Knitting needle
A knitting needle or knitting pin is a tool
A tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific purpose. Tools that are used in particular fields or activities may have different designations such...

 in hand-knitting
Hand-knitting is a special case of knitting, in which the knitted fabric is produced by hand.-Flat and circular knitting:Weft-knit fabrics can be divided into two types: those that have selvages and those that are tubes, where the side edges have been joined...

 to produce knitted fabric
Knitted fabric
Knitted fabrics is the third major class of fabric, after woven and nonwoven fabrics.-Elasticity, thickness and warmth:Compared to the other two classes, knitted fabrics are much more elastic, which accounts for their historical use in stockings and other clothing that requires changes in shape...

s. They generally have a long shaft and taper at their end, but they are not nearly as sharp as sewing needle
Sewing needle
A sewing needle is a long slender tool with a pointed tip. The first needles were made of bone or wood; modern ones are manufactured from high carbon steel wire, nickel- or 18K gold plated for corrosion resistance. The highest quality embroidery needles are plated with two-thirds platinum and...

s. 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
Bight (knot)
In knot tying, a bight is a curved section, slack part, or loop between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn. The term is also used in a more specific way when describing Turk's head knots, indicating how many repetitions of braiding are made in the circuit of a given knot.-Slipped knot:In order...

) 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 noodle 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.


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 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. Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

al depictions of knitting in movie
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

s, television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 programs, animation
Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. The effect is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision, and can be created and demonstrated in several ways...

, and comic strip
Comic strip
A comic strip is a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions....

s almost always show knitting done on straight needles. Both Wallace and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit are the main characters in a series consisting of four British animated short films and a feature-length film by Nick Park of Aardman Animations...

 and Monty Python
Monty Python
Monty Python was a British surreal comedy group who created their influential Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series...

, for example, show this type of knitting.

Double-pointed needles

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
Circular knitting
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...

. 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 around 20 cm in length.

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 a special type of double-pointed needle that is typically very short and is only used to hold stitches temporarily while the knitter is forming a cable
Cable knitting
Cable knitting is a style of knitting in which textures of crossing layers are achieved by permuting stitches. For example, given four stitches appearing on the needle in the order ABCD, one might cross the first two the next two, so that in subsequent rows those stitches appear in the new order...

 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

The newest type of needle is the circular needle, a long, flexible double-pointed needle that can be used for both flat
Flat knitting
Flat knitting is a method for producing knitted fabrics in which the work is turned periodically, i.e., the fabric is knitted from alternating sides...

 and circular knitting
Circular knitting
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...

. The two tapered ends (typically 5 inches (12.7 cm) long) are rigid and straight, allowing for easy knitting, and are connected by a flexible strand (usually nylon) that allows the two ends to be brought together. Circular needles can be found in lengths from 9 inches (22.9 cm) to 40 inches (101.6 cm). Special kits are available that allow circular needles of various lengths and diameters to be made as needed; rigid ends of various diameters may be screwed into strands of various lengths. The ability to work from either end of one needle is convenient in several types of knitting, such as slip-stitch
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.-Basic methods:...

 versions of double knitting
Double knitting
Double knitting is a form of knitting in which two fabrics are knit simultaneously with two yarns on one pair of needles. The fabrics may be inseparable, as in interlock knitted fabrics, or they can simply be two unconnected fabrics...

. The two ends are used exactly like two needles, in the sense that the knitter holds one in each hand and knits as if having two. The advantages of using circular needles are that the weight of the fabric is more evenly distributed and therefore less taxing on the arms and wrists of the knitter, and also that there is more manoeuvrability of the fabric and needles without fear of the stitches falling off the needles, an occasional occurrence when using double-pointed needles.

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.

The Guinness World Record for knitting with the largest knitting needles

The current holder of this title is Julia Hopson of Penzance in Cornwall. Julia knitted a tension square of ten stitches and ten rows in stocking stitch using knitting needles that were 6.5cm 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
Tortoiseshell material
Tortoiseshell or tortoise shell is a material produced mainly from the shell of the hawksbill turtle, an endangered species. It was widely used in the 1960s and 1970s in the manufacture of items such as combs, sunglasses, guitar picks and knitting needles...

, ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 and walrus tusks; these materials are now banned due to their impact on endangered species
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

, and needles made from them are virtually impossible to find.

Modern knitting needles are made of bamboo
Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....

, aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

, steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

, wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

, plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...

, glass
Glass is an amorphous solid material. Glasses are typically brittle and optically transparent.The most familiar type of glass, used for centuries in windows and drinking vessels, is soda-lime glass, composed of about 75% silica plus Na2O, CaO, and several minor additives...

 and casein
Casein is the name for a family of related phosphoprotein proteins . These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk and between 60% and 65% of the proteins in human milk....


Needle storage

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 but separate, rolled up to maximize space. Circular needles can also be stored this way but are better kept dangling on a hanger device so the cables do not get wound up. If nylon or plastic circular needles are coiled tightly when in 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.

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 hook
Crochet hook
A crochet hook is a type of needle with a hook at one end used to draw thread through knotted loops. Only one crochet hook is needed to make crochet stitches. The crochet hook's earliest use appears to have been in the late 18th century or early 19th century.Typical materials for crochet hooks...

s. Most needles come with the size written on the 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 gauge of a sample.

Needle sizes and conversions

In the UK, knitting needle 'numbers' are the Standard Wire Gauge
Wire gauge
Wire gauge is a measurement of how large a wire is, either in diameter or cross sectional area. This determines the amount of electric current a wire can safely carry, as well as its electrical resistance and weight per unit of length...

 designation of the wire from which metal needles are made. The origin of the numbering system is uncertain but it is thought that needle numbers are based on the number of increasingly fine dies that the wire has to be drawn through. In the UK, then, thinner needles thus have a larger number, whereas in the US the opposite applies.
Metric system
The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement. France was first to adopt a metric system, in 1799, and a metric system is now the official system of measurement, used in almost every country in the world...

 size (mm)
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 / Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese size
2.0 0 14
2.1 0
2.25 1 13
2.4 1
2.7 2
2.75 2 12
3.0 11 3
3.25 3 10
3.3 4
3.5 4
3.6 5
3.75 5 9
3.9 6
4.0 6 8
4.2 7
4.5 7 7 8
4.8 9
5.0 8 6
5.1 10
5.4 11
5.5 9 5
5.7 12
6.0 10 4 13
6.3 14
6.5 10 ½ 3
6.6 15
7.0 2 7 mm
7.5 1
8.0 11 0 8 mm
9.0 13 00 9 mm
10.0 15 000 10 mm
12.0 17
16.0 19
19.0 35
25.0 50

Further reading

  • Thomas, Mary. (1938). Mary Thomas's Knitting Book. Dover Publications. New York. (1972 Reprint Edition ISBN 0-486-22817-7)
  • Rutt, Richard (2003). A history of handknitting. Interweave Press, Loveland, CO. (Reprint Edition ISBN 1-931499-37-3)
  • Hiatt, June Hemmons. (1988). The principles of knitting: Methods and techniques of hand knitting. Simon and Schuster, New York.
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