The tool you will hold in your hands for hours on end is of utter importance for the knitting process, of course. We all experienced getting frustrated, when realizing we had chosen the wrong set of needles. The yarn kept either slipping over the top, or worse, the sharp points pinched into the loosely spun wool instead of elegantly sliding beneath the thread.
So, what type of knitting needles do I choose for which project? The answer is not a simple and straightforward one, unfortunately, and can become a daunting task when you are left on your own. The perfect type of knitting needle depends on your type of project.
As in any other activity, there is one rule which applies to the knitting craft, too: the more experience you have, the bigger your confidence will become. Once you have tried out various options, you will automatically find that your hands are more comfortable with one or the other type and style of needle. At one point you will reach for the right tool with the certainty of a sleepwalker, but you should familiarize yourself with the different options on your plate, first.
When choosing your weapons, it's the type of yarn which determines the thickness or diameter a knitting needle should have. Luckily most patterns indicate the size of needle to be employed either in metric or US size.
You can find needles not only in different shapes, they are also made from different materials, i.e. wood or bamboo, aluminum or steel or a combination of everything.
Most knitting enthusiasts find wooden and bamboo needles perfect when working with smooth yarn. You can progress at your own speed, the yarn is secured and will not slip and slide over the needle top. Also, you can take them on a plane, which is very convenient when you travel a lot.
Aluminum needles are the most common material. They are just so light and easy to use, and will also allow you to progress at a faster speed, as the yarn will slide more easily over aluminum than it does over wood. They come with the tendency to bend easily, though; especially, when you work tighter loops.
Steel needles are the most durable needles and will speed up your WIP even more. They are loved by those who work a lot with loosely spun yarn or double coated wool, as these yarn types may get stuck on a wooden needle.
Once you have got your head around what material your ideal knitting needle should be made from, you can start choosing the best suited needle style for your dream project.
Here is an overview of the different knitting needles and the projects they are best suited for.
These are basically two knitting needles and a cable holding them together. They can be found in different lengths, thicknesses and designs.
Circular knitting needles provide a great deal of flexibility and freedom. You can use them to elaborate round knitting shapes and tubes, but also for straight lines, and especially for bulky items such as scarves and blankets.
When choosing circular knitting needles, the whole project is evenly balanced on the cable; you may find that you progress faster and with less effort; the work is better organized, and the thread does not come off so easily. For larger WIPs, like sweaters, jackets or blankets, circular needles are just ideal, as they help you secure the growing, weighty project comfortably in your lap, while your hands are only burdened with a small fraction of it. The slings are better protected. What's more, you don't have to worry about losing a needle when knitting outdoors on the train or in a park.
However, if you opt for these needles, make sure your projects are of a bulkier size, or you have a sufficiently large number of loops cast on. Although there are circular knitting needles with short cables, you will find them terribly uncomfortable for your seamless socks or baby hat projects. The smaller and shorter the cable between the needles, the more restricted your hands are able to move. When you choose to knit seamless, round projects like snoods or hoods with your circular needles, make sure that the transition between needle and thread runs smoothly, otherwise the wool cannot properly flow over it. You would have to keep making constant amendments during the process, which will eventually slow you down.
Double pointed needles or dpns usually consist of five needles, although you may find knit patterns which only use three needles to create a round shape instead of four.
Both ends of the needle are open. Usually four needles hold the knitted part and one needle is used for processing. The working needle removes the stitches from one needle at a time. As a result this needle then becomes the next working needle.
Double pointed needles are, of course, available in different lengths and thicknesses as any other type of needle. In some cases, e.g. for very bulky projects, it is best to replace them by circular knitting needles, as the stitches may fall off otherwise. Dpns are your needle set of choice when it comes to sock knitting or any kind of smaller tubular shapes, like stuffed animals.
Straight needles are the most traditional knitting needles, yes, the Looney Tunes cartoon type of needles. Straight needles come in pairs, and they are 7 inches or longer and come with a block on one end, preventing your work from coming off. They are comfortable for smaller, flat and straight items like baby blankets or scarves, just anything that is not bulky and heavy to tire or weigh down your hands. This style of knitting needle is great for newbies to the craft as it allows for working one row at a time.