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Knitting Needle Types, Shapes, and Materials Explained


Klara Nilsson | Updated on October 8, 2021

This guide to knitting needle types explains straight, circular, interchangeable, and double pointed needles in detail. You’ll learn the knitting techniques each needle type is used for along with the pros and cons of common needle materials.
Knitting Needle Collection
SUMMARY: There are five types of knitting needles: straight, circular, interchangeable, double-pointed, and cable. They are usually made of wood, metal, or plastic. Generally speaking, straight needles are for flat knitting, DPNs are for knitting in the round, and circular needles are for both.


Knitting needles come in various types, shapes, and materials. If you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to know which needle type is right for you and the project you’re working on.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about different knitting needle types and materials. We’ll explain which kinds of needle are best for particular projects and skill levels, so you can make an informed decision about your knitting supplies.

We’ll also explain which knitting methods each type of knitting needle is best suited to.

At a Glance: Knitting Needle Types

There are five main types of knitting needles:

All five of these knitting needle types can be made from different materials including wood, metal, plastic, and bamboo. Choosing a material is really a matter of personal preference, but they do come with slight differences you should be aware of – we’ll explain these later on.

Of course, knitting needles also come in a variety of sizes and diameters that determine the gauge of your knitting. The size of your needles will impact the yarn you use and how your pattern turns out – take a look at our detailed guide to knitting needle sizes for more details.

Remember: as a beginner, you don’t need to buy every single type of knitting needle out there to get started. Start with a few basic pairs that are appropriate for your knitting pattern, and slowly expand your collection over time.

Now, let’s run through the various different types of knitting needle style, shape, and material.

What’s In This Guide?

The Different Parts of a Knitting Needle

Before we get started on types, there are a few important terms you should be familiar with. Every type of knitting needle has certain parts that can vary depending on your needs. Here are the main parts of a knitting needle you should be aware of:

The Needle Point or Tip

Every knitting needle has a point at its very end – that much is obvious. How sharp or dull that point is can make a difference to your knitting though, depending on your style and choice of pattern.

Sharp knitting needle points are good for working accurately with fine yarn weights and delicate stitches. Rounded or dull needle points are better for big, chunky projects where accuracy isn’t as much of an issue.

This is often a matter of personal preference – neither type is better in general. If you’re a beginner, try out needles with varying degrees of sharpness to see how they work for your style.

The Needle Shaft and Taper

Aside from the tip, most needles have two main parts: the shaft and the taper. The shaft of the knitting needle is the long, straight part that holds all of your stitches and prevents them from disentangling or falling off your needles.

The taper is the thinner section near the needle’s tip that connects the shaft to the needle point that is used to create new stitches.

The Cable/Cord

Cables are attached to knitting needles to knit in the round or to increase the number of stitches the needles can hold. The type of cable you use will depend on the needle type you’re using.

Cables are most commonly referred to when using circular needles. The long, skinny cable connects both needles and allows you to knit in the round without affecting the size of your stitches.

You can also use a cable to stop stitches falling off as you work with straight needles. In this case, the cable size will be directly proportionate to the size of the needles, which means it will affect the size of your stitches.

The Five Main Types of Knitting Needle

There are five main types of knitting needles: straight needles, circular needles, double pointed needles (DPNs), interchangeable needles, and cable needles.

In short, straight needles are used to knit in rows. Double pointed needles are used to knit in the round, and circular knitting needles can be used for both. If you’re a beginner, it’s sensible to start learning with circular needles first, as it is the most common and versatile needle type.

All of these kinds of knitting needles can come in different shapes, sizes, and materials. In this section, we’ll detail what each of these knitting needle types do, their pros and cons, and which knitting methods they’re used for.

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Straight Knitting Needles

  • Best for: Flat Knitting

Straight knitting needles are the “classic” knitting needle type that most people are familiar with. They are used for flat knitting and come in pairs with a needle point at one end, a long straight shaft, and a stopper at the other end.

Also referred to as “one-pointed” or “single-pointed” needles, straight needles are very easy to use and great for beginners working on small flat knitting projects like blankets and some sweaters. However, they hold all of your stitches so they can take up a lot of space and quickly get heavy on larger projects.

You’ll also need to use caps for the needle points (point protectors) to stop your stitches from falling off the needles when you put them down.

straight wooden knitting needles
Three pairs of traditional straight knitting needles.

What Are Straight Needles Used For?

