Needle buying guide

There are many types of needles available, made out of everything from plastic to bamboo, wood, metal, glass, and even bone. As you become a more experienced knitter, you will find what material works best for you, and what type of needle you prefer for various projects.

Needle types | Materials | Length and size conversions


Needle types

Knitting needles and crochet hooks come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made out of a wide range of materials. Different materials tend to work well for different types of yarn, and many knitters prefer to use needles or hooks made from particular materials because of the way they feel .

As you gain in experience, you will begin to develop working preferences, and broaden your understanding of why certain needle materials work well for different yarns and projects.

There are three types of standard knitting needles, each of which is used for knitting in certain ways. All needles are categorised by circumference and length, and as indicated in the earlier sections on tension, particular sizes will work best with certain weights of yarn.


Single point or straight needles

These are the traditional needles associated with knitting. They have a point at one end, and a stopper at the other. They are used for producing flat pieces of knitting. The knitting is constructed by working successive rows on top of each other. The knitter completes one row, then turns the work and knits the next row back the other way.

Double pointed needles

Double-pointed needles or DPNs enable knitters to knit tubes of knitting in the round. Most commonly associated with sock knitting, four or five needles are used to knit around in a circle, or more accurately, in a spiral, creating a seamless tube. The rows are counted as rounds, with the last stitch of one round leading straight onto the first stitch of the next. The work is sometimes turned in the conventional manner, such as when forming or 'turning' sock heels.

Circular needles

Circular needles are made up of shortest needle 'tips' of around four or five inches long, joined with a flexible cord or line. These needles can be used like ordinary straight needles to knit back and forth rows, but can be used to knit in the round as well. They enable knitters to have very long rows of live stitches on the needle, great for knitting large shawls. Some traditional Nordic-style knitting techniques use circular knitting to make full-sized, seamless sweaters, or to work seamless sleeves.

There are two types of circular needle:

Fixed circular needles: The tips are permanently fixed to the cord or line, and come in specific length and needle-size combinations. The join between needle and cord is smooth to allow stitches to travel easily from cord to needle.

Interchangeable circular needles: Needle tips and cords are manufactured separately, with tips that can screw into the ends of the cord. This means they can be joined in any combination of needle size and cord length, giving the knitter a lot of flexibility over a range of projects.

A note about knitting 'in the round': Knitting in the round is very popular and versatile. Flat-knitting a sweater means there are a lot of seams to sew together in order to complete a garment, and knitting in the round eliminates a lot of this extra work. Additionally, many knitters with arthritic hands or carpal tunnel syndrome find that the weight of knitting on a straight needle is a too much, but can comfortably use a circular needle.

You can also substitute pairs of circular needles for straight DPNs, or use just one circular needle and the magic loop technique to make socks, sleeves or any other tube shaped knitting projects.


Needle materials

Different needle materials are designed to aid the knitter, by helping to handle the yarn efficiently, and to adding comfort while putting as little strain on the hands as possible.

Each material offers specific benefits:

Metal

This most familiar needle is smooth and fast . This is ideal for yarns that can be hairy and fibrous, helping the stitches to slide along smoothly without snagging. Metal and carbon fibre needles have the pointiest tips, which will help with certain yarn weights and with complex stitch work such as lace made with very fine stitches, or complex cable knitting.


Wood and bamboo

These needles have a little bit of 'bite' on their slightly rough surfaces. Perfect for hairy yarns, wood and bamboo needles help to stop stitches sliding off the needles. They are warm and soft to the touch, and have some 'give,' which can help reduce pain for knitters who suffer with hand problems such as carpal tunnel or arthritis.


Carbon fibre

This super-light, high-tech material has a non-slip surface, which works well with hairy fibres, and is strong enough to produce the finest of needles that won’t bend. This makes carbon-fibre needles just right for working with very fine, silky, lace weight yarns. They’re also good for knitters who have nickel sensitivity.


Plastic needles

This is warm in the hands, and very comfortable to knit with, especially for knitters who have problems with carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. With a flexible core to stop them from breaking, and available in a rainbow of fun colours, plastic needles are great for encouraging kids to learn to knit.


Size and length conversions

Lengths

Straight (single-pointed) needles come in a variety of lengths: 18, 20, 25, 30, 33, 35, 40 cm (7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16 inches).

Double-pointed needles come in three lengths: 15, 20, 23 cm (6, 8, 9 inches).

Circular Needle cord lengths: Usually 20cm, 40cm, 60cm, 80cm,100cm, 120cm, 150cm, and rarely 2m, 3m.


Needle and hook size conversion
Actual size (mm) Equivalent UK size Equivalent US size Crochet
2.0 mm140-
2.25 mm131B
2.5 mm12--
2.75 mm122C
3.0 mm113-
3.25 mm103D
3.5 mm94E
3.75 mm95F
4.0 mm86G
4.5 mm77
5.0 mm68H
5.5 mm59I
6.0 mm410J
6.5 mm310.5K
7.0 mm2--
7.5 mm1--
8.0 mm011L
9.0 mm013-
10.0 mm015-
12.0 mm-17-
15.0 mm-19-
20.0 mm-35-
50.0 mm-50-

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