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Knitting needles come in a variety of types, sizes and materials. Remember that knitting usually compacts easily and a larger knitted project will easily fit on a shorter needle.
Straights (Single point needles): These are the archetypal knitting needle seen in most general images of knitting needles. They have a tapered tip at one end, a straight shaft that goes from the end of the tip to the knob at the other end. The knob prevents the stitches from sliding off the non working end.
These needles come in a variety of lengths, but are most commonly found in 10 (25 cm) and 14″ (35 cm). They can be easily made at home from any cylindrical item like a skewer or a dowel. The knobs can be purely functional or ornate.
DPNs (Double Pointed Needles): Have two tips, one at each end of the needle separated by a straight shaft. They are usually used in sets of four or five and are used to knit in the round, whether creating a flat rounds item like a circle or a tube (especially small circumference things like socks and sleeves). They can certainly be used in pairs to knit flat pieces.
These also come in a variety of lengths from 4″ (10cm) to 14″ (35 cm) and everything in between. the most common lengths are 6″ to 8″ (15 cm to 20 cm).
Circular: These are two straight needles, without the knobs, joined into a circle with a flexible cable. They were originally intended for knitting in the round, both flat pieces like circles or squares and tubular pieces like sweaters or hats. Many people now use them for all their knitting needs: knitting in the round, knitting small circumference tubes and even knitting flat. I use them all the time because the shaft are short so I am not hitting the sides of chairs or those sitting beside me and if I drop a needle I can retrieve it just by pulling it up by the cord.
These come in a variety of lengths, both for the needle portion, usually 4″-5″ (10 cm 12.5 cm) and for the cable or cord portion. The length of the whole needle varies from about 9″ (27.5 cm) to 60″ (150 cm). The most commonly available sizes at in the 16″ – 32″ (40 cm – 80 cm) range.
If you are knitting in the round and unl
ess you are using magic loop or two circular needles, you will want you to have your total needle length a bit shorter than the finished project circumference. So, 16″ (40 cm) is great for a hat and a 32″ (80 cm) needle may be more appropriate when kni
tting the body of a sweater.
Circular needles come in fixed (all made together) and interchangeable. Interchangeable needles allow you to change the length or the size of needles as you work as there needle part is made separately from the cord and they cords and needles can be interchanged to create needles of various sizes, lengths and even mixed sizes.
Needles are made from a variety of materials. They all have different properties and many people will argue that the material they prefer is the best. However, I find that in general, material is a personal preference, if possible try a variety of materials to figure out which is your favourite.
Also, be aware that gauge may be affected by the material of your needle. The exact same needle diameter may produce a looser or tighter gauge with a particular yarn. This is good to keep in mind when swatching as just using a different kind of needle may change your gauge.
Needles come made of metal (aluminum, steel, brass, nickel plated), bamboo, wood, plastic, carbon fibres and everything else imaginable (I have seen glass knitting needles, needles made from PVC pipes, ivory, tortoise shell, bone, resin etc.).
Metal needles tend to be strong, slick and a bit heavy. Their slickness helps the stitches move easily along the needle shaft and many people claim they can knit faster on metal needles. They may or may not be a great fit for beginners because of this. They are cold to the touch when you first pick them up, but quickly warm up with use.
Bamboo needles are strong, flexible, light and warm right from the start. They grip yarn more than metal needles and so may be ideal for beginners.
Wood needles are less strong than bamboo needles, but share many of the same qualities.
Plastic needles are flexible, strong and light. They can be quite slick.
Carbon fibres are very strong, a bit flexible and feel warm from the start. They can have a scratchy feel to them unless they have a metal tip.
There are a variety of ways of referring to the same size needle. The following chart shows the metric, US, UK and Japanese needle size equivalents. Please note, metric is the most accurate way to size needles, sometimes US needle sizes are not exact equivalents. For example, I have seen size 6 US needles that were 4 mm and 4.25 mm (in the same brand!).
Yarn: Yarn is made from various fibres. Below is a fairly comprehensive list for reference only,