Unlike circular or double pointed needles, straight needles are used solely for flat knitting – working on one side (the “right” side) and then the other (the “wrong” side). They hold all of your stitches at once, which means they can get quite heavy if you’re knitting a bulky project. This also means that the larger your project, the longer your straight needles will need to be.

As always, straight needles come in a variety of different sizes and thicknesses, but most start at 7 inches in length and go all the way up to 14 inches to accommodate bigger projects like sweaters or cardigans.

Straight knitting needles are best used for small scarves, baby blankets, washcloths, and other light projects that are worked flat or knitted together in squares. While they can be great for beginners, they can be too restrictive for knitting big projects like blankets or shawls.

If you’re knitting socks, a sweater, or any other project in the round, you’ll need to use double pointed needles or circular needles instead. As a result, straight needles aren’t the most common needle type in use today, and are most often the reserve for quick knits that don’t create a lot of excess stitches sitting on the needles.

If you’re looking for good all-round straight needles, we recommend Sunstruck Straight Needles by KnitPicks or Symfonie Wood Single Point Needles by KnitPro.

Circular Knitting Needles

  • Best for: Flat Knitting & Knitting in the Round

Circular knitting needles consist of two straight needles connected with a long, flexible, thin cable. This cable is used to hold your stitches instead of keeping them on the needle shaft itself. Most knitters find circular needles more comfortable to work with thanks to the even distribution of stitches. They can be used for flat and circular knitting.

Most manufacturers now produce circular needles in two types: fixed and interchangeable. Fixed circular needles are permanently joined together, which means you can’t change the needles or the length of the cable.

Interchangeable circular needles are much more versatile – you can swap out the needle tips to change their size, or change the cable to make room for the work as it grows.

This needle type comes in the standard range of sizes and materials. Most importantly, the cable length can also vary from approximately 16 inches to 48 inches depending on your needs.

Circular needles and cable
Circular knitting needles use a cable to hold your stitches.

What Are Circular Needles Used For?

Arguably the most versatile type of needle, circular knitting needles are primarily used for knitting in the round – working your project in a continuous, spiral method to create a seamless knitted tube.

However, you can also use circular needles to knit flat projects in rows just like straight needles; simply work back and forth as usual. This makes them especially useful for large, flat projects like blankets or shawls, where straight needles would simply be too short to hold all the stitches.

You can use circular needles for projects of all styles and sizes. They are an excellent choice for wide or large projects such as shawls, blankets, seamless sweaters, and scarves because the cord offers plenty of space and distributes the weight of the stitches across your lap rather than on your wrists.

They can be used for smaller, tubular projects like socks too, which makes them a fantastic needle for all-round general knitting. If you’re a beginner looking to buy needles for the first time, circular needles are the best place to start. For starters, we’d recommend the KnitPro Symfonie Fixed Circular Needles or the Circular Knitting Needles from KnitRowan.

Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)

  • Best for: Knitting in the Round

Just as the name suggests, double pointed knitting needles have points on both ends of the needle. They are shorter than straight needles (usually between 6 and 8 inches in length) and come in sets of 4 or 5 pairs.

Unlike both circular and straight needles, double pointed needles are only used to knit in the round. You’ll use 3 or 4 at once to knit in a spiral, knitting small tubes with the loose needle when there aren’t enough stitches to cover the length of circular needles.

Some sets of DPNs are made with a flexible section in the middle which allows you to work with fewer needles at once for any given project. They are available in the same materials as other types of needle, but are usually smaller – DPNs are rarely manufactured larger than US size 10 (6mm).

Double Pointed Needles
Double pointed needles are only used for knitting in the round.

What Are Double Pointed Needles Used For?

Double pointed needles are used for socks and other small, seamless projects knitted in the round. You can also use them to knit sleeves, gloves, or the crowns of hats (where the rest is knit on circular needles).

As they can range in sizes, different lengths of DPNs are best for different project types. Shorter double pointed needles are good for small projects like baby socks, while longer ones are better for large tubular projects.

Knitting on double pointed needles can be complicated for beginners, especially if you’re used to straight needles. However, it’s worth learning how to use them for smaller projects and patterns. We recommend Symfonie Double Pointed Needles from KnitPro, or the Sunstruck DPN set from KnitPicks.

