Needles are the most important knitting tool in your knitting toolbox. You can have all the beautiful yarn you want, but if you don't have the proper needles for the project you are working on, it won't be successful. Needles range in type, pricing, material, sizing, and design. There is a lot to chose from, and if you are new to knitting and have stood in the knitting needle aisle, scanning the wide variety of choices in front of you and feeling clueless, you are not alone.
As a beginner, knitting needles both look the same and different in ways you might be unsure of. Why do some of them have points on both ends? Why do some come with circular attachments? What material is best? Let me give you a simple crash course on choosing needles as a beginner.
Knitting Needle Type
Any of these knitting needle types can be bought in sets or in smaller groups of two or more.
Circular- I am a huge fan of circular needles (make sure they are interchangeable). For those with arthritis or similar issues, circular can be a bit more comfortable to hold for long periods of time. They are also great for scarves, blankets, and sweaters. Products with more fabric can hang a bit while you have more flexibility. The attachments that come with circular needles vary in size and are easy to remove (as long as they are interchangeable- not all are with circular needles). Most of the time, circular needles are bought in a set including most sizes, omitting the larger sizes that are less common to use, and can be a great go-to collection for a beginner. The only pro I've found is that certain projects just cannot be accommodated as well with circular. In particular, smaller projects work better on straight needles.
Straight- Straight needles are extremely versatile. They can be used for many, many projects and come in all material types. They come in different lengths but tend to be longer to accommodate bigger projects. Every knitter should have these in their toolkit. The one con with straight needles is that they tend to be a bit difficult for long knitting sessions as far as comfortability. After a bit, I know my wrists tend to hurt more with straight needles than circular, but they are still an amazing and practical option (sometimes circular needles are not the best tool for the job and circular are necessary as well).
Double-pointed- I would say double-pointed needles are not a necessity at first. Most beginners won't need them, because they tend to be used for intermediate to difficult knitting projects. Beginners, as I mention later in this guide, should start with something simple first and work their way up. Certain projects do require double-pointed needles, but this is something you will find in your instructions.
- Bamboo- Bamboo needles are by far my favorite needles. They provide the perfect amount of traction for beginners, are beautiful and affordable, and come in matching sets or can be purchased in smaller groups.
- Metal (aluminum or nickel)- Metal knitting needles are the cheapest and most durable needles, and while they tend to be a bit less decorative or beautiful than bamboo, my reasoning for preferring bamboo over metal is based on traction. Metal is slippery. When you are learning, you need a needle that provides a bit more traction than metal, but once you are a bit more comfortable and want to speed up the knitting process, metal is a great option.
- Plastic- For kids, plastic is a great option for learning, but they are my least favorite needle type as an experienced knitter. However, some of them are extendable which can be another way to customize knitting to fit your preference and lifestyle, and projects.
Project— Your project instructions will tell you what sizes you need for that project. Once you start developing your one patterns, you need to have a better hang of what sizing means for the gauge and knit of a finished product.
Yarn weight— Yarn weight tends to go hand-in-hand with needle sizing to create a particular gauge and look. The bigger the needle, the looser and bigger the stitch. The smaller the needle, the tighter and smaller the stitch. On the yarn's packaging, it will tell you what needle sizes are recommended for that yarn. Stick to the pattern or project instructions the best you can while learning.
As a beginner, I recommend bamboo needles since they offer a bit more traction than metal. Focus on learning. Fast knitting can come after you pick up the basics. I also recommend either circular or straight. Maybe, start with straight needles. Once you have learned your first stitch, done your first project, and are sure it is something you will love, invest in a circular set that will get you through many projects to come.
Colors, fiber type, weight, ply, and brand; there are so many variants to consider when choosing yarn. Even as someone who considers herself an experienced knitter, I still have difficulty strolling through the yarn aisles with a plethora of choices and an indecisive brain. While it can be fun to let yourself enjoy those lengthy strolls through the yarn aisles, there can often be too many options and colors. Here are a few bits of advice to make the process less confusing.
- Project — The weight of your yarn is extremely important. Think of yarn weight like the size of the yarn and that size tells you what kind of projects it works best for and what needle sizes it should be paired with.
