Knitting needle

Last updated
Bamboo knitting needles Knitting needles 2.jpg
Bamboo knitting needles
A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles Pink knitting in front of pink sweatshirt.JPG
A little dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles

A knitting needle or knitting pin is a tool in hand-knitting to produce knitted fabrics. They generally have a long shaft and taper at their end, but they are not nearly as sharp as sewing needles. Their purpose is two-fold. The long shaft holds the active (unsecured) stitches of the fabric, to prevent them from unravelling, whereas the tapered ends are used to form new stitches. Most commonly, a new stitch is formed by inserting the tapered end through an active stitch, catching a loop (also called a bight) of fresh yarn and drawing it through the stitch; this secures the initial stitch and forms a new active stitch in its place. In specialized forms of knitting the needle may be passed between active stitches being held on another needle, or indeed between/through inactive stitches that have been knit previously.


The size of a needle is described first by its diameter and secondly by its length. The size of the new stitch is determined in large part by the diameter of the knitting needle used to form it, because that affects the length of the yarn-loop drawn through the previous stitch. Thus, large stitches can be made with large needles, whereas fine knitting requires fine needles. In most cases, the knitting needles being used in hand-knitting are of the same diameter; however, in uneven knitting, needles of different sizes may be used. Larger stitches may also be made by wrapping the yarn more than once around the needles with every stitch. The length of a needle determines how many stitches it can hold at once; for example, very large projects such as a shawl with hundreds of stitches might require a longer needle than a small project such as a scarf or bootie. Various sizing systems for needles are in common use.


Knitting needles in a variety of sizes and materials. Different materials have varying amounts of friction, and are suitable for different yarn types. Straight knitting needles.JPG
Knitting needles in a variety of sizes and materials. Different materials have varying amounts of friction, and are suitable for different yarn types.

Single-pointed needles

The most widely recognized form of needle is the single-pointed needle. It is a slender, straight stick tapered to a point at one end, with a knob at the other end to prevent stitches from slipping off. Such needles are always used in pairs and are usually 10-16 inches (25.4–40.6 cm) long but, due to the compressibility of knitted fabrics, may be used to knit pieces significantly wider. The knitting of new stitches occurs only at the tapered ends. Fictional depictions of knitting in movies, television programs, animation, and comic strips almost always show knitting done on straight needles. Both Wallace and Gromit and Monty Python, for example, show this type of knitting.

Double-pointed needles

Double-pointed knitting needles in various materials and sizes. They come in sets of four, five or six. Double pointed knitting needles.JPG
Double-pointed knitting needles in various materials and sizes. They come in sets of four, five or six.

The oldest type of needle is the straight double-pointed needle. Double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends, which allows them to be knit from either end. They are typically used (and sold) in sets of four and five, and are commonly used for circular knitting. Since the invention of the circular needle, they have been most commonly used to knit smaller tube-shaped pieces such as sleeves, collars, and socks. Usually two needles are active while the others hold the remaining stitches. Double-pointed needles are somewhat shorter than single-pointed or circular needles, and are usually used in the 13–20 cm length range, although they are also made longer.

Double-pointed needles are depicted in a number of 14th-century oil paintings, typically called Knitting Madonnas, depicting Mary knitting with double-pointed needles (Rutt, 2003).

A cable needle is sometimes used. Cable Needles.JPG
A cable needle is sometimes used.

A cable needle is a special type of double-pointed needle that is typically very short and used to hold a very small number of stitches temporarily while the knitter is forming a cable pattern. They are often U-shaped, or have a U-shaped bend, to keep the held stitches from falling off while the primary needle is being used.

Circular needles

Circular knitting needles in different lengths, materials and sizes, including plastic, aluminum, steel and nickel-plated brass. Circular knitting needles.JPG
Circular knitting needles in different lengths, materials and sizes, including plastic, aluminum, steel and nickel-plated brass.

The first US patent for a circular needle was issued in 1918, although in Europe they may have been used a little earlier. Circulars are composed of two pointed, straight tips connected by a flexible cable and may be used for both knitting flat or knitting in the round. The two tapered ends, typically 4–5 inches (10.5– cm) long, are rigid, allowing for easy knitting, and are connected by the flexible strand (usually made of nylon or coated wire). The tips may be permanently connected to the cable and made in overall lengths from 9 inches (23 cm) to 60 inches (150 cm) or composed of cables and interchangeable tips. This allows various lengths and diameters to be combined into many different sizes of needles, allowing for a great variety of needs to be met by a relatively few component pieces. The ability to work from either end of one needle is convenient in several types of knitting, such as slip-stitch versions of double knitting.

