A Knit-One and Purl-Two Approach to the Types of Knitting Needles

Types of Knitting Needles

If you’ve read our “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Knitting” here at The Hobby Kraze, you’ll probably already know there are a few different types of knitting needles you should be aware of.

This is because, depending on the knitting needle set you use (as well, of course, as the types of stitch, yarn, pattern and end goal), you’ll get a different finish in your square.

As many of us may already know, the earliest found knitted artefacts stem from 5th century Egypt (it was a sock!). But it’s believed the origins of knitting and choosing knitting needles for the job was a trade that long predated this finding. 

These needles were often made using natural materials easily sourced from the surrounding areas. For example, Eastern countries used bamboo for their knitting needle set while other areas of the world would make use of wood, ivory, briar, copper, amber and iron. 

Of course, since then, we’ve managed to move onto more environmentally friendly and sustainable types of knitting needles. We’ve also managed to make sure we can make them on-mass to certain specifications, so consistency can be reached even with knitting needles for beginners

Although, we have also managed to knit ourselves into a circle due to creating such a large number of different needles used in knitting. From having varied sizes to having varied shapes and materials. There’s a lot to choosing knitting needles and making sure they’re right for your gauge.

So, that’s why we thought we’d dig a little further than our ultimate guide into the world of knitting and focus solely on the different types of knitting needles you can get your paws on. 

In fact, we’ll be frogging (that’s a bit of knitting jargon for you that means to rip apart and unravel the stitch) at every aspect of your knitting needle set. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  1. The Shapes of Knitting Needles for Beginners
  2. The Different Weights in Your Knitting Needle Set
  3. The Materials Used to Make the Types of Knitting Needles
  4. How the Different Needles Used in Knitting Can be Interchangeable
  5. Finding the Right Storage for Your Types of Knitting Needles

Notice the bonus section we’ve thrown in there for you? 

Of course, being the knitting enthusiast and pro you either are or are about to become, you’ll want to be able to effectively store your types of knitting needles. And you’ll want to do it in a way that ensures they’re safe from chip damage as well as keeping prying hands of any nearby little ones or furry house pets safe, too. 

So, after a full cast-on (sorry, more of that jargon for you!) about all the different needles used in knitting, we wanted to share the types of storage you can find to safely keep your knitting needle set in while at home.

The Shapes of Knitting Needles for Beginners

To start off, the most important aspects to choosing knitting needles stems within the shape of them. There are a few different types and the majority of which will yield similar – if not the same – results. 

There are some more suited as knitting needles for beginners and others that are more of a novelty to help with different stitch types and shapes. For example, knitting in the round to create a hat or collar. 

In fact, there are four types of knitting needles that every avid knitter should be able to purl their way through in order to get the right pattern. So, no matter what you intend to make in your hobby adventures after choosing knitting needles, they’ll always be one of these four:

The Straight Needles

The first types of knitting needles to talk about are straight needles. These are the perfect knitting needles for beginners as they help to teach correct holding, flexible stitching and more. Plus, they’re exactly what you’d imagine knitting needles to be when you think of them.

In terms of their looks, they’re exactly what you’d expect. They have a long and thin shaft with a tapered and sharp end (not that sharp) as well as a stopper at the other end. 

This shape helps to create new loops on the active row without losing them on the other end of the needle, especially for long-row patterns such as a thick scarf.

They work interchangeably with one needle holding the active stitch row and the other working through the loops of the weft to create new loops and increase the weft count. 

The Circular Needle

The circular needle is a singular knitting needle set. Instead of having two needles, there are two connecting shafts each with their own sharp tapered edge (by the way, these sharp edges come to a blunt point and don’t do any damage).

However, the big difference between these types of knitting needs and the straight needles is that they don’t have a stopper on the other end of the shaft. Instead, the two shafts are connected by a long nylon cable that slightly coils (hence, circular). 

This nylon cord will differ in length depending on how many stitches you want to cast-on in your row. In fact, they can range in length with anything from 16 inches for slightly smaller projects and 36 inches for the larger.

They’re typically used to create garments that require knitting in the round (i.e., hats, gloves, cowl-neck jumpers and so on). Although, a big benefit to choosing knitting needles like these is that you only ever have to keep track of one knitting tool rather that two! 