Interchangeable Knitting Needles

  • Best for: Flat Knitting & Knitting in the Round

Interchangeable needles are a particular type of circular needle. Just like fixed circular needles, they consist of two straight needles and a flexible cord. However, interchangeable needles allow you to detach the needles from the cable so you can combine different lengths and sizes.

This gives you the flexibility of having lots of different circular needles in one set, and prevents you from having to buy dozens of different pairs. You can also attach stoppers at the ends so you can use them like straight needles.

Interchangeable needles come in large sets which you can combine to create the size and cable length you need for your project. Though versatile, they are usually quite expensive as a result. If the price of a set puts you off, you can also buy the pieces individually or in a smaller trial set.

Interchangeable needles
Interchangeable needles usually come in large sets.

Interchangeable needles are usually assembled by screwing the different pieces together, though some brands use snap mechanisms or keys for attaching the cable.

Expert Tip: You can buy individual needles instead of a set, but remember: each brand only works with its own parts.

 

What Are Interchangeable Needles Used For?

Interchangeable knitting needles can be used for all of the same knitting styles and projects as regular fixed circular needles. They’re an excellent option for beginners or dedicated knitters because the sets come with all of the common needle sizes and cable lengths you’ll need for most knitting projects.

Though it can be expensive, you won’t have to buy each circular needle size separately, which can often cost more. It’ll also come in a portable box you can use to carry your equipment with you, too.

This type of knitting needle comes with its own drawbacks, too. The detachable part of the needle shaft can feel unusual if you’re used to traditional needles, and some people find this off-putting. There’s always the risk that they’ll fall apart, too.

If you’re not certain you’ll need an entire set, purchasing the pieces individually might make more sense for you. If you are, we recommend the Cocobolo Interchangeable Needle and Case Set.

Cable Knitting Needles

  • Best for: Cable Knitting

Cable needles look like short double pointed knitting needles with a bend in them. They are never used to knit with by themselves. Instead, they are used as a tool to hold stitches in place when knitting cable patterns. The size of your cable needles doesn’t matter to your knitting – just make sure they’re not so large that your stitches go saggy.

Plastic Cable Needles
Cable knitting needles look like double pointed needles with a small bend in them.

You can knit cables without cable needles, but they do make the process a little easier. They are usually made from plastic, hardwood, or aluminium, and they come in a smaller range of sizes because they are only used to hold a small number of stitches temporarily. You can find cable needles on KnitPicks.

Expert Tip: When choosing cable needles for your project, be sure to use a size that is the same or smaller than the normal knitting needles you’re using for the pattern.


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Knitting Needle Materials

In this section, we’ll explain the materials knitting needles are commonly made from, their pros and cons, and how they affect your knitting.

The most common knitting needle materials are:

You can also find needles made of rarer materials including glass, carbon fiber, casein, and even bone. We’ll talk more about these materials later on in this section. If you’re just starting out, we recommend bamboo knitting needles as best for beginners.

How Do Needle Materials Affect Your Knitting?

The material your knitting needles are made from will affect how they grip your yarn. For example, metal needles can be very slippery, while wooden needles are usually rougher with a firmer grip.

This can vary by brand, and is really a matter of personal preference. As long as the needles feel comfortable in your hands and you’re not accidentally dropping any stitches, the finish is really up to you.

Expert Tip: Textured yarns generally work well with smoother needles. By contrast, slippery yarns work well with needles that have a rough texture and better grip. If possible, feel your needles before you purchase them, or at least consider the yarn you’re using.

Wood/Bamboo

Wooden knitting needles are the standard material used by most knitters today. Though they can be manufactured using any hardwood, bamboo needles are the most common needle material overall.

Bamboo offers a well-rounded knitting experience overall. It is smooth, light, and warm to hold, yet textured enough to prevent the slipping of stitches. Bamboo needles work with all kinds of yarns and are gentle on your hands and joints, especially if you’re arthritic.

These attributes can change depending on the type of wood you’re using, though. For example, dense hardwoods are heavy, hard to find, and expensive. Bamboo, on the other hand, is light and usually fairly cheap.

Wooden needles come in all types: straight, circular, interchangeable, and double pointed. Its texture can slow down your knitting compared to other materials like metal. That said, Bamboo is still recommended for beginners thanks to its low price, durability, and versatility.

