If you want to learn to knit, you must start with a good pair of knitting needles. But there are so many types of knitting needles out there. How do you choose?
In this guide I’ll discuss the different knitting needle types and materials available. I’ll also explain the different knitting methods and what each type of knitting needle is for.
In short, we’ll help simplify what’s out there so you can choose the right knitting needles for any knitting project.
Types of Knitting Needle Materials
There are many different types of knitting needle materials. Today we’ll be discussing the following:
- Plastic / Acrylic
- Carbon Fiber
This is not to say that these are the only types of knitting needles out there. Simply, these are the most common knitting needle materials used today.
Let’s start with bamboo needles.
Bamboo Knitting Needles
Many knitters find bamboo needles easy to work with and gentle on the hands and joints. They have a grippy surface which keeps stitches from sliding off the needle. They’re also perfect for knitters who like to work at a slower, even speed.
Bamboo knitting needles are great for beginners or for anyone who wants to learn to knit.
Coming from a natural resource, bamboo needles are environmentally friendly. They’re also abundant, strong, and very inexpensive. All good things, really.
You really can't go wrong with keeping a pair of bamboo knitting needles in your knitting kit.
In the above image you can see two types of bamboo circular knitting needles (DPNs and interchangeables. There are also Chiaogoo and Clover Takumi straight knitting needles.
Metal Knitting Needles
When people talk about knitting needles, most people imagine traditional aluminum needles. And rightfully so. Some of the earliest knitting needles were made from metal wires and fine steel.
Here is an example of vintage knitting needles, also known as knitting pins. These types of knitting needles were designed for circular knitting.
One common metal used for knitting needles is aluminum but others are also used, like steel, brass, and nickel.
Shown here are your traditional aluminum knitting needles and three types of circular needles, which we'll discuss in detail in a minute.
Without question, metal knitting needles are strong and durable. You can knit without fear of them breaking. This makes them great for knitting projects that require small, thin needles like this Electric Love Mosaic Cowl.
They also have a slick surface, which can help you knit faster. For less experienced knitters, metal knitting needles can be too slippery.
Compared to bamboo, metal knitting needles are slightly more expensive. Nevertheless, you can find many affordable brands. And since they are long-lasting, they may be the only needles you need to buy.
Shown here are:
Now, let’s talk about plastic and acrylic knitting needles.
Plastic Knitting Needles
Now we’ve come to the category of plastic knitting needles, which also includes acrylic knitting needles.
Both materials have many benefits. The biggest one being, they are very affordable, which always leaves more money for yarn. Yes!
Get your own:
Less sticky than bamboo and less slippery than metal, the smooth surface of plastic lets your yarn glide easily. This feature is good for anyone learning to knit.
Speaking of beginners, did you know they make plastic kids knitting needles? Just take a look at these Lion Brand Kids needles. They’re a short 7 inches which works great for little hands.
Plastic knitting needles are also very lightweight. This will help kids handle them better. They're also useful when you need large or jumbo knitting needles for jumbo yarn.
Jumbo bamboo or wood knitting needles can be heavy to hold because they are solid. Plastic knitting needles are often hollow so they stay light and manageable.
You can find plastic needles in most sizes up to a U.S. size 50 (25mm) knitting needle like the ones shown here.
World's Largest Knitting Needles
You could also make your own DIY jumbo knitting needles, like Betsy Bond from the UK. In 2018, she set a new Guinness World Record for the World's Largest Knitting Needles.
In her interview Betsy Bond said: "You need air to breathe. You need food to eat. I need to make stuff.”
I feel the same way about knitting. You can learn more about Betsy Bond's winning entry here.
Wooden Knitting Needles
With wood knitting needles, you can count on a smooth knitting experience. Like bamboo, they’re easy on the hands and joints, but only in the lighter, smaller size knitting needles.
Shown above are Knitter's Pride Cubics, which are square knitting needles. They are one part of Knit Picks Try It set, which is a great option to take advantage of. More on that later. Also shown are two large wooden knitting needles in U.S. Sizes 17 (12 mm) and 19 (15 mm).
As I mentioned earlier, wood knitting needles are solid throughout. This makes them very dense, especially in the larger knitting needle gauges. The end result will be really tired hands and arms, which will cut down your knitting time. Less knitting time is no bueno.
While they are a natural resource, they’re also more expensive than bamboo and plastic needles. They can get pretty pricey depending on the type of wood they’re made from, too.
Carbon Fiber Knitting Needles
This is one of the newer knitting needle materials. Carbon fiber knitting needles are less slick than metal but not as sticky as bamboo. They're also very lightweight and incredibly durable.
When carbon fiber knitting needles first came on the scene, they were probably one of the most expensive knitting needles. Now the prices are more competitive and run only slightly more than metal knitting needles.
That about wraps up our discussion of the most common types of knitting needle materials.
Now, before we move on to discuss the different ways to knit, I want to talk a minute about the shape of knitting needles. Yes, the shape.
Square Knitting Needles
You’re well aware that there are round knitting needles, but did you know there are square needles, too?