The Cable Needles

If you’ve ever seen extravagant patterns on jumpers where the knit goes in diagonal and plaited wefts, then the design features the use of cable types of knitting needles. 

Choosing knitting needles for a cable stitch doesn’t have to be finickity as the size and shape doesn’t matter quite so much past personal preference.

In terms of looks, these particular knitting needles are double-pointed, slightly smaller in circumference and have a dip in the centre of the needle. So, it almost looks like a “V” shape in the centre: as if someone took a normal double-ended knitting needle and then hit it against a 90-degree angle. 

The one difference between these types of needles and others in your knitting needle set is that they aren’t used alone (nor are they part of a pair like straight knitting needles). Instead, these needles are used singularly while in conjunction with the other different needles used in knitting. 

For example, when you’re knitting something simple such as a scarf on a straight knitting needle set, you’d then use a cable needle to hold a couple of stitches in the active row while you knit stitch the rest of the loops. 

The Double-Pointed Needles

The final of the four distinguished types of knitting needles used in hand knitting is the double-pointed needle. We’ve mentioned them in passing and now it’s time to get the gauge of them. 

Before we go on, we should mention that – because of the shape – they’re not the best knitting needles for beginners. And we’d suggest getting a pair of straight knitting needles with good stoppers on the end before progressing with double-pointers in your knitting needle set.

Given the name is quite long, they’re usually referred to in the knitting community as DPNs. They have shorter shafts than most and feature two tapered and pointy ends either side of the shaft.

This shape was created in North Africa (at around the time of 1300 A.D.) to help knit in the round with three or more needles. 

Yes, choosing needles can go beyond picking a pair for a garment and can actually involve using four needles, three of which are placed in a triangular fashion with a row of active needles on each. Then, a fourth DPN is brought in to create new loops and move the knit along on the needles.

The Different Weights in Your Knitting Needle Set

The Different Weights in Your Knitting Needle Set

The next step in choosing knitting needles involves thinking about the weight and size of the needle.

It’s actually why a knitting needle set is a popular option for many seasoned knitters. A set has a wide range of both shapes and weights of knitting needles to make use of depending on each project.

When we talk about the size of different needles used in knitting, we’ll be referring to them by diameter of the shaft. As well as this, here in the UK, we measure by millimetre, which is very precise, although our cousins across the pond have a slightly different convention where they’ve simply allotted a number to a size. 

It’s really important to be able to identify and use the right weights for your types of knitting needles simply because they’ll determine the end result. The chunkier the needle, the larger the loop and the bigger the gauge (this is why we use gauges!). As well as this, when you’re trying to replicate specific patterns, you’ll be recommended a specific weight and type of knitting needle and yarn.

When it comes to choosing knitting needles, you’ll find they range all the way from 0.5mm to 25mm in diameter. But there are a few go-to options for different projects, and they have their own names, too. Here are the 8 most common knitting needle set sizes as well as a bonus at the end!

  1. The Lace (0.5mm to 2.5mm)
  2. The Sock (2.5mm to 3.5mm)
  3. The Sport (3.5mm to 4.0mm)
  4. The Double Knit (4.0mm to 4.5mm)
  5. The Worsted (4.5mm to 5.5mm)
  6. The Chunky (5.5mm to 8.0mm)
  7. The Super Bulky (8mm to 11mm)
  8. The Jumbo (11mm to 25mm)
  9. The Arm (whatever size your arms are!)

You’ll often find these weights for the various types of knitting needles either on the stopper of straight needles or on the shaft of the other variations.

P.S. There is a 2006 Guinness World Record for a knit made with the largest ever knitting needles. The current record holder is Cornwall native Julie Hopson, who knitted a tension square of ten stiches and ten rows in the pattern of a stocking stitch using home-made needles reaching 6.5cm in diameter and 3.5m in length!

The Materials Used to Make the Types of Knitting Needles

The Materials Used to Make the Types of Knitting Needles

Finding the right knitting needles for you doesn’t just mean searching high and low for the different types of knitting needles or weights. It also means looking for the materials of knitting needles you feel most comfortable knitting with. 

