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

There are three types of standard knitting needles, and each of these is used for knitting in different ways. All needles are measured by circumference and length, and certain sized needles are designed to knit certain weights of yarn. Your pattern will tell you the size and length of needles required for your pattern.

You can typically buy a pair of a particular size, or a set that contains a variety of sizes (and lengths for circular needles) to cover most projects.


Single point or straight needles

These are the traditional needles that you associate with knitting. They're solid wood, metal or plastic and have a point at one end, and a stopper at the other.

Double pointed needles

Also known as DPNs, these needles enable knitters to knit tubes of knitting. These are most commonly associated with socks, where five needles are used to knit around in a circle, knitting from one needle to the next. You can also use double pointed needles to knit sleeves, and you can buy them in different sizes, from 2mm circumference right up to 10mm.

Circular needles

With short needle tips connected to varying lengths of cord (or cable), circular needles enable knitters to knit large volumes of stitches, or to knit “in the round” and produce tubes, for example, a sweater with no seams to sew. Knitting in the round is very popular, firstly because of the minimal sewing up needed, but also for knitters with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome: the shortness of the needle tip means that the weight of the knitting sits on the cord and can rest on your lap, rather than on the needles in your hands.

Fixed circular needles are needle tips that are permanently attached to specific length cords. Stitches move easily over the fixed join, keeping your knitting smooth.

Interchangeable circular needles are needle tips that screw on to cord attachments, giving the knitter flexibility to change tips with cord lengths for different projects.

You can also use a circular needle instead of straight needles for socks and sleeves using the magic loop method instead of DPNs.


“I prefer circular knitting needles, even when working flat (not in the round) because I find them easier on my wrists to hold. And because I love using the magic loop method (in place of DPNs), they are also such a versatile option.” -- Elizabeth Smith

Materials

Needles are made from different materials for two reasons: to assist you in knitting different kinds of yarn and to keep your hands comfortable while you knit. Yarn surfaces are different – silk can be slippery, mohair can be sticky and fashion yarns are all kinds of bobbly, so different needle materials can help with stabilizing the yarn on the needles, whether you want to knit faster, or slow things down.

Each material has its own benefits:

Metal

The most traditional needle type is fast, and perfect for yarns that can be sticky and fibrous. Metal and carbon fiber needles are likely to have the pointiest tips, and this can help with certain yarns and weights, for example very fine yarn needs a sharp tip for picking up stitches.


“I really like metal needles with pointy tips for lace and shawl knitting. There are several brands which make needles labeled "sharps" or "lace". They make working the double and triple decreases often found in lace patterns much easier since they can slip under multiple stitches without much difficulty.” -- Kirsten Kapur


Wood and bamboo

Perfect for slippery yarns, wood and bamboo needles help to stop stitches sliding off the needles when you don’t want them to. They are warm in the hands, with some flexibility, and can help reduce pain for knitters who suffer with hand problems such as carpal tunnel or arthritis.


“In general, I like the speed and the pointiness of metal needles: if I’m doing lots of increases and decreases, or cabling without a cable needle, sharp tips are very helpful. But when I’m travelling, I always switch off to wood or bamboo needles, just so I don’t garner unwanted attention from airport security. (Knitting needles are permitted for air travel by most airports and airlines, but the final decision is at the discretion of security personnel.)” -- Kate Atherley


Carbon fiber

Super light in the hands, with a non-slip surface, carbon fiber is strong enough to produce tiny needles that won’t bend, and they’re perfect for knitters with nickel sensitivity. The surface finish of carbon fiber needles works well with slippery yarns.

Plastic

Warm in the hands, and comfortable to knit with, especially for knitters who have problems with carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis. Plastic needles have a flexible core to stop them breaking, and they come in a rainbow of colors!


“All my sock needles are metal DPNs [double pointed needles]. I've tried wood and plastic, and they're too bendy and never pointy enough. I apparently like my needles very very sharp and very very stiff! But really, whatever keeps your hands happy is fine, I've seen folks turn out beautiful socks on all manner of needles.” -- Hunter Hammersen

Size and length conversions

There are eight main categories of yarn weight. These describe the thickness of the strand itself, rather than the weight of the ball of yarn.

Each yarn weight has a recommended needle size to produce the right size stitches to fit the gauge of a pattern (see our handy table below for a general guide) although the designer of a pattern may suggest a different sized needle for perhaps a closer knit effect, or a looser result.

Lengths

Straight (single pointed) needles come in a variety of lengths: 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 inches (which you might find labelled as 18, 20, 25, 30, 33, 35, and 40cm).

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


Needle and hook size conversion
US knitting needle size Equivalent US crochet size Equivalent UK size Actual size (mm) Approximate size (in)
0-142.0 mm-
1B132.25 mm-
--122.5 mm-
2C122.75 mm-
3-113.0 mm1/8"
3D103.25 mm1/8"
4E93.5 mm-
5F93.75 mm-
6G84.0 mm-
774.5 mm3/16"
8H65.0 mm3/16"
9I55.5 mm-
10J46.0 mm-
10.5K36.5 mm1/4"
--27.0 mm-
--17.5 mm-
11L08.0 mm5/16"
13-09.0 mm3/8"
15-010.0 mm3/8"
17--12.0 mm1/2"
19--15.0 mm5/8"
35--20.0 mm3/4"
50--50.0 mm2"