Pros
Cons
Lightweight and quietCan reduce knitting speed
Soft and comfortable to holdCan be blunter than metal needles
Strong grip for slippery yarnsCan catch fibrous yarns
Bamboo is cheap and sustainableHardwoods can be expensive

 

Metal/Aluminium

Metal knitting needles can be made out of aluminium, brass, nickel, or steel – though the most common material is aluminium. Metal is the smoothest and fastest needle material thanks to its slippery surface, which makes it best suited to advanced or experienced knitters.

It’s a matter of preference, but some knitters find metal needles to be cold, hard, and less comfortable to hold than other materials. For this reason, they’re not recommended if you have arthritis or other joint problems.

Metal needles can work with all yarn types, but they’re generally best for yarn fibers that don’t require a lot of grip from the needles. They’re useful for preventing catching when knitting with hairy yarns like mohair, and the sharp tips also make them good for very fine, light yarn weights like lace.

This material is more durable than plastic and wood, and it creates the famous “clacking” noise that many have come to associate with knitting. It is usually slightly more expensive than bamboo, but there are still affordable brands out there. If you want slow, quiet, cheap needles, it’s best to opt for a different material.

Pros
Cons
Smooth, slippery, and fastCan be too slippery for beginners
DurableCold, hard and uncomfortable
Excellent for hairy and fibrous yarnsCan corrode or scratch
Sharp point for light weight yarnCan be noisy

 

Plastic/Acrylic

Plastic or acrylic is generally the cheapest and lightest knitting needle material. It is comparable to wooden needles in texture and is similarly warm and comfortable, which makes it great for beginners too. That said, plastic needles are often of lesser quality and durability than wood.

Plastic needles are flexible and are often manufactured in hollow shapes to reduce their weight even further. They are also produced in extra large sizes, which makes them an excellent choice if you need manageable jumbo knitting needles for big stitches or thick yarn.

Because they’re lightweight and easy to manage, plastic needles are often the go-to choice for bigger projects like rugs, blankets, and heavy winter scarves, too. Though cheap, they can warp or melt if they get too hot, and they don’t usually last as long as metal or wood.

Pros
Cons
Very lightweight for heavy projectsLess durable and long-lasting
Soft and flexibleCan warp at high temperatures
Cheap and affordableRounded needle points
Average grip for all yarn types 

 

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is a relatively new needle material that is growing in popularity. It is lightweight and less slippery than aluminium but less textured than wood, making it a good mid-range material.

It is extremely durable and long-lasting, with a price tag to match. That said, carbon fiber needles have become significantly more affordable over the last few years. It is most commonly used for projects that use super fine or lace weight yarns thanks to its light weight and precision.

Pros
Cons
Suitable for all yarn typesCan be expensive
Very lightweightDifficult to find
Durable and long-lasting 

 

Less Common Materials: Casein and Glass Needles

Now we’ve covered the most common knitting needle materials: wood, metal, and plastic. However, knitting needles are also manufactured in less common materials like glass, casein, ivory and bone. These materials are great to have as a novelty, but are usually less practical and much more difficult to find.

Casein needles are made from milk proteins to create a flexible, non-slippery material similar to plastic. It is most popular for its range of pearlescent colours and tortoise patterns, which makes it a great gift.

Glass knitting needles are actually made from Pyrex, which makes them more durable than you’d expect. They come in a huge range of patterns and colours, and have a smooth, slippery texture similar to metal. They’re a little bit more expensive than other needle types, and a little more breakable, too.

Knitting Needle Shapes and Styles

Knitting needles are not only defined by their type and material, but also their shape. The shape of your needles can make a huge difference to your knitting experience, especially if you suffer from hand or joint pain.

Here’s an overview of common knitting needle shapes and their advantages and disadvantages.

Expert Tip: The shape of your needles can impact the gauge of your knitting. It’s important to test your needles before starting a project with differently shaped needles, to make sure you’re using the right size.


Square Needles

Square knitting needles aren’t that common, but they can help reduce tiredness in your hands and wrists. The tips are still pointy but the shafts are squared, which prevents the needles from twisting in your hands as you work.

square knitting needles
Square needles like the ones pictured can help reduce stress in your hands.

Hexagonal Needles

Similarly to square needles, hexagonal needles offer an ergonomic design with more places for your hands and fingers to rest as you knit. This can help knitters with arthritis that need a lighter grip on their needles.

Vintage Knitting Needles

Vintage needles are much the same as any other needle type, and vary by material and shape. Knitting has been a popular craft for a very long time, which means there are countless vintage needle sets available online from decades ago. These are a favorite amongst collectors. You can find some great vintage knitting needles on Etsy.