For example, you can get lightweight wooden needles (best for the heavier weighted knitting needle set) as well as slightly heavier aluminium needles to help with fine detailing in the knit (such as cable knitting).

As well as this, there are novelty materials used to create knitting needles from pre-loved and vintage sets made of the controversial ivory of animals and there are some delicate additions made using tempered glass. 

All of which can have their advantages such as being slippery to move the active stitches along with a heavy yarn. While others are more grippy to keep the active loops of slippery and soft satin-like yarns on the needle. 

So, have a look at the variety you’ll be able to source for your knitting needle set and decide on the best options for you:

The Plastic Needle

The plastic needle set can be some of the best knitting needles for beginners because they’re very affordable, can be made to be lightweight or heavyweight and are very durable. 

So, in case you’ve not got a knitting storage bag yet (which we’ll walk you through later!), or you’re quite the accident-prone knitter, these will probably be best for you.

As these needles are made using a liquid polymer, they can be made in any size, shape, colour, weight and so on. You can even get some glitter needles for a fabulous knit. 

The Bamboo Needle

The bamboo needle is a very lightweight option offering a smooth surface that is easy on the hands (they have been found to be a great option for arthritic hand joints) while being a naturally and sustainably sourced material.

Being a natural wood, it has a strength and smoothness to the surface texture which makes them easy on the hands, but they also have an innate grain. This helps keep the tension and tack of the knit yarn, so it doesn’t slip off. 

However, it’s not grippy enough to snag on the yarn, cause fraying or make a knit and purl stitch difficult.

As they are a natural material that is sustainably sourced, they’re becoming increasingly popular. With this, they can be found pretty much anywhere from Amazon to your local Abakhan Fabrics. 

The Aluminium Needle

While the plastic types of knitting needles make fantastic knitting needles for beginners and the bamboo needles are rising in popularity, the majority of the different needles used in knitting are manufactured using aluminium.

They’re a very popular choice among the most experienced knitters, too. This is because the heaviness of the needles helps to keep precision in-check with each loop and stitch while moving at a fast pace. 

As well as this, when you’re knitting at a fast pace, the last thing you want is traction between the yarn and the needle. So, having a more slippery surface helps to keep the active loops moving along.

Although, it should be said that these aluminium types of knitting needles are often chilled with the room temperature and can be cold to the touch when first picking them up.

That said, there’s nothing to stop you from taking a crack at the aluminium knitting needles for beginners. As the most common types of knitting needles out there, they’re what a lot of beginners will start with depending on what the local stop has in stock. 

The Wooden Needle

Next up, we have the wooden types of knitting needles. They’re not quite as common as the others, but they’re still a popular choice for avid knitters wanting to also make a difference to the environment. 

Choosing knitting needles doesn’t always have to involve the yarn, the feel and the end-product. There are many of us (speaking from experience) who have followed their heart into the beautiful designs of a hand-painted wooden knitting needle set. 

These sets are often gifts, as they can be much more expensive than the other options on the list, although they are worth it.

Aside from having an entire knitting needle set with multiple shapes and weights to choose from, they have a smooth surface for speed knitting, have a frictionless grab to prevent snagging and have a warming feeling on the shaft. 

Plus, choosing knitting needles made of wood will produce that amazingly relaxing clattering noise when going through the knit patterns of the knit one, purl two, etc.

The Glass Needle

As one of the least popular choices for knitters in the modern knitting community, glass needles are made using Pyrex glass. And, while Pyrex is renowned for its strength, it isn’t always perfect for a knitting needle set that constantly touches, scrapes, hits, clangs and more. 

This is especially true when it comes to glass knitting needles for beginners. And unfortunately, not only does a shattered knitting needle pose a risk to you and your family, but it can also cause you to lose your active row and progress in the knit. 

Although, the thing that makes these different needles used in knitting special is their design. They can sometimes feature blown and twisted glass stoppers at the end (specifically for straight knitting needles). 

This makes them all the more visually stunning while helping weigh down the needles on the stopper end for a particularly heavy yarn. So, they can be the perfect knitting needle set to gift your knit-phillic friend or family member!

