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Knitting Needle Sizes (Illustrated Guide)

A collection of various yarn along with a variety of knitting needles.

Knitting has been a favorite pastime for generations. While in the past it was thought of as something that an older individual did, it has grown in popularity and people in all age groups and interests. Knitting once had a stigma associated with it that has faded away over time.

Knitting can be as simple or complicated as you would like to make it. You can use a simple pattern with one needle and go to town. As I found out when I started knitting, there is a lot to know about knitting needle sizes and material. Continue reading to find out more about knitting needle sizes, so you can select the right one for your project.

Related: Types of Knitting Needles | Things to Make and Sell from Home

Why Are There Different Knitting Needle Sizes?

The knitting needle plays a critical role in what your product is going to look like when it is finished. The number of stitches that you can fit into a one inch space directly relates the size of the needle. This is referred to as a gauge.

A smaller needle will create a tighter (smaller gauge) product, and a larger needle will create a looser one (larger gauge). All of the responsibility does not fall on the needles as the type of yarn makes a difference. When you use a pattern, it tells you the proper needles to use.

Metric / US / British Measurements

When you look at knitting needles, you will see several different numbers on them. While there are many different size needles, there is not a standard size across the world for knitting needles. You will see the US numbers and the metric equivalent to that.

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This is to help eliminate any confusion about which knitting needles you should use. This also provides you a way to ensure no matter in which region you live; you can use the proper needles. There was a time when the UK and Canada had their own needle sizes. It is unlikely that you will see those numbers in newer patterns because they have switched over to metric sizes.

When you see the American numbers, they start at low numbers, such as zero, and go up, whereas the British numbers start at high numbers and go down. These means for US number, the smaller the diameter of the needle equals a smaller number, but the UK numbers are larger for the smaller diameter needles.

Different Knitting Needle Types and Materials

While the size of the knitting needle matters, so does the material from which the knitting needle is made. Here is a list of some of the knitting needle material options.

Bamboo Needles

A couple of bamboo knitting needles with a gray merino blanket.

These needles are easy to use and gentle on the hands and wrists. The surface grips, so your yarn will not fall off the bamboo knitting needles. This is a perfect needle for a beginner, as well as someone who moves a little slower. Bamboo is a natural source making them environmentally friendly. They are affordable, strong, and easy to find.

Metal Needles

This is a couple of thread spools beside a jar filled with knitting needles.

The most common metal is aluminum needles, but steel, nickel, and brass are also used. A circular knitting needle can be made from metal needles. They are durable, strong, and will not break.

They are ideal for smaller gauge projects. They have a slick surface making the product move easily across them. They may be difficult to use by someone that is new to knitting. They are affordable, but often more expensive than bamboo.

Plastic (Acrylic) Needles

A close look at various plastic knitting needles in a glass jar.

Plastic knitting needles and acrylic needles are incredibly affordable. They are smooth and fit securely between bamboo and metal for their stickiness factor. They are lightweight which makes them easy to hold and use. Plastic needles are hollow and incredibly light. Acrylic needles are not hollow.

Wood Needles

This is a close look at a knitting project using white wool and a couple of wooden knitting needles.

Wooden needles are smooth and easy to use. They are solid and when you get into larger needle sizes, they may make your hands tire quickly. These are natural needles and tend to be more expensive than plastic, metal, or bamboo.

Carbon Needles

These are new types of needles. They are not as sticky as bamboo, but nearly as slick as metal. They are durable and light. They are the most expensive needles you will find. You may find some of them with a metal needle tip.

Square Knitting Needles

While this is not a specific type of material, it is a different type of knitting needle. Most of us are used to round knitting needles, but there are square options. They are not quite as common, but they provide some amazing benefits. They are easier to hold on to, and they will not roll away or off the table. They can help to reduce stress on your hand, and it will not get tired as quickly.

Straight Needles

This is a close look at various straight knitting needles on a white surface.