Children’s Knitting Needles

Knitting needles for kids are shorter than normal needles and much blunter. They’re usually made in plastic with bright colours, manufactured with small hands in mind. You can find quality kids knitting needles on Deramores.

Knitting Methods and Needle Types

Different knitting techniques require different kinds of knitting needles. In this section, we’ll look at the main two methods of knitting and what type of needles each of these methods uses.

The main two knitting methods are:

  • Straight/Flat Knitting
  • Circular/Round Knitting

Some knitting needles are best for specific methods and projects. However, you can use some knitting needle types on a whole range of different projects.

Straight/Flat Knitting

You can use straight, circular, and interchangeable needles for flat knitting. It refers to the process of knitting back and forth in rows to create a flat block of fabric. These blocks can then be stitched together to create one piece. You can find a few examples of this in our list of cropped sweater knitting patterns.

Knitting in the Round

You can use circular, double-pointed, and interchangeable needles for knitting in the round. It refers to the process of knitting in rounds to create the seamless tubular shape you’ll find in socks, sweaters, and some hat knitting patterns. You can not knit in the round with straight needles.

Choosing the Best Needle Type and Material for Your Project

When you’re a beginner, it’s best to pay close attention to the knitting pattern you’re following. Most easy patterns use chunky yarn and big needles, which are much easier to knit with quickly.

Follow the knitting pattern instructions and purchase the right yarn for your project. Look at the label and simply choose the type of knitting needle and size that corresponds to your yarn.

Whether you use straight or circular needles will depend on the item you’re knitting. Some people prefer to start with basic straight needles, while others want to jump straight in with circular needles so they can learn for future projects.

When it comes to materials, you’ll have to get started to find out what your preference is. We recommend starting with bamboo knitting needles, as they’re affordable and offer the best combination of texture and weight. As you progress in skill level, start swatching and understanding your gauge.


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Knitting Needle Types: FAQs

How Are Knitting Needles Different from Crochet, Sewing, and Embroidery Needles?

Knitting needles are longer, thicker, and made out of a wider variety of materials than sewing and embroidery needles. Needles for embroidery and sewing are usually small, thin, and much sharper than knitting needles. They’re used to pierce woven fabrics rather than to stitch yarn together.

Crochet needles feature a hook at the end instead of a pointed tip. Instead of knitting stitches, you use this hook to create a series of loops, knots, and chains directly on the piece you’re working on.

What’s the best type of knitting needle for beginners?

Most experts suggest that straight bamboo knitting needles are better than metal needles for beginners. They’re cheap, comfortable to hold, and offer an even speed and texture compared to slippery metal needles. This will help you avoid dropping your stitches while knitting.

Straight needles are recommended for complete beginners because they’re extremely simple and work well for flat projects like basic scarves or squares. The most common straight knitting needle size is US size 8 (5mm), which will typically be used with worsted (aran) weight yarn.

That said, you cannot knit a round pattern with straight needles. Circular needles can be used for both flat and circular knitting so it can be worth learning with those, instead.

Are Circular Knitting Needles Better?

Circular needles are better than straight needles in terms of versatility. You can use them on both flat and round knitting projects, which means you can knit two-dimensional shapes (squares or rectangles) and three-dimensional shapes (tubes).

They are also more comfortable for bulky projects like big blankets. The cable holds the stitches for you, allowing the weight of the fabric to rest on your lap rather than straining your wrists.

Do I Need Double Pointed Needles?

Double pointed knitting needles (DPNs) are good for small round knitting projects like gloves. You’ll need them if you want to knit very narrow tubes that won’t fit on regular circular needles. However, if you’re knitting larger tubular objects like big socks, you can swap DPNs out for circular needles.

Are Wooden Needles Better Than Metal?

Wooden needles are softer, warmer, and offer more grip than metal knitting needles. However, needles made from softer woods can dent and break after long periods of heavy usage. Metal needles tend to be more durable, and their slippery surface can lead to faster knitting speeds.

Needles made from metals such as stainless steel are particularly durable and useful with hairy or fibrous yarns that can catch on small protrusions. This can make them better than wooden needles in these circumstances, which catch more easily.

For this reason, metal needles are better for patterns that use hairy, delicate yarns and small needle sizes. Wooden needles are better if comfort is your primary concern. Ultimately, it’s down to your personal preference.

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