The Ivory Needle

Last on the list we have the rarest of them all. In fact, the majority of these types of knitting needles – that still remain – are placed within museums as antique items.

Ivory was once the most popular material used to make the different needles used in knitting. They featured the ivory of horned animals such as rhinos and elephants. Of course, as ivory hunting has since been outlawed across most of the globe, only vintage sets remain in circulation as they’re passed through generations.

They have almost the perfect combination of friction retention of the yarn and smooth surface.

However, they’re not the only material to have been used for hand knitting throughout history while no longer being a common material today. Other antique types of knitting needles include those made of silver, amber, briar and copper.

How the Different Needles Used in Knitting Can be Interchangeable

How the Different Needles Used in Knitting Can be Interchangeable

Earlier, we mentioned there were four distinct types of knitting needles you should have as part of your arsenal knitting needle set. These are all true, but there is another option for choosing knitting needles. 

In fact, this is an all-in-one option for your knitting journeys. This makes it perfect for knitting on-the-go and keeping the set small. 

We’re talking about interchangeable knitting needles! They take a little bit of everything and bring them together. Actually, they don’t feature the shape of the cable needle, so you may still have to get yourself a small one for any cable stitches. 

Essentially, you have two double-pointed needles that taper at either end. However, these needles only have a point at one end of their shaft, while the other has a hole. The end with a hole has a screw lacing that allows you to attach a nylon cord (of any length) to create a circular knitting needle set. As well as this, the set comes with screw-in stoppers. So, you begin with double-pointed needles and can convert them into circular needles or straight needles to suit your pattern.

Finding the Right Storage for Your Types of Knitting Needles

Finding the Right Storage for Your Types of Knitting Needles

Now we’ve cleared the types of knitting needles through shape, weight, material and cool tricks, we can move onto how you’re going to store them. This way your knitting needle investments can last a lifetime (without any damages!).

There are three types of case for the different needles used in knitting that’ll depend on how many knitting needles you have, your project size and how much of a knitting enthusiast you are.

The Cylindrical Holder

The first type of storage for your knitting needle set just looks like a cylindrical pencil case from the good old school days. Although, it will be a lot slimmer and quite a bit longer, too. 

These types of cases are great for small storage options just for your knitting needles. So, if you have a large box with all your sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery hobby trinkets inside, you might want to separately pack and protect your needles within their own cylindrical needle case.

The Flattened Case

Second on the list is a flattened purse case. These tend to range in size from around A5 to A4 and either fold over with a nice ribbon or zip-up on the side.

A benefit to choosing knitting needles to slot nicely into these cases is that they also feature elasticated bands that hold each of your knitting needles (no matter the size or shape) in place. So, even if you have a pair of aluminium needles, a pair of glass needles and a pair of bamboo needles, there won’t be any cracks, chips or bruises from rubbing against each other in the case. 

As well as this, they’re very good for holding the cords needed for circular types of knitting needles as well as the straight variants. 

The Knitting Bag

Last up is the knitting bag: it’s really the biggest on the list and is great for holding everything in your knitting hobby adventure from the needles to the yarn and any embellishments, too. 

They typically have segments within the bag to hold various items of the knitting needle set and yarns. Although this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you can even find a knitting bag that has its own flattened case or cylindrical holder to match!


And, with that, you have all the knitting tools and knowledge you need for choosing knitting needles that suit your pattern project.

Whether you’re making an adorable set of baby socks ready for a new member of the family or deciding to try out making your own Winter scarves (you’ll want a head start in Summer), any and all needle you’ll want for your hand-knitting adventures will be one of the above. 

So, don’t forget to share with the team which of the various types of knitting needles out there you decided to go for and how your pattern project went!

Otherwise, take a look at all the other at-home DIY hobbies we have right here at The Hobby Kraze. In fact, if you liked this ultimate guide into the different needles used in knitting, you’ll probably also enjoy having a read of these:

  • A Comprehensive Guide to Types of Sewing Machines
  • The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Jewellery Making
  • The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Origami, Quilling and Paper Toys
  • The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Sewing
  • Knit, Hook and Stitch- The 28 Types of Crochet and Your Creative Adventure

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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