Learn the value of knitting by taking a closer look at the different types of knitting needles that vary in style, appearance, color, size, length, usage, and benefits.
Knitting might simply come off as a simple household task; however, it is actually quite a time-honored craft and has proven to be a very useful hobby. Often described as “two sticks and a string’, knitting is a highly skillful activity that requires great expertise and proficiency.
It is a technique of making fabric from scratch with the help of yarn that is attached to two or more needles.
Table of Contents
- The History of Making Fabric and the Knitting Needle
- Different Types of Knitting Needles
- How to Choose the Right Knitting Needle
The History of Making Fabric and the Knitting Needle
The origin of knitting as a household task goes as far back as 1100 AD, where archeologists found the remains of socks that they believed to have belonged to the ancient Egyptians.
Did you know the Egyptians wore socks? According to popularly held beliefs, they only used to wear sandals, but as it turns out, they also wore socks! During those times, socks became quite a wardrobe necessity, and the best way to make them was found to be knitting because it gave them a very good fit. Interestingly, King Henry VIII is known to have worn hand-knit silk stockings that were primarily imported from Spain. At the same time in Paris, somewhere around 1525, men in Paris formed one of the first-ever worker’s unions for hand knitters.
The oldest knitted items were also discovered in Egypt during the 11th and 14th centuries. At that time, Muslim knitters were very popular for their work, and they are believed to have been the earliest known knitters in Europe. They were also popularly employed by Spanish Royal families to knit a variety of different items for them.
The 14th century witnessed a massive boom in the art of knitting throughout Europe, and from thereon, its popularity significantly spread throughout Britain during the 16th century. Knitting eventually became a preoccupation for many people on the Scottish isles mainly during the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the most popular knitted items during those times was sweaters, which also become the major source of income for many families.
Fast forward to the Second World War; the British wartime government department fostered the process of making hand-knitted items for the Royal Army and Navy. Knitting gained significant popularity, especially after the war and eventually paved the way for the “handmade Revolution” in the 21st century. This craft began to be talked about on the internet, which led to a plethora of knitting styles, colors, and the discovery of more natural and exotic fibers from so many different animals, such as angora and alpaca.
The Knitting Needle
All this hand-knitting was primarily done with the help of a very important and special tool called the ‘knitting needle.’ This knitting tool is said to have gained its origin from Arabia, where the first-ever needles were made of copper. These needles initially looked like hooks, as compared to the actual shape of the needles that we know today.
As the hobby of knitting began spreading in various parts of the world, the knitting needle also underwent major transformations in terms of appearance, materials, sizes, colors, etc. The later versions of knitting needles were made from a variety of different materials, such as iron, wood, amber, bamboo, glass, bone, and ivory.
Gradually, knitters began to analyze their knitting needs and requirements, which paved the way for the different types and varieties of knitting needles that we see now. Knitters soon started to invent their own styles of needles in order to produce the desired effects and results. This further led to the creation of innovative and unique tools to help make the whole knitting process easier and faster. Some of these creative tools include the Loop and double-ended features that allow knitters to hasten the process by using connected needles to create a single type of stitch.
Different Types of Knitting Needles
The 21st century brought forth a great wave of popularity in the world of knitting that further led to the creation of different knitting needle styles and types. These greatly varied in terms of appearance, color, size, length, usage, and benefits.
Take a look at the five most popular and common types of knitting needles that you are likely to find in most households in today’s times.
These are single-pointed types of needles that are generally used for flat-knitting. This is also the most basic style of knitting needle that usually comes to mind when you think of knitting needles.
Straight needles are commonly used for flat knitting projects like scarves, dishcloths, and pieced sweaters, to name a few. Many refer to them as the ‘run-of-the-mill’ knitting needles that most of our grandmothers used to knit with back in the days.
In terms of appearance, straight needles look exactly as they sound; they are thin and straight and consist of only a single point at one end while on the other end, they have a kind of a stopper or a knob. These needles typically come in sets of two and are very easy and straightforward to use as beginner set of needles.
The most common materials used for making straight needles include wood, plastic, bamboo, and aluminum. Each material has its share of pros and cons, and they also vary with different manufacturers. For example, your thread or yarn might stay better on certain types of needle materials and might slip or slide on others.
Straight needles come in a variety of lengths, and you can find short and long needles, but their standard range is 9 to 14 inches long for most sizes. The size of the needle that you use primarily depends on your knitting project requirements.