In using circulars to knit flat pieces of fabric the two ends are used just as two separate needles would be. The knitter holds one tip in each hand and knits straight across the width of the fabric, turns the work, and knits or purls back the other way. Using circular needles has some advantages, for example, the weight of the fabric is more evenly distributed, therefore less taxing, on the arms and wrists of the knitter and, the length of the cable may be longer than would be practical with rigid needles since the cable and fabric rest in the lap of the knitter rather than extending straight out past the arms.

The lack of a purl row in stockinette stitch, since in the round (commonly referred to as ITR) knitting is all done using the knit stitch, is often perceived to be one of the greatest benefits of ITR. Knitting ITR with circulars is done in a spiral, the same way as using double-pointed needles (usually called DPNs). Additionally, circulars eliminate the need to continually switch from one needle to the next, and there is no possibility of stitches falling off the back end of the needles, as may happen when using DPNs. Much larger tubes may be knit ITR, too, helping items to be completed more quickly. Construction of garments such as sweaters may be greatly simplified when knitting ITR, since the finishing steps of sewing a back, two fronts, and two sleeves of a sweater together may be almost entirely eliminated in neck down ITR knitting.

Knitting educator and authority Elizabeth Zimmermann helped popularize knitting ITR specifically with circular needles.

The Magic Loop method may be used to produce narrow tubular items such as socks. Magic loop.jpg
The Magic Loop method may be used to produce narrow tubular items such as socks.

Numerous techniques have been devised for the production of narrow tubular knitting on circular needles. One common method is to use two needles in place of the four or five double-pointed needles traditionally used, while a newer technique is to use one circular needle that is significantly longer than the circumference of the item being knitted. This technique is known as Magic Loop and has recently become a popular method of producing tubular knitting, as only one needle is required. [1]

The Guinness World Record for knitting with the largest knitting needles

Julia Hopson and her world record needles Guinness World Record Knitting Needles.jpeg
Julia Hopson and her world record needles

The current holder of this title is Julia Hopson [2] of Penzance in Cornwall. Julia knitted a tension square of ten stitches and ten rows in stocking stitch using knitting needles that were 6.5 cm in diameter and 3.5 metres long.

Needle materials

In addition to common wood and metal needles, antique knitting needles were sometimes made from tortoiseshell, ivory and walrus tusks; these materials are now banned due to their impact on endangered species, and needles made from them are virtually impossible to find.

There are, however, a now vintage style of needle which appears to be tortoiseshell, but is actually made from a celluloid, sometimes known as shellonite. These needles were made in Australia, but are no longer manufactured.

Modern knitting needles are made of bamboo, aluminium, steel, wood, plastic, glass, casein and carbon fibers.

Needle storage

Container for needles Etui voor breinaalden.jpg
Container for needles

A tall, cylindrical container with padding on the bottom to keep the points sharp can store straight needles neatly. Fabric or plastic cases similar to cosmetic bags or a chef's knife bag allow straight needles to be stored together yet separated by size, then rolled to maximize space. Circular needles may be stored with the cables coiled in cases made specifically for this purpose or hung dangling from a hanger device with cables straight. If older circulars with the nylon or plastic cables are coiled for storage it may be necessary to soak them in hot water for a few minutes to get them to uncoil and relax for ease of use. Most recently manufactured cables eliminate this problem and may be stored coiled without any difficulty. Care must be taken not to kink the metal cables of older circulars, as these kinks will not come out and may damage or snag yarn as it is knit.

Knitting needles with yarn Knitting needles1.jpg
Knitting needles with yarn

Needle gauge

A needle gauge makes it possible to determine the size of a knitting needle. Some may also be used to gauge the size of crochet hooks. Most needles come with the size written on them, but with use and time, the label often wears off, and many needles (like double-pointed needles) tend not to be labelled.

Needle gauges can be made of any material, but are often made of metal and plastic. They tend to be about 3 by 5 inches. There are holes of various sizes through which the needles are passed to determine which hole they fit best, and often a ruler along the edge for determining the tension (also called gauge) of a sample.