Standard Yarn Weights Chart
|Needle Size(s)||1-3||3-5||5-7||7-9||9-11||11-17||17 +|
The standard weights range from 1 (superfine) to 7 (jumbo). Here is an example of a good pairing and what it could be used for: a weight 5 bulky yarn with size 9 needles is great for a chunky infinity scarf, a decorative rug, or a big blanket for rainy days.
- Ply relevance — Did you ever notice that when you cut a piece of yarn, like rope there are many strands that make up that one strand of yarn? How many strands are there? That number is what determines the ply of your yarn. The ply goes hand-in-hand with the weight, but it isn't something you need to worry about much as a beginner. The biggest thing, as a beginner, that you need to know is that the ply can also determine the strength. 1 ply yarn tends to be easier to break by hand.
- Project — When choosing the yarn color for your project, try not to get too caught up in all the beautiful options. If you see a color that really catches your eye and inspires you, go for it, but don't let yourself get overwhelmed with choices. Think about what you are making and how it will fit in your space or in your wardrobe.
- Multiple or multicolored — If you are using multiple yarns, or multicolored yarn, consider how it will affect the pattern or how the colors go together. Consider the stitch you are using, can a multicolored yarn, or multiple yarns, shine through and work well with the stitch you've chosen?
- Three Fiber Types — There are three main fiber types: animal-based, plant-based, and synthetic. Different fibers may work better for different projects.
- Project — Are you making a sweater and want it to be as soft and comfortable as possible? Go for yarns made of alpaca or a synthetic yarn that is specifically made to be soft like Feels like Butta by Lion Brand. Are you making a blanket for your newborn niece? Look for yarn specifically made for baby blankets like Bernat Baby Blanket yarn.
- Quality — Brand choice is often about quality. Like any product, you will learn that certain companies have better quality products. Oftentimes, walking into a craft store, and touching the product is all it takes to figure this out. However, you can easily go on amazon and read reviews.
- Cost — There are some products I am willing to splurge on yarn for. For example, I started working on a vintage-style cardigan, and for this project, I wanted a durable, high quality, and animal-based yarn so that it would have that vintage look I am going for. With a scarf or a pair of socks, I am happy to go with synthetic yarns that may be a lot cheaper but come from brands I trust.
As a beginner, try not to worry about tools too much. They are great to have, and, depending on the project you are working on or the tools you are using, they may be extremely necessary. For example, stitch markers can be a valuable tool for knitting scarves, so that you know where your first stitch was, and where your last stitch should be.
Top knitting tools for beginners
- Knitting Scissors — Scissors are an essential item most people already have, but it is nice to have a more compact pair of scissors specifically for knitting.
- Yarn holder — This tool is essential for beginners and experienced knitters alike. It avoids knots in the yarn, helps keep things organized, and helps you maintain tension. Maintained tension allows you to have a consistent pattern or stitch.
- Stitch markers — Every knitter needs stitch markers. Stitch markers allow you to see where you put your first stitch in a project that might start to blur together otherwise. They are also essential for projects that use patterns.
- Stitch counter — These cute little guys fit on your finger like a ring. Press the button and keep track of your stitches. I like these as part of a knitters toolkit, in the event that you get distracted and want to avoid messing up your stitch or pattern.
- Yarn Storage — If you have yarn hanging around, you really need a safe space for it. Protect your yarn and keep it in tip-top condition so that all your projects turn out exactly how you see them in your mind's eye. As a tip, never throw away yarn packaging or wrappers. They tell the weight and recommended needle sizing. They often include patterns too, and if you ever forget what brand that yarn you loved was, it's much easier to check if you still have the packaging.
Gauge, in knitting, is just another word for how big your stitches are and how many may be required in their associated vertical or horizontal rows. The gauge includes a measurement of the height and width of the sizing of the stitch. The sizing is determined by several factors including yarn weight, needle size, and tension.
By knowing your gauge, you know how big that finished product is going to be.
It's important to know the gauge of a stitch before beginning a project so that you have a finished product you can use. That sweater your making needs to fit right? That pillowcase needs to be big enough for the pillow you are putting it on, right? By knowing your gauge, you know how big that finished product is going to be. You can adjust your project because of it. Say you sew several separate squares for a blanket, once you sew these squares together they need to match up. This is dependent on the gauge. Here's a quick crash course on gauges in knitting.
