When you’re just starting out, don’t stress too much about what needles you’re using. As you keep at it you’ll probably pick up a feeling for what works best for you. If you want to know what’s out there, here’s how to pick the right knitting needles that are appropriate for you and what your are yarn and project. Each of the needle types has it’s pros and cons.
Needles can be made out of metal, plastic, wood, or bamboo. I personally like bamboo. They get smoother as you use them and are warm to the touch (a plus for me, it’s a real thing). They provide a little more friction or grab on the yarn. Even though they are a wood product they are smooth enough not to snag the yarn. Metal and plastic needles are more slippery. This is a good thing if you have a dense knit (i.e. using needles a little smaller than your yarn calls for). If you have a delicate knit you want to keep control of, they aren’t so great. There’s nothing worse than working your butt off knitting something just to have half the stitches slide off accidentally. Metal needles are also noisier. They make a clicking noise as you knit. Not always the best choice if you knit while your partner sleeps.
The longer the needles the more stitches you can work with. It get really difficult to work with needles that have too many stitches on them. Your work is compressed and you can’t see the stitches. It’s really easy to drop a stitch this way. Conversely, longer needles can be harder to hold and work with. Personally, if I’m knitting a larger piece I prefer circular needles. They have a smaller “footprint,” meaning they aren’t bulky, and I’m less worried about the stitches slipping off the needles.
Needles size corresponds to your yarn size and size of the stitches you want to create. The smaller the needles the more delicate your knitting can be. Think delicate lacey knits. The larger needles make those chunky, massive knits that are so popular now. There’s even Extreme Knitting with needles are almost 2 inches thick! Needle sizing is typically in numeric US and metric sizing in mm. Needle size corresponds to the diameter of the needle. The size should be marked on the needle. However, it’s great idea to pick up a needle gauge. It makes it easy to check the size of a needle in your stash. Plus, some of them are really pretty! No, seriously, people make jewelry out of them. Check out a few here and here.
You can see a full knitting needle conversion chart and yarn guide here.
Straight needles have a pointy end and a blunt end. On these needles you’ll knit one row, switch the needles and knit the next row.
Circular needles have a plastic connector between the needles. The connector can be anywhere from 16in up to 36in or more. These needles allow you to knit “in the round.” In other words, knitting in a continuous loop. Think infinity scarf. Circular needles are also great for knitting larger items like blankets that won’t fit on the standard needle length. When knitting in the round, make sure you choose the appropriate length for your circulars so the stitches fit comfortably. Most pattern will specify the length if circulars are necessary.
Double point needles are 4-5 single, short needles that are pointy on both ends. Used as a set, they are for knitting in the round when circular needles are not small enough. Great for making hats where the circumference gets progressively smaller as you knit from the bottom to the top of the hat.
If you’re just starting out, I suggest using short, straight metal or plastic needles, size 8-11. They are big enough to easily see the stitches you make but are not too unwieldy for beginners. I’ve tried a lot of different types and really prefer the bamboo circular needles. I would suggest them for anyone. Metal and plastic are cheaper ($4 vs $10 for a set of size 10 needles). If you aren’t sure if knitting will be a long term hobby for you, feel free to start out with cheaper supplies at first. Or you know, make friends with a fellow knitter and ask to try out different needles!
Now that you got your needles, lets check out the yarn.