knitting needles 101

this might be a doozy for a monday morning, so grab a coffee and get comfy…

i knit.

and i know some of you do as well. but i also know that many here do not. for those who do, please don’t feel i’m being obvious. this is written mostly for those who don’t knit. and my reasons are selfish.

i want to talk about knitting. and i want people who don’t knit to know what i’m talking about. i know i may sound like i’m in my own world sometimes (it’s nice in here, eh? thanks for joining me!) but i’m not completely delusional and think that everyone either

a) wants to knit


b) just needs be convinced that hand-knit items are way better than factory-made (though they are).

but with this being my little slice of the interweb, i’m allowed to daydream here. perhaps i’ll inspire a non-knitter to pick up some needles and knit something one day. i can at the very least imagine that i can one day convince one skeptical and reluctant person that they haven’t really lived til they’ve worn a pair of well made handknit socks (if this is you, and you know who you are, leave your shoe size in the comments below and wait a few months).

but til that day, i’ll just stick with my first goal of having people know what i’m talking about. also, keep in mind that this is just my take on things. there are many good online resources for knitters of all levels, many tutorials, videos, forums… i’ve listed a few of my favourite links at the bottom of this post. 

and so.

knitting needles. there are all kinds. the most basic is the straight needle. they have one pointy end, and a little nub at the other end to keep the stitches from falling off.

bamboo knitting needles

they come in a variety of materials, such as plastic, aluminum, steel, or (my favourite for most projects) bamboo.

variety of knitting needles

and as pretty as those colours are, i like bamboo because they are light, the yarn doesn’t slip off them too easily, and they’re… well, earthy. light some patchouli will ya?

knitting needles come in different sizes, and the size refers to the diameter, or thickness, of the needle.

knitting needle diameter

usually two sizes are present for each pair of needles. one is in metric units, which makes lovely mathematical sense and is usually measured in millimetres. the other measurement is wacky units, and may be loosely related to king louis XVI’s shoe size.  i really don’t know and i don’t feel like looking it up right now.

knitting needle sizes explained

straight needles are used for most straight-forward knitting of garments. things like scarves, sweaters, blankets. mostly flat items (there are always exceptions).

these are double-pointed needles. they usually come in sets of 4 to 6 per size.

double pointed knitting needles

you’ll notice they don’t have a little nub at the end like straight needles.  that’s because the stitches are needed to “fall off the end” (in an orderly manner, preferably onto the other working needle). double-pointed needles are usually used to make things “in the round”… so think of a tubular item, like a sock, or a skirt, that is knit without a seam. round and round.

you can see some mitten cuffs here in progress on double-pointed needles.

knitting mittens on double pointed needles

don’t let the number of needles intimidate you. you still only use two needles at a time, while the other needles just hold the other stitches in place til you get to them.

another way to knit “in the round” is by using circular needles. these are needles attached together by a length of pliable nylon or flexible cord.

circular knitting needles

the size refers to both the needle diameter, and the length of the needle/cord combo, measured from the tip of one needle to the tip of the other. so the ones in the photo below are 4.5 millimeters thick and 60 centimeters long.

knitting circular needles

you’d use a longer length for things like knitting a skirt, and a shorter length for things like knitting the collar on a sweater.

here is a project in progress on circular needles…

knitting on circular needles and coffee

and when finished, it becomes this cowl:

knit cowl

oh wait, no, that’s not a cowl. that’s an excuse to show off my knitting. (sorry)

you can also use circular needles as you would straight needles for flat projects. i’m doing just that for my latest project. i’ll share photos when it’s done.  sometimes, circular needles are preferred by knitters simply because there’s less likelihood to lose that 2nd needle in the space behind the couch cushion. it’s all kept together in one tidy bundle.

there are other techniques, too, like using two sets of circular needles together and the magic loop method to knit smaller diameter projects. don’t worry about those things just yet. i threw those in there to keep the knitters amongst us slightly interested. (i could sense their fidgety fingers reaching to click their way out of here. we can be a flighty bunch, us knitters. our hands are always itching for the next thing…)

so straight needles, double-pointed needles, and circular needles. there are many varieties within each of those categories, but those are the main three.

and of course, as with most things, there are a lot of doodads that go with knitting:

knitting accessories needles scissors crochet hooks ruler

those are my crochet hooks on the left – yet another story – and my fibre doodads on the right. the ruler off to the side is what i want to talk about next.

