Types of Knitting Needles: Cable Needles and More

  • 01 of 04

    Straight Knitting Needles

    Straight Knitting Needles
    A variety of straight needles. Sarah E. White

    Most knitters start out knitting with straight knitting needles. This is the most basic needles and they are also known as single points. These firm, straight needles have a point on one end to work the stitches. On the opposite end is some kind of knob keep the stitches from slipping off that end of the needle.

    These are usually the first choice for new knitters because they're available everywhere, they're inexpensive (at least in the most basic forms). Additionally, they look a little less intimidating than circular needles.

    Materials and Size

    Straight needles—and any other needles, for that matter—can be made out of many different materials. The options include aluminum and other metals, wood, bamboo, plastic, glass, and bone. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and every knitter will have a personal preference.

    • Plastic needles are inexpensive and great for kids. Sometimes, the points can be rather dull, making it difficult to work stitches.
    • Aluminum needles are also cheap, but they can be cold and make a clanking sound when you work with them. Some knitters find this irritating.
    • Many knitters prefer to use wooden or bamboo needles. They warm up in your hands, have a little flexibility, and are quieter. Also, they just feel like a more natural product.

    Straight needles can be purchased in a couple of different lengths. Depending on the manufacturer, you can usually find them in 9 or 10 inches and 12 or 14 inches

    Best Uses

    Straight needles are great for small projects like sweaters that are worked in pieces, dishcloths, afghan blocks, and hats or mitts. Essentially, they work well for anything that is worked flat and is small enough to fit onto the length of the needle.

    Some knitters don't like the inflexibility of straight needles or the awkwardness of holding a large knitting project on one needle. They can be uncomfortable to work with because you are holding the weight of the project more than the needle is.

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  • 02 of 04

    Circular Knitting Needles

    Circular Needles
    A variety of circular knitting needles. Sarah E. White

    Many knitters love using circular knitting needles for a variety of different projects, even those that are worked flat. Circular needles have two firm pointed ends that are joined with a flexible cable. There is no knob to prevent your work from slipping off the needles, but that's usually not an issue given the length of the cable.

    Again, the needles come in a lot of different materials. The cable length can vary widely, from tiny 9-inch circles for sock knitting to super-long 47-inch needles for afghan knitting or working the magic loop method. Usually, you'll find them sold in lengths of 16, 24, 32, 40 and 47 inches.

    Fixed vs. Interchangeable Needles

    Within the genre of circular needles, there are fixed circulars and interchangeable needles. 

    • Fixed circular needles are sold with a single cable length for each set. If you need a longer or shorter cable in that needle size, you will need to buy another circular needle.
    • Interchangeable circular needles usually come in sets with a variety of needle ends and several cables that can be attached to each other. This offers great flexibility to make needles of different sizes with cables of different lengths.

    If you like working with circulars, it will probably be worth it to you to buy a set (or two!) of interchangeables so you have a variety of needles on hand for any project.

    Pros and Cons

    Circular needles tend to be a little more comfortable to knit with because the cable holds the weight of your knitting, putting less strain on your body. The fact that the cable holds all the stitches makes it less likely your stitches will fall off the needle while you aren't working. It also allows you to make more compact movements, so they're ideal for travel knitting.

    It can be difficult to use them for some projects such as small-diameter knitting unless you use the magic loop or knit with two circulars at one time.

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  • 03 of 04

    Double-Pointed Knitting Needles

    Double-Pointed Knitting Needles
    Several types of double-pointed needles. Sarah E. White

    Double-pointed needles are commonly referred to as DPNs by acronym-loving knitters. These are the ideal choice for knitting socks and other small circular pieces of knitting.

    As the name suggests these needles have points on both ends. They are short and straight and made of the same materials you might find single-point needles made of. They are typically sold in a set of four needles of the same size and length.

    Size

    As with other needles, you can find DPNs in a variety of sizes. Common options are 5, 6, or 8 inches in length. Some people like really short needles for some uses, such as shaping the top of a hat, while others like the longer needles. It depends on the project and your preference as to what length of needles you will want.

    Pros and Cons

    Knitting with double-pointed needles takes a little practice, and some knitters never get over the feeling that they're knitting with a porcupine. But these needles are a good choice for small projects if you don't want to work with two circulars or do the magic loop method.

    These needles are small, lightweight, and somewhat portable. However, there's always the fear of stitches dropping off one of the many needle ends.

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  • 04 of 04

    Cable Needles

    Cable Needle
    A cable needle with a bend to hold the stitches. Sarah E. White

    The final kind of knitting needle you might come across is a cable needle. It is a tool that is used to hold stitches either to the front or the back of the work when forming cables.

    These short needles can be straight or hooked and are usually made of metal, plastic or wood. They're inexpensive but they are a somewhat specialized tool. If you don't do a lot of cable knitting (or can never find your cable needle when you need it) just use a DPN the same size or slightly smaller.

    You can also work small cables without a cable needle at all if you like adding a little adventure to your knitting. When you drop your stitches, you'll need to take great care that they don't pull out while you work the other part of the cable.