and I rarely have to shift the stitches along when I’m working.

Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)

DPNs are just like straight needles but they have a tapered tip on both ends of the needle instead of the traditional one. DPNs are great for working in the round, especially small projects such as socks, and you don’t have circular needles or don’t like doing the magic loop method.

DPNs, just like straights needles, can come in a variety of sizes and materials. The most common lengths are between 5 – 10″and the needle sizes range the usual 2mm – 9mm, however you can find them larger and smaller if you projects require them.

Although I don’t use DPNs very often myself as I prefer circulars I have a great inexpensive set by Z-Color which are made from stainless steel and are surprisingly light. I have used various sizes on multiple occasions usually to finish off a hat or a sleeve and although they are metal and quite slick I have never had any dropped stitches and find them easy to decrease and increase with even though the tips are a little duller than I’m used to.

Cable Needles

These are specialist needles that are, at least in my opinion, entirely optional because you can easily use a DPN or even a safety pin or spare bit of yarn to do the job. However, they are designed with a purpose and some folks do prefer to use a specialist needle rather than a work around.

As you can see in the photo these little needles have a scoop in the middle and have two pointed ends. The little scoop securely holds the stitches out of the way whilst you work the others on the needle and then the pointed tips and either side mean that you are the shift the stitches to either side and work them back onto your main needles.

As the name suggests these needles are designed for making cables in your garments however they can be used for separating stitches out if you need to split your stitches and don’t have a placeholder handy to put them on.

 

So now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the different materials and designs of knitting needles you should be well on your way to beginning your next (or first) project. Let me know what your favorite needles are and feel free to ask me any questions you have either via email or commenting. 

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