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Beginner's Guide to Knitting Needles

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Knitting needle collection - The Shopping Sherpa, Flickr

When you decide to learn how to crochet, your mind should turn immediately to purchasing knitting needles. This is undoubtedly the most important tool in any knitter’s kit, as needles not only form the stitches, but also holds existing stitches to prevent them from unravelling.

But what are the different kinds of needles you can use for your projects? Depending on what you’re wanting to make, you have a choice of single or double-pointed, circular or straight, a variety of materials, and a wide range of sizes as well.

A single-pointed needle has one tapered end, and a knob on the other. The knob prevents the existing stitches from sliding off the needle, whereas the tapered end helps form new stitches. A typical single-pointed needle measures between 254-406mm long.

Homemade knitting needles - KateMonkey, Flickr

Double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends and is commonly used to knit in-the-round, also known as circular knitting. They are shorter than single-pointed needles, between 130-200cm long, and are sold in packs of four or five.

Knitting a sock using double-pointed needles - Kim Piper Werker, Flickr

A cable needle is a very short, double-pointed needle that acts as a temporary hold for a small number of stitches while forming a cable pattern. They often contain a U-shaped bend, or are U-shaped to prevent the stitches from falling off during knitting.

Cable Needles - Pschemp, via Wikimedia Commons

The invention of circular needles has made it the primary tool for knitting in-the-round, although it may also be used for flat knitting. It comprises of two tapered, straight tips connected by a flexible cable, usually made of either nylon or coated wire. The tips may be permanently connected or detachable from the cable. Circular needles have an advantage of better weight distribution of the fabric, so it is less taxing on the arms and wrists.

Circular needle - mararie, Flickr

The size of a knitting needle is determined by the gauge. Most needles are labelled with the size, but should this wear off, as it will over time, you can use a needle gauge. These are usually made of metal or plastic and have a series of different sized holes for the needle to pass through, and a ruler to determine the tension of the sample.

Needle sizes - noricum, Flickr

Sizing systems differ between the US, and UK and Canada. Needle numbers in the UK are determined by the Standard Wire Gauge, the measurement of the thickness of a wire by either diameter or cross sectional area, and hence increases in number the thinner the needle. Needle numbers in the US increase with needle thickness.

Needle size conversion chart

When starting out, it's good to follow what patterns and tutorials have used, in order to get a feel for how the pattern, tension, needles, and yarn comes together. If you're unsure, try asking the staff at stores such as Lincraft, or Spotlight.

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