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Straight, Circular, or Double Pointed? How to Choose the Perfect Knitting Needle for Any Project

knittingneedlesexplained

Confused about which knitting needle to use?

New to the knitting world, and feeling overwhelmed when faced with the "wall o' knitting needles" at your local craft store? Been knitting with the same brand of needles since you were six, and thinking of branching out into other brands? You are not alone. Many knitters are confused by the variety of knitting needles on the market. Choosing the right needle for your project is important, and many people just don't know where to start.

Having worked in a yarn shop, I constantly found myself explaining the difference between circular and double pointed needles, or why some knitters prefer one brand over another . This lens will answer those questions, and others. Below, we'll set the record straight about the three styles of knitting needles (straight, circular and double point) and why you should choose one or another. We'll take a look at some knitting needle accessories: needle gauges, point protectors, and ways to store your needles.

Sprinkled among these are videos showing how to use the different types of needles and fun polls and opportunities for you to share you knitting needle knowledge!

(photo by 49333775@N00 / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Pros & Cons of Straight Needles

knittingneedlesexplained

Straight knitting needles are the classic needle. Your grandmother knit with these (if she knit, that is), as did the members of powerful Elizabethan-era knitting guilds hundreds of years ago. Think of a knitting needle, and that's what they look like. A long stick, with a point at one end and a stopper at the other.

Pros

They come in a variety of lengths, allowing you to choose a needle that will comfortably fit the amount of stitches you're working with.

They are affordable, easy to store, and are a knitter's basic tool.

They are easy to use. When teaching a new knitter, I always start them with a project that can easily fit on a short pair of straight needles, such as a washcloth or scarf.

Cons

Straight needles can only be used when knitting flat panels such as scarves or pieces of a sweater; they can not be used for seamless circular knitting. To knit a tube-like object with straights, you must knit a panel, then seam it together.

Some of the longer straights can be a bit cumbersome if your favorite knitting spot is an armed chair. These long needles knock against the arms. For a project with a large amount of stitches, I recommend circular needles.

When to Use

Use straight needles when you are learning to knit, as most beginner patterns are composed of flat panels. For a new knitter, they're easier to handle than circular needles and are usually more affordable. More experienced knitters still enjoy working with straight needles when knitting a flat project without a large number of stitches.

(photo by betsyweber / CC BY 2.0)

How to Knit With Straight Needles

You can make anything on straight needles, as long as you don't mind a little seaming. For more info on the basics of knitting, check out Learn To Knit: Video Tutorials for The Beginner

What's Your Favorite Kind of Needle?

knittingneedlesexplained

Needles are made out of a wide range of materials, each on with its own pros & cons. What do you love to knit with?

(photo by chatiryworld / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Pros & Cons of Double Pointed Needles - also called DPNs or double points

knittingneedlesexplained

Unlike straights, double pointed needles don't have a stopper at one end. Instead, they look like sticks with a point at each end. They are the oldest way to knit a seamless tube, such as a hat or sweater body. DPNs are commonly sold in sets of five, so that you can arrange your stitches on either three or four needles, and knit those stitches with another.

Pros

Double points are great for knitting tubes too small to fit around a circular needle, such as the crown of a hat, or fingers on a glove. They are also the classic choice for an i-chord.

DPNs are usually more affordable than circulars.

They are easier to store than circular needles.

They look impressive. Ok, this may be a silly pro, but it's true. I always get looks of astonishment and awe when I bust out a sock in progress on double points.

Cons

Learning to work with double pointed needles can feel a bit like knitting with an opctopus. Just remember that it's really no different than knitting on straights. The only needles you pay attention to are the ones you are actually knititng with. The rest just hang out in the back of your work, waiting for their turn.

Laddering. It's what happens at the point when you get through knitting the stitches off of one needle, and switch to the next. If your stitches aren't snug, you can get a "ladder," or area of looseness that looks like run in a pair of stockings. Just tighten your tension when taking the first couple of stitches on each needle to help prevent it.

When to Use

Anything you can do with double pointed needles you can do with circulars, so many of my students have asked my why I even bother with them. It's really a matter of preference. I love knitting on them, but many people don't. The only time I would strongly recommend using DPNs over circulars is when you are leaning how to knit a sock and you have never knitted a small tube on circulars. Trying to learn the intricacies of turning a heel while keeping track of a new knitting technique may be more than you want to tackle at once.

(photo by mr_t_in_dc / CC BY-ND 2.0)

How to Knit with DPNs

Once you learn to knit in the round, a whole new world opens up. Get comfy with a set of double points and you can make gloves, hats, mittens, toys, socks, and so much more. All without seaming!

Point Protectors

knittingneedlesexplained

No, no. I meant protectors for you needle points. Naughty knitter!

Just pulled a tangle-of-yarn-that-used-to-be-a-hat-in-progress out of your knitting bag? Trying to master the fine art of sock knitting on double points, but your stitches keep slipping off or your resting needles? Try fitting some point protectors on the tips of the offending sticks.

Point protectors come in a variety of styles, and in all sizes.

(photo by gentleman_rook / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Pros & Cons of Circular Needles

knittingneedlesexplained

Circular needles look like two double points connected to each other by a plastic cable. They are relatively new to the knitting scene, but are a big hit because of their amazing versatility.

