Knitting Needles: A Beginner's Guide

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Newbie Knitting 101: Knitting Needles

How much do you know about knitting needles? Do you know your DPN's from your circulars? Your single points from your cables? Your fixed from your interchangeables?

If you do, awesome! You're already one step ahead!

If not, have no fear, knitting jargon aside, it's not actually all too complicated, and I'm going to explain what all the different types are and why you would use them in this post.

First off, there are two main types of needles, straight needles and circular needles. Under those headings, there are then further sub-types to look at. There's quite a lot of information to take in, so let's just get started shall we?

Straight Needles

Single Pointed Needles

These are your run of the mill knitting needles that your granny used to knit with.

They're exactly as they sound; they're straight, with one point on one end, and a stopper of some sort on the other. You tend to only ever use two of these at a time.

All needles come in a few different materials and finishes (which we will talk about in next week's post) and, loads of colour options.

Double Pointed Needles

These sound like they would be pretty similar to the single point, but other than the fact that they're straight, they're actually quite different.

A double pointed needle tends to be significantly shorter than a single point, and as the name would suggest, instead of a stopper on one end, they have another point. You also can use between 2 and 5 at any given time, depending on your project.

They are primarily used for knitting small tubes, like socks, gloves and sleeves.

Circular Needles

Circular needles are used in a similar way to double pointed needles but tend to be used for projects which would require a knitted tube with a larger circumference, such as a hat, or the body of a sweater.

They are made up of a flexible cable, which joins two needles together.

Fixed Circulars

Fixed Circular needles are fairly impractical in my opinion.

They come in one needle size, with one cable length, for example, you could have a 9mm needle on a 20cm cable; great, if your project calls for a 9mm needle on a 20cm cable. But what if it calls for a 9mm needle on 30cm cable? Or an 8mm needle on a 20cm cable? Well, you guessed it, you need to go buy a different size.

NB: At this point, it is worth mentioning that if your pattern calls for a shorter cable than you already have it's not quite so bad, as you can use something called "the magic loop" method. More on this in another post.

Interchangeable Circulars

These are my favourite needles of all the needles.

They are exactly like the fixed circulars, apart from one huge distinction that eradicates the impracticality of fixed circulars. You buy your needle tips and your cables separately, so you can have any size combination you need.

Circular needles are fantastic, because as I mentioned they can be used for knitting big tubes of knitting, but you can also use them in the same way as you would use single pointed needles. In fact, I haven't used single pointed needles in ages, because I only ever use my interchangeable circs (knitter slang for circular). You just knit back and forth as you would on single pointed needles!

9" Circulars

9" circulars are great for knitting tiny tubes like socks, in the same way as you would with DPN's. It is possible to do this with longer circular needles using the magic loop method as I mentioned before, but this can be a little awkward, especially to the unseasoned knitter.

9" circulars allow you knit around and around a small circumference without having to adjust any stitches, so they are great if you are just doing a knit stitch, but a bit more difficult if you want to do anything else.

I've personally never used 9" circs myself, as I'm not a big sock knitter, but Staci Perry from Very Pink Knits has some absolutely fab information on them, and some great tutorials. Staci is hands down one of my favourite knitters!


Cable Needle

There is really only one needle type I would classify as a miscellaneous, and that is the cable needle. In fact, I would say it's more of a hybrid between a needle and notion, however, I think it would be amiss of me to  leave it off the needle list as if you are a beginner it could seem confusing.

A cable needle is a very short knitting needle, usually with a kink of some sort in it. It is used to slip stitches onto, to hold them in place whilst working cable patterns. At this stage, this will probably all seem somewhat over your head, and you don't really need to know it just yet, but it's worth bearing in mind!

So, there we have it, a high-level view of all the different types of needles you might come across as a new knitter! I hope it helps you understand things a little more, but if you have any queries, please let me know and I'll try my best to help!

Next week we will be looking at some of the most common materials knitting needles are made out of, and the pros and cons of each material, and how to choose the right one for your project, so keep your eyes open for that one!

Related Post: Knitting Needles: A Guide to Material Choices