As easy as straight needles sound, you must keep in mind that you don’t want to use them on heavy projects. This is because heavy knitting requires holding up the needles for long periods of time, and that can really hurt your wrists. They are best used for small and flat knitting projects where there is no excessive bulk on the needles while you work them, such as baby blankets and wraps.
As the name suggests, circular needles are typically used for knitting items that are round and have larger circumferences, such as hats, but they may also be used for knitting sweaters and wraps too. These needles are considered to be one of the most versatile types of needles and are said to be the most useful needles in your knitting bag.
Circular needles are quite similar to double pointed needles in terms of their appearance. They are basically two tapered needles with short pointed ends that are connected or attached to one another with the help of a smooth nylon cord. The cord is more like a fixed cable that joins the two needles together. The two needles are connected in a way that they almost look like a single long knitting needle.
These needles are ideal for large knitting projects that require working in the round, such as hats, socks, sweaters, cowls, etc. Knitting ‘in the round’ here refers to knitting in a continuous, spiral-like manner without turning your work. They also work really well for flat knitting projects where all you need to do is work back and forth as you do with other needles, and shift the work from one end of the needle to the other end.
When buying circular needles, it is very important to understand the different cord lengths that are available in this type of needle. These needles typically range from 16 to 48 inches long, and the cord varies in thickness according to each length. For instance, the 16-inch cord is perfect for small projects that need to be knitted in the round, while the 36-inch circular needles are ideal for heavy and large projects that require flat knitting.
The best example of this is knitting something heavy like a large-sized shawl, where straight needles can hurt your wrist. A circular needle would come in really handy here because it transfers all the weight of the project onto the cord. This allows you to pick up the knitting pace as the remainder of the project rests on the table or on your lap.
Considering the multiple needle sizes with the varying cord lengths of circular needles, it can be very difficult to choose the right measurements, especially if you are an avid knitter. However, there is a very handy solution for that – an interchangeable kit. This kit comes with different needle tips in a standard range of sizes. These tips can easily be attached to the varying cord lengths. So, in a single changeable kit, you get a size 16 needle, for instance, in at least three different cord lengths.
This means that you can buy the needle cables and needle tips separately and create any size combination according to your preference.
In contrast to interchangeable circulars, there are also fixed circulars available that come in a single needle size with only one cable length. For instance, you can easily get a 9 mm needle with a 20cm cable. Considering that your knitting project calls for those very requirements, this particular fixed circular needle would come in extremely handy.
However, imagine that your knitting needs call for a 9mm needle, but with a 30 cm cable length. In such situations, you’ll definitely need to go buy a different size in order to meet your knitting preferences. This is one reason why fixed circulars are considered to be impractical, and most people prefer knitting needles with interchangeable circulars over these.
These are largely classified as ‘miscellaneous’ needles and are more of a hybrid version of a notion and a needle. Cable needles are very short knitting needles with an oddly-shaped, double-pointed needle. Some varieties of it may also contain a hook-like rounded needle. These needles are primarily used for knitted cables, where they greatly help in holding the stitches in place. When working with cable patterns, these needles allow the knitter to slip the stitches onto the work pattern and also keep them in the correct shape.
Cable knitting is basically a style of knitting that involves permuting stitches that help create textures of crossed layers. This knitting style is mainly used to produce less flexible fabrics that are denser than those fabrics achieved by the other typical knitting styles. Although you can knit cables without particularly using a cable needle, many people prefer using it as it is a very practical tool that keeps the active stitches perfectly safe as you move them around during the whole knitting process.
Cable needles are normally made of a variety of materials that include bamboo, glass, wood, plastic, and metal. When it comes to sizes, these needles are usually only a few inches long. They are also available in fewer diameters because they hold only a limited number of stitches, and that too, for a short amount of time.
When choosing an appropriate diameter size for cable needles, it is recommended that you choose the diameter size that is exactly the same or smaller than the regular knitting needle that you use for that particular knitting project.
Cable knitting projects have very specific requirements and instructions that you must follow in order to easily use the cable needle as well as to produce the perfect knitted piece. The technique for knitting cable items mainly includes moving a set of stitches in front of or behind the other stitches. This is followed by carefully twisting them around each other. As you move the stitches around, the cable needles securely hold the other stitches in place and keep them out of your way.