Pros

They come in a wide variety of lengths from twelve inches, all the way up to sixty.

Some companies make sets of interchangeable circular needles. They come with different sizes of needles along with detachable cords. Just mix and match the needles and cords for your knitting needs. With a set of interchangeable circulars there's no need to purchase a large amount of individual needles, just throw your set into your knitting bag and you're ready for anything!

Circulars are the most versatile of the three styles. You can use them just like straight needles to knit a flat panel, or make seamless tubular objects.

Flat knitting: The longer circulars are lovely when knitting something with a lot of stitches, such as a blanket. The connecting wire comfortably holds the knitting in your lap, as opposed to long straights, which can get unevenly weighed down when working on a large project.

Circular knitting: The sixteen inch needles are the right size for hats, or use longer ones for sweater bodies. Knitting a tube too small to fit comfortably around your circular needle? Never fear! There are ways to use circular needles to knit smaller tubes. Check out How To Knit In The Round: Using Circular and Double Pointed Needles for more info.

Cons

Because of the connecting cable, circular needles can be a bit challenging to store.

Not all circular needles are created equal. The plastic cable on some can become kinked or curled, and sometimes your yarn can catch or snag at the needle/cable join. Be picky when choosing a circular needle to make sure you get a good quality one.

When to Use

You can use circular needles for any project, flat or in the round. Remember, though, that if you are knitting in the round and don't want to use one of the alternate ways of knitting a tube (two circulars or the Magic Loop) be sure to choose a needle length that will comfortably accommodate the number of stitches you're working with. If you are using the "two circulars" method, you'll want to make sure that both of your needles are the same material, as your gauge (how many stitches you get per inch of knitting) may be different on a wood needle than it would be on a metal needle. The Magic Loop works best with a looooong needle, and a small knitted tube. When I use a Magic Loop, it's for things like socks or mittens.

(photo by elisabethaugusta / CC BY-SA 2.0)

How to Knit with Circular Needles

There are four ways to knit in the round on circular needles. The first is to just pretend that they are straight needles, and simply knit flat panels without joining your work into a circle.

The second is to match the circumference of your knitted object to the length of your needles. Throw some stitches on, join into a circle, and get ta knittin'!

The other two ways allow you to knit tubes smaller than the length of your needle. One involves dividing your stitches over two separate circulars, while the other (called the Magic Loop) uses one long circular needle to knit a small tube.

Needle Gauge

knittingneedlesexplained

Got an unmarked needle, and don't know what size it is? You need a needle gauge.

Needle gauges help you find the size of your needle. Maybe it's hand made, or maybe the manufacturer's mark has work away. Either way, just try fitting the needle into the holes on the gauge until you find the one that fits!

Most gauges don't just stop there. Many will also feature a ruler to help you measure your work. That way you know your stitch gauge matches your pattern recommendations, or that you've (finally) "knit in pattern for 12 inches, or until piece matches left front."

(photo by Dvortygirl)

Needle Storage

knittingneedlesexplained

Now that you've decided which needles to use, you've got to have a place to store them, right?

There are as many ways to store knitting needles as there are knitters. Simple cloth needle rolls are popular. Or, wrangle those unwieldy circulars with a case designed to accommodate their cables. Want something a little more rough and ready? Choose a case with hard cover, rather than the soft cloth rolls.

(photo by ieatwaffles / CC BY 2.0)

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the Hub, and maybe even learned a bit about how to choose the perfect needles for your projects. Feel free to leave a comment below, or even share your favorite knitting tip!

Thank You!

Arlie on February 15, 2015:

i was in the middle of comienmntg here this morning, and well, you know.I was gonna say the skirt looks so perfectly swingy! I have several vintage knitting books etc etc, but have felt kinda lost when it comes to knitted boy things. and why is it that the goodwill has so many more girl clothes than boys? not fair. For all of the crafty-goodness to be made, I can't help but hope for a girl next.

MerryChicky (author) on December 28, 2011:

@JuneNash: Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the lens. :) Good luck with the circs. They really do open up a whole new world in knitting.

June Nash on December 27, 2011:

I really enjoyed this lens. Thank you for the lessons in knitting with circular needles.

MerryChicky (author) on December 14, 2011:

@bikerministry: Thanks! Glad you liked it. :)

bikerministry on December 13, 2011:

Yes - great article. I really loved the review.

MerryChicky (author) on November 22, 2011:

@anonymous: Thanks, Paula, for the feedback. It brought a big smile to my face to know that this lens is a help to a new knitter. I hope you continue to learn, and have fun with this amazing craft!

anonymous on November 22, 2011:

Excellent site! Excellent videos!! I am a beginning knitter and the information provided is really helpful. I will definitely be back and I intend to visit the links included here. Thank YOU!

MerryChicky (author) on February 26, 2010:

Thanks, everyone, for your feedback and encouragement! I had fun making this one. :)

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on February 25, 2010:

This is a really awesome resource full of great information! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

Jack on February 24, 2010:

Excellent information for knitting. I like the black boxes too.

Geeve on February 24, 2010:

It's looking good Merry. I also like the black boxes idea.

myraggededge on February 24, 2010:

This is sooo useful. Will feature it on my 'Knitting Socks' Lens.

Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on February 24, 2010:

Nicely done! And I like your use of the black box.