Needle sizes and conversions

Four double-pointed needles in use. One double-pointed needle creates new stitches while the remaining needles hold stitches in place. This is called "knitting in the round". Double pointed kitting needles in use.jpg
Four double-pointed needles in use. One double-pointed needle creates new stitches while the remaining needles hold stitches in place. This is called "knitting in the round".
Needles with their size in mm Breinaalden in verschillende diktes.jpg
Needles with their size in mm

In the UK, the metric system is used. Previously, needles 'numbers' were the Standard Wire Gauge designation of the wire from which metal needles were made. The origin of the numbering system is uncertain but it is thought that needle numbers were based on the number of increasingly fine dies that the wire had to be drawn through. This meant thinner needles had a larger number.

In the current US system, things are opposite, that is, smaller numbers indicate smaller needles. There is an "old US system" that is divided into standard and steel needles, the latter being fine lace needles. [3] Occasionally, older lace patterns will refer to these smaller needles in the old measurement system. Finally, there was a system used in continental Europe that predated the metric system. [4] It is largely obsolete, but some older or reprinted patterns call for pins in these sizes.

Metric size (mm) US size Old UK size Japanese sizeOld US StandardOld US SteelOld Continental
2.51 ½12
3.02 ½1133102 ½
6.510 ½310 ½10
7.027 mm11
8.01108 mm13
9.013009 mm14
10.01500010 mm15
16.01916 mm
25.05025 mm

See also

Related Research Articles

Crochet technique of creating lace or fabric from thread using a hook

Crochet is a process of creating textiles by using a crochet hook to interlock loops of yarn, thread, or strands of other materials. The name is derived from the French term crochet, meaning 'small hook'. Hooks can be made from a variety of materials, such as metal, wood, bamboo, or plastic. The key difference between crochet and knitting, beyond the implements used for their production, is that each stitch in crochet is completed before the next one is begun, while knitting keeps many stitches open at a time. Some variant forms of crochet, such as Tunisian crochet and broomstick lace, do keep multiple crochet stitches open at a time.

Knitting Method of forming fabric from yarn

Knitting is a method by which yarn is manipulated to create a textile or fabric; it is used in many types of garments. Knitting may be done by hand or by machine.

Circular knitting Form of knitting that creates a seamless tube

Circular knitting or knitting in the round is a form of knitting that creates a seamless tube. When knitting circularly, the knitting is cast on and the circle of stitches is joined. Knitting is worked in rounds in a spiral. Originally, circular knitting was done using a set of four or five double-pointed needles. Later, circular needles were invented, which can also be used to knit in the round: the circular needle looks like two short knitting needles connected by a cable between them.

Fair Isle (/fɛəraɪ̯l/) is a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours. It is named after Fair Isle, one of the Shetland islands. Fair Isle knitting gained considerable popularity when the Prince of Wales wore Fair Isle jumpers in public in 1921. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour.

Nålebinding single-needle textile netting technique that predates knitting and crochet

Nålebinding is a fabric creation technique predating both knitting and crochet. Also known in English as "knotless netting," "knotless knitting," or "single needle knitting," the technique is distinct from crochet in that it involves passing the full length of the working thread through each loop, unlike crochet where the work is formed only of loops, never involving the free end. It also differs from knitting in that lengths must be pieced together during the process of nålebinding, rather than a continuous strand of yarn that can easily be pulled out. Archaeological specimens of fabric made by nålebinding can be difficult to distinguish from knitted fabric.

In knitting, the word gauge is used both in hand knitting and machine knitting; the latter, technical abbreviation GG, refers to "Knitting Machines" fineness size. In both cases, the term refers to the number of stitches per inch, not the size of the finished garment. In both cases, the gauge is measured by counting the number of stitches or the number of needles over several inches then dividing by the number of inches in the width of the sample.

Combined knitting or combination knitting is a style that combines elements of Eastern-style knitting with the Western techniques. The name was suggested by Mary Thomas in her 1938 book "Mary Thomas's Knitting Book", where she described the technique as "..the better way to work in Flat Knitting. The resulting fabric is more even and closer in construction." By wrapping the yarn the opposite way while purling, the knitter changes the orientation of the resulting loops; then the next row's knit stitches can be formed by inserting the needle through the back leg, rather than through the front leg, without twisting the stitch. This technique is suitable for all knitted fabrics from the basic Stockinette stitch, to any other style, such as Fair Isle, circular knitting, or lace knitting.

