Name that Needle: Types of Knitting Needles and Their Uses
Name that Needle: Types of Knitting Needles and Their Uses

Name that Needle: Types of Knitting Needles and Their Uses

Think back to when you first started knitting. At some point, you likely visited a yarn shop in search of the “right” pair of needles. Maybe you sought advice from the salesperson (or the internet) about whether knitting “in the round” produced better results than straight needles? The options can be overwhelming. However, at the end of the day, no needle style is perfect. The point (pun intended) is to choose from a variety of needles that will help you achieve your dream project. At Purl Avenue, we’re here to help with some basics — the types of knitting needles and their uses.

Straight Needles

straight knitting needles lg
Photo courtesy of Knitting Loop

When you see a knitter depicted in a TV show or movie (like this scene from New Girl), they’re often using comically large straight needles. They come in sets of two, and each needle has one pointed side and another side with a stopper. Although they can be any length, between 9-14 inches is typical. Oftentimes, straight needles are made from metal such as steel and aluminum, but you can also find excellent plastic or bamboo straight needles as well as various types of wood including rosewood. It all depends on what feels best for you and your yarn! When using straight needles, all your stitches must be held on the needles themselves. For this reason, they work best for smaller projects like scarves and potholders.

Circular Needles

Circular Knitting Needles - Purl Avenue

Often referred to as knitting “in the round”, these needles are characterized by their circular shape. With this style, the two pointed needles are connected by a flexible string, which essentially creates one long knitting needle. Some are longer than others (they range from about 16-48 inches), but in general, circular needles allow you to cast on a higher number of stitches and create bigger projects. Like the name suggests, these needles are perfect for creating garments with a circular shape. For example, socks, sweaters, and hats are popular choices for this needle style. 

When it comes to circular needles, there is another subset category called interchangeable needles. These are knitting needles which allows the knitter to change the needle length through the usage of various cable sizes. Interchangeable knitting needles come in two parts: the needle tips and the cable. Once the needle tips size is chosen, then pick out your desired cable length. After that, connect your cable to your needle tips and fasten with a cord key (or a paper clip). The most common cable lengths are 24″, 32″, and 40″ but can go up to 60″. 24″ and 32″ cable lengths are commonly used for knitting shawls and wraps while extremely large projects such as blankets are knitted using 60″ cables. 

Double Pointed Needles

Photo courtesy of Bryan Gardner via Martha Stewart

At first glance, these look similar to straight needles. However, instead of having a stopper on one side, double pointed needles have spearlike edges on both ends. Ranging from 5 to 8 inches, these needles usually come in groups of fours or sixes. As a rule of thumb — if a garment or craft must be knitted in the round, but it’s too small for circular needles, it’s a great candidate for double pointed needles. For example, tiny parts of larger projects such as sweater sleeves are perfect. Although they can be tricky to use, the skill is well-worth learning for any avid knitter. 

Aside from DPNs, another option for knitting small circular parts of a project is with the Magic Loop. This technique requires the use of a single circular needle where the stitches are separated into two sections. For those who find DPNs a bit difficult to use, you might find the Magic Loop technique an easier and faster way to knit tiny circular knits. Learn more about this technique HERE.

Cable Needles 

Cable Needles - Purl Avenue

If you watched the movie Knives Out, you’ll remember Chris Evans’ iconic cable knit sweater. These intricate woven patterns, a classic autumnal look, are created by these funny shaped knitting needles. Cable needles start off straight, but then bend in the middle. Only 3.5 to 4 inches long, they’re designed to hold the stitches you aren’t using and create a cable pattern. While this style of knitting may seem daunting, with enough practice on using cable needles, you should be ready to create your own sweater in no time. 

Equipped with the right knitting needles, your next knitting project will hopefully be frustration-free! Stay tuned on the Purl Avenue blog for more knitting updates.

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