- Weight — As you might imagine, the bigger the yarn, the bigger the gauge. This is one of the main factors of gauge in knitting. Bigger yarn, bigger gauge. However, the following factors can greatly decrease or increase the gauge regardless of yarn size.
- Needle size — Like yarn weight, the bigger the needle, the bigger the gauge. The smaller the needle, the smaller the gauge.
- Tension — The tension is based on how loosely or tightly you are wrapping and holding the thread. This is a factor that is based on a technique that changes as you gain experience and get a routine down. I like having a yarn holder to help maintain a consistent amount of tension.
Before you begin knitting, you cast your stitches onto your needles. Each cast on is a stitch for the very first row of your project. It's the first thing you will learn as a beginning knitter. Practice casting on until you develop a way of doing it that feels comfortable for you. There are many ways to cast on. Pick the one that makes the most sense to you, that feels comfortable and natural in your hands.
I prefer to do a double cast on. I can do it quickly, it feels natural to me, and I have gotten a great routine with the double cast on for bigger projects.
I prefer to do a double cast on. I can do it quickly, it feels natural to me, and I have gotten a great routine with the double cast on for bigger projects. However, certain projects might involve using a different cast-on method. As a beginner, pick one and stick with it for a bit. When you feel comfortable, advance and learn more ways if you are feeling adventurous or need a new method for a project.
Make a slip knot
As a note, before casting on you are always doing a slip knot. The slip knot is the first stitch to your cast-on. When making the slip knot, make sure you have enough length to make all of your stitches.
Watch the video:
Casting on methods
Double cast-on is the easiest method for me and is also one of the most commonly used. The attached video here gives a simple tutorial on how to do the double cast-on.
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The knit-on cast-on method is helpful for ribbed edging and is also a popular method that can be fairly universal. The attached video shows a tutorial that is easy to follow and helpful for trying it out your first time!
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Here's where the knitting happens. Stitches refer not just to the individual stitch, but to the overall pattern that is created by a combination of individual stitches. Each stitch type has its own look. Some require a certain number of stitches, some can be worked in any number of stitches. The basic stitches that I will list here are the ones that can be worked in any number. Start by learning the most basic stitches, and work your way up in difficulty.
Knit stitch (knit one)
The knit stitch is the most basic stitch. start by learning the knit stitch, which is inserted in the back of your work.
Purl stitch (purl one)
The purl stitch is the opposite of the knitch stitch. The process is basically the same, but the yarn is held in the front of your work instead of the back.
Start with these basic stitches. don't underestimate them, because they are basic. They are good practice and can create beautiful finished products.
The garter stitch is the easiest stitch to learn and the one I would recommend learning with. It's one consecutive knit stitch over and over, which makes it a good way to practice and is extremely simple and neat. It's great for scarves, blankets, and sweaters.
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Stockinette stitch is one of my go-to's. It's lovely for sweaters, hats, mittens, hand warmers, and pretty much anything you could want to knit.
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An extra: the dot stitch
As an extra, here is the dot stitch, which is a fun, but very simple, stitch once you have mastered the first two I have provided. This stitch makes beautiful scarves, blankets, sweaters, and pillow covers.
Watch the video:
Start small. Start simple. Don't even worry about completing a "project." Don't overachieve right off the bat. Take it easy. Trust the process. Just enjoy the motions. The back and forth. The movements of your hands and the sliding of the yarn against your needles. If you really, really want to start a project off the bat try starting with a dishcloth or a simple square of fabric.
- Try beginning with bigger yarn weight and needle size. The bigger they are, the easier they are to learn with.
- First, start by casting on 15 stitches and see how it feels, then undo them and try again. Do it a few times until you feel comfortable casting on. Don't dig right into knitting. Get familiar with casting on.
- Once you are comfortable, knit a few rows. See what it looks like and how the yarn feels comfortable in your hands. Feel out the tension and what works for you.
- Dishcloth — A dishcloth is really just a square of fabric, which is a great way to start knitting and learn the basics. Plus, dishcloths are useful.
Watch the video:
- Face cloth — While the pattern isn't all that different, the use and yarn are. This is a fun way to learn, and when you are watching your face next time, you can say, "I made this cloth." How cool is that?