Knitting machine

A knitting machine is a device used to create knitted fabrics in a semi or fully automated fashion.

Slip-stitch knitting

Slip-stitch knitting is a family of knitting techniques that use slip stitches to make multiple fabrics simultaneously, to make extra-long stitches, and/or to carry over colors from an earlier row.

Casting on (knitting) in hand knitting, any of various techniques for adding new stitches that do not depend on earlier stitches

In knitting, casting on is a family of techniques for adding new stitches that do not depend on earlier stitches, i.e., having an independent lower edge. In principle, it is the opposite of binding off, but the techniques involved are generally unrelated.

In knitting, binding off, or casting off, is a family of techniques for ending a column of stitches. Binding off is typically used to define the final edge of a knitted fabric, although it may also be used in other contexts, e.g., in making button holes. In principle, binding off is the opposite of casting on, but the techniques are generally not mirror images of one another. Sometimes, however, they can produce a mirror image appearance.

Sweater design is a specialization of fashion design in which knitted sweaters are designed to fulfill certain aesthetic, functional and commercial criteria. The designer typically considers factors such as the insulating power of the sweater ; the fashion of its colors, patterns, silhouette and style lines, particularly the neckline and waistline; the convenience and practicality of its cut; and in commercial design, the cost of its production and the profitability of its price point. Sweater designs are often published in books and knitting magazines. Sweater design is an old art, but continues to attract new designers such as Nicky Epstein and Meg Swansen.

In knitting, a plaited stitch, also known as a twisted stitch, is a single knitted stitch that is twisted clockwise or counterclockwise, usually by one half-turn (180°) but sometimes by a full turn (360°) or more.

Flat knitting

Flat knitting is a method for producing knitted fabrics in which the work is turned periodically, i.e., the fabric is worked with alternating sides facing the knitter. Another method of reaching the same result is to knit alternately from right to left and left to right without turning; this back-and-forth technique requires either innate or learned ambidextrous motor skills. The two sides of the fabric are usually designated as the right side and the wrong side.

Double knitting Form of hand knitting in which two fabrics are knitted simultaneously on one pair of needles

Double knitting is a form of hand knitting in which two fabrics are knitted simultaneously on one pair of needles. The fabrics may be inseparable, as in interlock knitted fabrics, or they can simply be two unconnected fabrics. In principle, an arbitrary number of fabrics can be knitted simultaneously on one pair of knitting needles with yarns, as long as one is careful.

Knitted fabric is a textile that results from knitting. Its properties are distinct from woven fabric in that it is more flexible and can be more readily constructed into smaller pieces, making it ideal for socks and hats.

Hand knitting is a form of knitting, in which the knitted fabric is produced by hand using needles.

Yarn weight refers to the thickness of yarn used by knitters, weavers, crocheters and other fiber artists.

Cowichan knitting

Cowichan knitting is a form of knitting characteristic of the Cowichan people of southeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The distinctively patterned, heavy-knit Cowichan sweaters, popular among British Columbians and tourists, are produced using this method. Cowichan knitting is an acculturated art form, a combination of European textile techniques and Salish spinning and weaving methods. From this union, new tools, techniques and designs developed over the years.

Row counter (hand knitting)

A row counter for hand knitting is a tally counter for counting rows or courses worked, for counting stitch pattern repetitions, or for counting increases or decreases of the number of stitches in consecutive rows. The first commercially produced one appeared on the market in the 1920s after the general public started regularly knitting from unfamiliar printed and complex patterns. Design variations include on-needle barrel-shaped counters for straight-needle work, stitch-marker counters for knitting on double-pointed and circular needles, complex counters which attempted to assist with decreases, increases and lacework, stand-alone hand-held counters in imitation of the hand-tally, pendant counters worn round the neck and online software for iPhones.


  1. Morgan-Oakes, Melissa. Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks. Storey Publishing LLC, 2010. ISBN   1-60342-533-0.
  2. "IT'S OFFICIAL Kint Wits Yarn & Wool Shop". Archived from the original on 2009-07-10. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  3. "Knitting Needle Sizes". The Fiber Gypsy. Retrieved 3 Dec 2017.
  4. Thomas, Mary (1938). Mary Thomas's Knitting Book (1972 Reprint ed.). New York: Dover Publications. ISBN   0-486-22817-7.

Further reading