Types of Knitting Needles

A Collection of Different Types of Knitting Needles
Mollie Johanson

Knitting needles come in many styles, sizes, and materials and it can be confusing to know which kind to use when. Whether you 're buying your first set, sorting through a vintage knitting treasure trove, or expanding your collection, this guide is here to help!

The diameter or size of knitting needles determines the gauge of your knitting. But beyond this, they also come in different lengths, which affects how big of a project you can work on the needles.

There are five basic types of knitting needles, with some overlap:

  • Straight needles
  • Circular needles
  • Interchangeable needles
  • Double-pointed needles
  • Cable needles

What's the Point?

No matter what type of knitting needle you use, the points of the needles can make a big difference. Sharp points make it easier to accurately work with the stitches, especially on fine yarn. Needles with a more rounded point are good for bulky yarn and safer for kids. 

Sometimes you'll need a specific type of needle, while other times it's simply a matter of preference. Look at what's available, then find the best option for you!

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    Straight Needles

    Four Sets of Straight Knitting Needles in Different Sizes and Materials
    Mollie Johanson

    When most people think about knitting needles, they picture straight needles. These come in sets of two, and each has a point at one end and a knob or stopper at the other. This type is great for your first set of needles, as they are straightforward and easy to use.

    Size and Materials

    Straight needles range from 9 to 14 inches long for most sizes, but you may find shorter or longer needles too.

    Steel, aluminum, plastic, bamboo, and wood are the most common materials for straight needles. Each material has pros and cons, but they can also vary with each manufacturer.

    Some yarn feels better on needles made from certain materials. If you find that your stitches are sliding off the needles too easily or that they aren't sliding along the needles enough, try another set with a different finish.

    Best Uses for Straight Needles

    Because they need to hold all your stitches, straight needles work best for smaller projects that you work flat. This includes washcloths, scarves, afghan squares, or even sweaters that you knit in pieces.

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  • 02 of 05

    Circular Needles

    Three Types of Circular Knitting Needles
    Mollie Johanson

    When working on a large knitting project in the round, use circular needles. These needles have a flexible cord that connects them so they are almost like one long knitting needle. You can buy fixed circular needles, meaning the ends and the cord are permanently joined, or you can form them with interchangeable pieces.

    Size and Materials

    Most circular needles range from 16 to 48 inches long, but they also come in shorter or longer lengths. The cord can also vary in thickness.

    As with other needles, steel, aluminum, plastic, bamboo, and wood are the most common materials for the needle part of circular needles.

    The cord portion also varies, though nylon and coated steel are popular. Some circular needles hold their shape or have a memory. This can make it awkward to work with the needle because it feels like it has a mind of its own. To avoid this, look for circular needles that say they are memory-free.

    Best Uses for Circular Needles

    The primary use for circular needles is for projects worked in the round, such as sweaters, hats, cowls, or even socks when using the magic loop method.

    You can also use these needles for flat projects. All you have to do is work back and forth, as usual, transferring the work from one end to the other. This is especially helpful for large projects like shawls or blankets which don't often fit on straight needles.

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    Interchangeable Needles

    Interchangeable Knitting Needle Tips and Cables
    Mollie Johanson

    When you want the flexibility of circular needles in lots of sizes, and the option to use them in different ways, interchangeable needles are a great choice. Like circular needles, they have a firm tip and a flexible cord, but the pieces separate so you can change out the needle sizes and cord lengths. You can also connect needles to cords and attach caps at the ends so you can use them like straight needles.

    Interchangeable needles come in sets or as individual pieces. Most connect with a tiny screw-on joining piece, but some use other mechanisms, and each brand only works with its parts.

    The benefit of buying a set is that you get the pieces you'll need all in one case, although it can be a financial investment. If you want to grow your collection slowly or if you only need a small range of sizes, buying the pieces separately might be the better choice for you.

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  • 04 of 05

    Double-Pointed Needles

    Three Styles of Double Pointed Knitting Needles
    Mollie Johanson

    Another way to knit smaller projects in the round is with double-pointed needles, also known as DPNs. These shorter straight needles have points at both ends and usually come in sets of four to six needles.

    Some double-pointed needles have either a bend or a flexible portion in the middle. These come in sets of three because the bend allows you to work with fewer needles to move your knitting around.

    Size and Materials

    Double-pointed needles range in size from 5 to 8 inches long. Shorter needles work well for tiny projects such as small socks, while the longer ones are good for tubular shaped projects like hats.

    DPNs come in the same materials as other knitting needles.

    Best Uses for Double-Pointed Needles

    Most of the time you'll see DPNs in sock knitting, but you can also use them for knitting mittens, gloves, and hats (or just the top of a hat that was started on circular needles). They're also perfect for knitting small toys or even sweater sleeves. Knitting on double-pointed needles takes some practice, but it's worth the effort to have them as an option for small projects knitted in the round.

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  • 05 of 05

    Cable Needles

    Three Sizes of Cable Knitting Needles With a Bend in the Middle
    Mollie Johanson

    If you've ever seen a short, oddly shaped double-pointed needle, or perhaps even a rounded, hook-like needle, you were probably looking at a cable needle. These needles hold stitches when forming knitted cables.

    While it's possible to knit cables without a cable needle (either using a DPN or something similar), this is a handy tool for keeping active stitches safe while moving them around.

    Size and Materials

    Cable needles are only a few inches long and they come in fewer diameters because they only hold a few stitches for a short time. When choosing the needle diameter, use one that is the same size or smaller than the regular needles for the project.

    You'll find cable needles in metal, plastic, bamboo, wood, and even glass. Because this is a special tool, why not choose one that's fun and beautiful?