Double Pointed Needles
This is another type of a straight needle, except that it is double-pointed. This means that the needle has prominent points on both ends. Instead of a stopper or a knob at one of the ends like a single-pointed needle, this one has a second point. It is also shorter than a single-pointed needle and is primarily used for knitting gloves, socks, sleeves, and other similar kinds of small tubes.
Double Pointed needles are also commonly referred to as DPN’s, and they are often sold in sets of four or five. They are ideal for knitting small, round items that do not contain seams.
The thing with double-pointed needles is that it can be quite challenging to juggle multiple such needles, especially if you are a beginner. For most beginners, casting on the double-pointed needles is the most confusing part because the actual knitting process requires you to work with three or four of these needles at one time.
The standard knitting tradition with double-pointed needles is that three needles hold the stitches in place while a spare needle knits them together. Depending on the pattern or the item you are knitting, it is also possible to make use of four needles to hold the stitches and further use the fifth needle to help kit them.
When using double-pointed needles, the first step is to cast all the stitches onto a single needle. The key is to cast loosely so that the stitches can easily and freely slide onto the other needles. This is followed by joining them by working in the round and properly securing the stitches with the help of three or four double-pointed needles, as per your need.
The size range for double-pointed needles lies between 5-8 inches, where the shorter sized needles work best for tiny projects such as socks, while the longer needles are meant for numerous rounded or tubular-shaped projects such as hats.
These are quite similar to interchangeable circulars and are considered to be one of the best needle options for all enthusiastic knitters. They usually come in sets that contain different needle tips in a range of sizes along with different cord lengths. The varying needle tip sizes and cord lengths can be used to create combinations according to your own knitting preferences and requirements.
Interchangeable needles are meant to be used for both straight point and circular knitting purposes. Compared to other regular needles, these are quite expensive. However, they offer great efficiency, speed, and convenience, especially because they come in a variety of sets that comprise of different needle lengths and sizes.
The most prominent feature of interchangeable needles is that they have removable needle tips. The cable and needles come as separate pieces that need to be connected with the help of a screw link. The ends of these needles also have a screw fitting, which is why the cables come with a hollow end where you can fit in the needle tip.
Another great feature of these needles is that they have varying diameters and cable lengths all together in a single case or set. These can be easily mixed and matched as per the knitter’s preferences, and they can construct as many different combinations as they want. These needles also provide great relief to those who suffer from pain in their wrists while knitting. Since the interchangeable needles allow the stitches to be distributed across the entire length of the cable, the weight of the item that you are knitting can easily rest on your lap or the knitting station.
These needles are available in many materials, the most popular of which are wood and metal. A set of interchangeable needles might seem expensive. However, they actually cost less as compared to buying each needle length with its respective cord size separately.
How to Choose the Right Knitting Needle
Knowing the different types of needles that are available is one thing and being able to choose the right kind of knitting needle is a whole other thing.
Different knitters have their own particular needle preferences that allow them to create their unique, hand-knitted primarypieces. While some people are quite picky with the kind of yarn they are using, there are also people who have specific and tailored knitting needle requirements.
As a beginner, you don’t necessarily need to buy all the different types of knitting needles that are available out there. However, you must explore and have a thorough know-how of what those types are in order to pick the knitting needle that best fits your needs.
The Knitted Product
The first step to choosing the right needle is to understand the type of knitted product that you are going to create. This can include a wide variety ranging from gloves and sweaters to hats and scarves. Each knitted item or product has its own specific pattern. This pattern is greatly influenced by the type of knitting needle that you are using. For instance, if you are knitting a wool sweater, a glass needle is probably not going to work since wool is soft and can slip from a glass needle.
The Needle Material
Once you have correctly identified the requirements of the product you are knitting, the next step is to explore the different materials that knitting needles are made of. As mentioned earlier, knitting needles are made from a variety of materials. These include wood, bamboo, plastic, metals, etc.
Some of these materials are meant for beginners, while the others are well-suited for professional knitters. For example, wooden knitting needles are considered to be ideal for beginners because they are incredibly lightweight and super easy to use. They also fit all kinds of yarns effortlessly, which makes this material excellent for knitting novices. Another great feature of wooden needles is their smooth finish coupled with a slightly rough surface. This allows the knitter to knit their product in a slow and precise manner.
Similarly, all other materials have their respective uses, pros, and cons. Your task is to see what level of knitting you stand at and get the knitting needle that best fits your requirements.
It is almost unbelievable how something as small and delicate as a knitting needle has the ability to create such a variety of incredible products, and that too, from a single thread of yarn!