Straight needles are used for flat knitting. This means that the end result is a flat piece of work, such as a scarf. Straight knitting needles will not create something that is tubular. When you work on a flat piece of work, you knit a row and then knit the next row and so on. You use single pointed needles for this purpose.

Circular Needles

This is a set of metal circular knitting needles with a nylon thread connector.

With these needles, you create items that are circular, like socks. These needles have a cord connecting them together. You can also use these types of needles to knit in the round. You may also use double-pointed needles to knit in the round.

Knitting Needle Size

Below you will see all a knitting needle conversion chart. This chart contains the numbers associated with the knitting needles, so you can be sure that you select the proper needles. These numbers include numbers that are potentially no longer used (such as the UK numbers). Included in the charts is the Japanese needle size.

Lace Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
1mm00000  18 steel dpn
1.125mm   17 steel dpn
1.25mm0000  16 steel dpn
1.5mm000  15 steel dpn
1.75mm00 00 standard / 14 steel dpn
2mm014 0 standard / 13 steel dpn

These are incredibly small needles that are used for delicate projects. They are often small and lace types of products. Using small needles such as this is often taxing on your hands and wrists. You often find circular needles or double-pointed needles used in this type of work. You will find that a circular needle is used to knit in the round for items such as shawls or afghans. When using circular needles, there is a cord between them that helps to take the pressure off your wrists.

Sock Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
2.25mm113 12 steel dpn
2.5mm  11 standard
2.75mm21222 standard / 11 steel dpn
3mm 1133 standard / 10 steel dpn

These needles are on the smaller side, too. They are used primarily for socks. You either love knitting socks or just have not tried yet. Knitting socks is addictive, and once you start, you will not want to stop. Most sock patterns call for needle size 1 or 2. There are some exceptions which use heavier yarn that is not a typical sock yarn. You are not limited to just socks with these needles. You can use them to create amazing shawls. You can find this size in circular needles, also.

Sport Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
3.5mm4 54 standard / 9 steel dpn
3.75mm59 5 standard / 8 steel dpn

Sport weight needles are a little larger than the tiny ones used for delicate projects. These are a little easier on your hand and wrists. Those small needles tend to make your hands cramp. You can make a sweater or even socks with these needles.

DK Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
4.25mm  76 standard

DK weight is a common yarn weight and one of the ones you will use often. It is a little lighter than worsted weight. You will use these needles to make scarves, sweaters, gloves, and just about anything else you want. As you get deeper into knitting, you will find that you want to own just about every size knitting needle.

Worsted Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
4.75mm  97 standard
5mm86108 standard
5.25mm   9 standard
5.75mm  1210 standard

Worsted weight is the most common yarn that you will use. You can use it for just about any project, except perhaps the most specialized type of project. This is a middle range yarn, and these are medium sized needles. These are most likely the needles that you will use when you first learn how to knit.

While the yarn label will tell you which needles you should use, you may not want to follow their advice. Any pattern you use will also give you the needle size, but that may not be what you want. If you want your end result to be tighter, you pick a smaller needle. If you want it to be looser, you pick a larger one.

Bulky Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
6.3mm  14 
6.5mm10 1/231510 1/2 standard
7mm 27mm 
7.5mm 1  
8mm11 8mm 

These are a larger sized needle. They will allow you to finish your project faster. They also produce a final product that is loosely knit. You may want to consider circular needles when getting into this size.

Super Bulky Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
12mm17 10mm 

When you get into the super bulky needles, you are creating fun products. You will knit fast and find that you can use a wide variety of colors and textures. You can do a lot of experimenting. Just be prepared that the final product may not be what you pictured.

Jumbo Weight Needles

MetricUSUKJapaneseOld US
16mm19 10mm 
19mm35 16mm 
25mm50 25mm 

These are the largest sized needles. If you are not currently an experienced knitter, you may find that these are challenging to hold and use.


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