Knitting really only requires two tools, yarn and knitting needles. If you need help picking out yarn, check out these tips. For tips on buying knitting needles, read on.
Knitting needles come in three varieties, many sizes and lots of different materials. Needles can be straight, circular or double-pointed.
Straight needles are used for most small, straight knitting projects such as scarves knitted vertically, small afghans or baby blankets, ponchos and wraps and garments or bags that are pieced (meaning you stitch the front and back separately and sew them together after they are knitted).
Circular needles have two points joined together by a flexible, usually plastic, cord. Circular needles are good for big projects like large afghans because the cord holds the project at all times. You can keep the project on your lap and the weight is much better distributed than if the whole project were on one straight needle. Using circular needles is less stressful on your wrists for this reason. They are also used to knit round things like hats or sweaters and bags with no side seams (where the body is knitted in a tube).
Double-pointed needles are short little metal needles with points on each end. Sold in packs of four or five, these needles are designed to use when knitting socks. If you don't make socks, you'll never use them.
Knitting needles range in size in America from zero to 15, with zero being the smallest and 15 the largest (there are even bigger needles, but you might not be able to find them unless you shop at a specialty knitting store). There's also a metric measurement and a British measurement. If you ever need to convert a needle size (say you live in America and have a British pattern) check out this handy chart.
What your knitting needle is made out of is based mostly on personal taste and how much you want to spend. Basic needles are available in metal, plastic and wood, and you will probably be able to find all three at your local craft shop.
Other possibilities include bamboo, glass and resins. These needles may not be available at your local craft store, but you can find them at knitting stores or online.
Experiment with several different kinds of knitting needles to determine what feels best to you. Some people love the warmth of wood while others love the smoothness of metal. You won't know what's best for you until you've tried it, so get to stitching!
Metal knitting needles are some of the most commonly available knitting needles today. They are usually made from aluminum and are relatively inexpensive. They are heavy and strong, able to support a big project, and they are nearly impossible to break. Other materials used in metal needles are chrome, brass and nickel.
The downside to metal needles is that they are cold, and they make a clicking sound when you knit, which some crafters find annoying. They're also quite slick, which can be a problem when knitting with very fine or smooth yarn.
Plastic knitting needles are the least expensive needles and are great for beginners. They are lightweight and durable, and have a little more flexibility than metal needles. They are still somewhat noisy, but not as loud as metal needles. Plastic needles are very smooth, which some knitters find helps them to knit more quickly. Some of the very large knitting needles can only easily be found in plastic, so it's likely you'll end up with some plastic needles in your stash.
Wooden needles are a perennial favorite among knitters. The main reason for their popularity is their warmth. The heat of your hands warms the needles, making them a joy to work with. There's also more tactile pleasure from knitting with wooden needles. Wooden needles tend to be smooth but not too slippery, so they are good for knitters of all skill levels. They can be expensive, especially those that are handmade. They are also more brittle than other types of needles and can be broken.
A nice medium between wooden and metal needles is the bamboo needle. These are mostly imported from Japan and are somewhat more expensive than metal or plastic needles, but not as expensive as wooden needles. They warm to the touch like wood, and are much lighter than metal. They usually are more durable than wood and can be quite slick, allowing you to work quickly and accurately.
Other Types of Needles
Glass needles are heavy and incredibly smooth. They are cold at first, but warm as you use them. They are often made from Pyrex, which is resistant to breaking. They can make short work of your project, but mostly are just fun to have and use from time to time. Resin needles are lightweight because they are hollow. They are also very strong and resistant to breaking. They look similar to plastic and are similar in price. The Daisy line of resin needles is wonderful because different sized needles are different colors, so it's easy to find a pair in your stash.
Buying Needles Online
If you want to buy your needles online (and there's no reason not to, especially if you can't find what you're looking for locally), here are some places to check out.
- Jo-Ann has an amazing selection of needles in various types and sizes. You're sure to find something you can't live without.
- Michaels has lots of good basic needles, from nickel-plated brass straights to polished Teflon circulars.
- Yarn.com is a good source for glass knitting needles, but they have lots of other great stuff as well.
Choosing the Right Needle
Knowing what size needle to use can be a little tricky. When you pick out a pattern, it will indicate what size needle was used to make the item. But every person knits a little differently, and you probably knit more tightly or loosely on different days, as well. This is where gauge comes in. Almost all patterns include a statement of gauge that will say something like "gauge is four stitches and four rows to one inch on size 15 needles." What this means is if you knit in the stitch pattern that is indicated in the pattern, when you have knitted four stitches for four rows you will have a one-inch square of knitting.
You should always check your gauge, but if you can't be bothered, at least check your gauge on garments that need to fit properly. It's less crucial on things like scarves and throws.
If you knit a swatch the size recommended and measure it and come out the right size, congratulations. You should knit the item on those needles. If your swatch is too small, that is you have more stitches and rows to the inch than required, try again with larger needles. If your swatch is bigger, meaning fewer stitches fit in an inch that the pattern says, try smaller needles.
You might need to go up or down a size or two to get the right gauge. It's important to take the time to do this so you won't spend all that time knitting only to end up with something that's not the shape or size it was supposed to be.
When you first start knitting, you will probably only have a couple different kinds of needles. You'll buy new ones as you need them and ultimately end up with a hodgepodge of needles of different sizes and materials, straights and circulars, all stuffed in a box or a drawer.
If you can no longer tell what size your needles are, invest in a gauge ruler. This handy little metal ruler helps you measure gauge without keeping a measuring tape in your knitting bag, but it also includes holes of different sizes that will help you size knitting needles. It works like a spaghetti measure, just slide the needle in the hole and the one it fits in snugly will show you the size of the needle.
In the future, try to organize your needles. You can make a needle holder for your straight needles and organize them by size, or dedicate a box, basket or drawer. Put all the needles of the same size in a zip-top bag and label it with the size. Then make sure you put them back when you're finished.
Another option for keeping control over your needles is to buy a set of interchangeable needles. This is a set, usually of circular needles, that includes points of various sizes. You can attach different points to the same cord, so you have a whole set of circulars that comes in its own storage box.
The Boye Needlemaster by Wrights is the most widely available interchangeable system and has been around the longest. It includes needle points from size 2 to 15 and cords to make lengths of 20, 24, 29 and 36 inches. You could probably also join two cords together to make longer cords. The points are metal and the cords are plastic. The points screw into the cords (there's a little tool like a bent paperclip that is supposed to make the points stay secure on the cords) and they are all different colors, which makes it easier to tell them apart.
Another popular interchangeable system is the Denise Interchangeable Knitting System. These were actually developed by the same people who originally designed the Boye system, so they're kind of a next-generation product.
They're made of resin and are much lighter than traditional knitting needles. this set is interesting because it allows you to make both circular and straight needles with the same points. The sizes range from 5 to 15 and you can make straight needles that are 9, 13, 16, 20, 30 or 34 inches long (with the points added) or circulars measuring 17, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 33, 40, 50 or 58 inches.
The pieces snap together instead of screwing on, so the points don't come loose while you're knitting. If you want a kit, there's just about everything you could ever want here. But it's not nearly as much fun as buying new needles every time you have a new project!
A new set on the scene is Options from Knit Picks. These needles are nickel-plated, so they are very smooth. The needles can be purchased as a kit (with US sizes 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10.5 and 11, as well as two lengths of cable) or separately. Sizes 13, 15 and 17 are also available, as well as three other lengths of circular cable. The needles themselves are not labeled by size, but needle markers and a needle gauge are available from Knit Picks as well.