That’s right. They are definitely less common but that doesn’t mean they're less useful.
Here are some benefits of using square knitting needles:
- Won’t roll away from you.
- Easier to grip/hold (ergonomic).
- Reduces hand stress and fatigue.
- Helps create more uniform stitches.
- Improves knitting tension/gauge.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out the different styles of square knitting needles. There are several types throughout this post to give you a sample of the different styles available.
Give them a shot. You may find they are just right for you.
Now, let's move on to discuss the two methods, or types, of knitting.
Types of Knitting
Just as there are different types of needles, there are also different types of knitting. Specifically, there are two methods you should know about. They are:
- Flat Knitting / Straight Knitting
- Circular Knitting / Knitting in the Round
Flat Knitting / Straight Knitting
This type occurs on straight knitting needles or single point needles.
Flat knitting is achieved from knitting back and forth in rows with two straight knitting needles. After you work each row, you turn the piece and repeat the process. You can knit a hat with straight needles and then seam the piece, like this Loghan hat pattern.
Next, more on circular knitting.
Circular Knitting / Knitting in the Round
Your knitting moves circularly, from left to right, and produces a seamless tube. This is why it is called circular knitting.
You can knit in the round with circular needles or on double pointed needles (DPNs). You cannot knit in the round with straight knitting needles.
Now, let's break down the different types of knitting with the specific types of knitting needles.
Types of Knitting Needles
Whether you’re knitting in the round or knitting flat, there’s a type of knitting needle for that. Here we’ll discuss the different types of circular knitting needles and straight knitting needles.
Circular Knitting Needles
In circular knitting, there are three needle categories:
- Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)
- Fixed Circular Needles
- Interchangeable Knitting Needles
First, let's begin by discussing double pointed needles.
Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)
If you’re looking for sock knitting needles, this double pointed needle set from Chiaogoo is a great option.
Sold in sets of three, four, and five, double pointed knitting needles range in length from 4 inches to 8 inches. They come in a wide range of materials so if one type doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of others to try.
Fixed Circular Needles
Fixed circular needles are just that: fixed. These knitting needles come in preset sizes and cord lengths with no parts to put together. With fixed circulars, you’re ready to knit.
Some knitters love this type of knitting needle because there's little chance they'll come apart. Other knitters hate fixed circulars because they limit their knitting. If you’ve never seen or worked with fixed circulars, you may not understand what I mean. Allow me to give you an example.
Say you want to knit a hat. Most knitted hat patterns call for two needle sizes. Using fixed circulars, you’ll need to have both needle sizes in the right cord lengths to complete the project. If you don’t have them, especially when you’re ready to knit, it can be frustrating to find what you need, order, and wait.
On the flip side, fixed circulars come ready to go so maybe that’s a selling point for you. Ultimately, with any knitting needle, it comes down to a matter of preference.
You can purchase fixed circulars individually by needle size and specific cord length or in complete sets. They are available from 2 inch tip lengths, like these stainless steel Chiaogoo Red shown here, to 5" tip lengths.
Interchangeable Circular Knitting Needles
Interchangeable knitting needles have a lot more functionality than fixed circulars.
The short, straight knitting needle tips range in length from 2 inches to 5 inches long. You join the tips to an interchangeable knitting cord which ranges from 8 inches to 40 inches in length.
Having this flexibility is incredibly helpful for most knitting projects. Depending on the pattern, it may require needle size changes and/or cord length extensions.
With interchangeable knitting needles, which often come in a set, you have everything you need in your set case. All you have to do is change what you need and continue knitting.
Shown here is the Chiaogoo Red Lace interchangeables set in 4" tips.
You can also buy individual needle tip sizes and cord lengths. They're also available in half-sets and, occasionally, trial sets.
The Knit Picks Try It set includes one set of metal and wooden circular knitting needles with cables to try. Honestly, it's a small price to pay to find out what would work best for you before you buy big.
Interchangeables are a bit more costly to purchase as a complete set, but they are worth the investment once you find one you love.
You can also use them for flat knitting, which is an added plus. Using circular knitting needles for flat projects, you never have to worry about dropping or losing a needle. If you’ve ever misplaced your TV remote, you know what I’m talking about.
Straight Knitting Needles
Straight knitting needles are your classic knitting needle. Made for flat knitting, these single point needles come in pairs. They also range in length from 7 inches to 14 inches. The shorter lengths are a great size for teaching kids to knit.
Available in most materials you can think of, this allows for more flexibility on cost. Just keep in mind how hard of a knitter you are as some materials can scratch or break.
Cable Knitting Needles
This last type of needle is more of a knitting tool than a needle to knit with. I’m talking about cable knitting needles.
Cable needles are used to hold stitches when making cable knit patterns. As you can see here, they're made from acrylic, wood, or metal materials. They come in hooked, curved, or notched forms and are very affordable.
Check out these:
I hope you've found this guide to knitting needle types, materials, and their uses to be helpful. When all is said and done, choose the knitting needle that works best for you.
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