it’s a handy little tool for determining needle size. most straight needles have the size stamped on the needle somewhere. but double-pointed and circular needles don’t always have the size listed. and unless you carefully store them in the case in which you got the needles, there’s a good chance you’ll lose track of the size. this tool lets you pop a needle into the hole, and you get the reading in both metric and wacky units.


more doodads…not totally necessary for knitting, but useful nonetheless.

knitting accessories doodads

so that’s basically it.

stay tuned for part 2, where i talk about what i do with my circulars when they misbehave and get all bent out of shape…

circular needles

…some knitting resources…  free knitting videos, forum, and patterns

yarn harlot


ooh, one more thing! (a 6 minute 44 second animation)

and knitting coraline’s tiny tiny sweater

do you have a favourite knitting-related site to share?

© imadeitso, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to ana at with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in tools, tips and techniques, yarn and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to knitting needles 101

  1. Estivalia says:

    I remember my uncle tried to teach me to knit when I was a kid. It was a mess, he’s right handed and I’m a lefty. I tried, but failed :p So I stitch… ocassionally.

    • iMadeItSo says:

      oh that’s tricky! i know someone who was left-handed and learned knitting from her right-handed grandma…they sat in front of a mirror to do it! i don’t think i would have thought of that.

      and your stitching is so nice…

  2. Mama Rose says:

    Great breakdown on knitting tools! I’m crochet because my Great GrandMama taught me when I was about 5 or 6. She really taught me the basics and I picked it up and left it throughout the years. Not until I was older did I start making my own patterns- if you want to call them patterns-lol! I sooooo wish I could knit too! I love the look and feel of hand knitted items. The patterns are gorgeous…aahhhh! One of these days this mama will!

    • iMadeItSo says:

      mama rose, when the time is right, jump in! are you on ravelry? if so, add me (username “imadeitso”)… i’d like to look through your crocheted projects :)

  3. Canadian Karin says:

    Seriously last night I decided that I wanted to start knitting… (a) why not be talented and able to make gifts and (b) tie up my hands so I can’t snack in front of the TV!
    I have been googling local craft shops to see where I can take a learn to knit class!!

    Consider yourself complete… you have inspired me!!

    • iMadeItSo says:

      awesome! i can retire now ;) i’m glad i’ve inspired you, but please don’t turn on me when things get wonky (as they often do with knitting). i’ll try and help, or send you in the right direction to find an answer. a knitting class is a great place to start, hands on. also make sure you check out the videos on yay, have fun! let me know how it goes…

  4. Halima says:

    My favorite needles to knit with now are bamboo too. And thanks to thrift stores I am slowly stocking up. The old metal ones I will keep because they have been with me so long and have seen many projects. Have you ever seen a straight needle with metal at the tip and the clear flexible plastic that goes to the end? (Not circular) I have a pair, that were given to me a long time ago. I have never seen the like since. The cowl you made is beautiful and the bird pin sets it off beautifully.

    • iMadeItSo says:

      thanks halima, the cowl was a gift i made and i was so happy with the way it turned out. the pattern (on ravelry) is free, and it went together so easily…

      the only time i don’t like to use bamboo is with 100% cotton. it’s not stretchy and i find it doesn’t move easily enough along the needles. really hard on the hands. i’ve never seen the kind of needle you’re talking about. what is the purpose of it, do you know?

  5. Marti says:

    My current favourite needles are my metal Hiya Hiya DPN’s for sock knitting. They are sooo smooth and quick. Definitely recommend them for the avid sock knitter.

  6. Pingback: when circular needles get twisted | i made it so.

  7. Pingback: quilling: the art of paper filigree – part 1 of 3 | i made it so.

  8. Pingback: Knitting Needles 101! · Knitting |

  9. Pingback: blocking part 2: shaping a knit hat | i made it so.

  10. Beth says:

    “metric and wacky” *giggles*

  11. Pingback: stitch markers for knitting | i made it so.

  12. Pingback: 2-at-a-time socks | i made it so.

  13. Pingback: finished: lace sweater for mom | i made it so.

  14. Julie says:

    Love, love this post!!! I’m at work, so can’t watch the video. Will do so tonight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>