By Claudia Ostrop
In addition to yarn and wool, needles are of course the indispensable second main player in our favourite hobby. Even though, they are just very simple tools, today we are giving them special attention. After all, without needles there is no knitting (except finger and arm knitting, of course).
Knitters all over the world talk and rave about them often enough! So, in this blog, we talk about the different types and materials from which needles are made of and clarify the question of when you need which needle and whether it makes a difference what material it is made of.
Three Basic Needle Shapes
A needle, by definition, is a long, thin tool made of hard material with a point at one end. A pair of bony needles from Late Antiquity and iron needles from the 6th century AD are believed by some historians to be the first knitting needles. If you are interested in the history of knitting, you will find more information here:
Many of us probablyto knit with straight needles: long needles, usually made of metal or wood, that always come in sets of two: each has point at one end and a knob or stopper at the other. They can be up to 15.7” (40 cm) long. Straight needles are suitable for knitting large items such as scarves, cardigans or pullovers (in individual pieces).Depending on how you hold the needles, knitting with straight needles can be quite tiring: the weight of the growing fabric puts increasing pressure on the ends of the needles, which can get pretty tough on your wrists, arms and shoulders. Straight needles used to be "the" knitting needle par excellence. They are still used today as a graphic symbol for knitting and knitting needles, but with the growing popularity of circular needles, they have been pushed a little to the side-lines.
Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs)
These shorter straight needles have points at both ends and usually come in sets of four to six needles. They are used to knit in the round. The knitted piece is on four needles, the stitches of which are knitted off with the fifth needle. Double pointed needles are mostly used for socks, sleeves or hats. They are available in different lengths. Usually, 6” (15 cm) long needles are used for socks. If you want to knit hats with them, use slightly longer sets so that all stitches have space on the needles. Some find knitting with double pointed needles uncomfortable. It can be quite fiddly to deal with all those needles. If you're not careful, you'll quickly drop a few stitches or pull on the wrong needle.
In recent years, the classic DPNs have been replaced by needles that have either a bend or a flexible portion in the middle. These come in sets of three because the bend allows you to work with fewer needles to move your knitting around. The stitches are on two of the needles (the centre piece creates an elliptical shape), and the third is used to knit. The advantage is that you don't have to deal with so many needle ends, which makes it much easier to work with. Like the classic DPNs, these needles are also available in different lengths.
Nowadays, circular needles are the knitting needles par excellence. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to trace exactly when they were actually invented. They have been produced on a larger scale since the 1950s and have made themselves at home in the wool baskets of most knitters.
The advantages of circular knitting needles are obvious: As the name suggests, you can use them to knit in the round. This saves the sewing together of individual parts as well as many a purl stitch because you are always knitting on the right side.
But even if you don't knit in rounds but rather back and forth in rows, circular knitting needles are definitely advantageous. The tips of the needles are just long enough for you to hold them comfortably in your hand while knitting. The bulk of the stitches and their weight are on the cable between the tips of the needles. Compared to straight needles, they are more ergonomic for your hands. Also, knitted fabrics on circular needles can be held comfortably on the lap. And it's also easier to store because the needles with their cables can usually be rolled up easily.
There are two types of circular needles: the needles that are permanently attached to the cable, and interchangeable needle systems in which the needle tips can be combined with different cables.
Fixed Circular Needles
This is the original circular needle: the two needle points are firmly connected with the cable in between.
Advantage: Nothing can come loose by accident and there are (usually) no awkward transition points. Disadvantage: needle size and length are not variable.
Interchangeable Circular Needles
Like circular needles, they have a firm tip and a flexible cord, but the pieces separate so you can change out the needle sizes and cord lengths. You can also connect needles to cords and attach caps at the ends so you can use them like straight needles.
Interchangeable needles come in sets or as individual pieces. Most connect with a tiny screw-on joining piece, or a click system. You can easily adjust the cable length in the middle of a knitting project, as well as the size of the needle points.
Advantage: you need less "material" overall because tips and cables can be combined with each other again and again as required.
Disadvantage: The connections are usually not compatible with those of other brands. So, you are committed to a brand. Unfortunately, there are also differences in quality - the connection points can become a sore point if they are not worked perfectly or come off too easily.
The material of the needle(s) is not irrelevant at all! Of course, personal preferences play a major role, but depending on the project or the wool to be knitted, different needles can also affect the stitch structure and the fun of knitting.
Knitting needles are available in a wide variety of metals: brass, steel, aluminium and carbon. These needles are very smooth and very stable. Particularly thin needles are usually made of metal because this material is the most stable.
The smooth surface of metal needles is suitable for all yarns. However, if a yarn is very smooth, a metal needle can also be too slippery depending on the surface finish. Knitting is more strenuous because with your hands you have to grip and hold to the yarn more. Metal needles are a good choice for those who knit particularly tight because the stitches slide easily. However, if you tend to get sweaty hands, metal needles may be too slippery. Also, metal tips can be noisy. Those who are sensitive to noise may find the needles´ rattling and jingling annoying.
Anyone who knits outdoors in the sunshine or under a lamp may have already experienced this: Shiny metal needle tips can be quite dazzling 😎
Wooden needles are comfortable to hold and are not heavy. This is an advantage, especially with larger needle sizes. Birch wood is often used, but there are also variants made of olive wood, rosewood or ebony. Depending on the starting material, the needles are polished, coated or varnished. Wooden needles have the advantage that they neither feel too cool nor too warm, as can happen with metal needles. Wooden needles are also usually found to be more comfortable than metal or plastic needles if you tend to get sweaty hands.
Since the surface is not quite as smooth as that of metal needles, very supple and slippery yarns such as silk or viscose can be knitted more easily with wooden needles. The same goes for those who knit more loosely: the stitches tend to stay where they belong on wooden needles.
As a material, wood is of course not as stable as metal, so particularly thinner needles or needle tips are sometimes at risk of breaking. Anyone who likes to leave their knitting on the sofa has perhaps already experienced what happens when someone else accidentally sits on it…
Bamboo needles are quite comparable to wooden needles, but not made of wood but of grass (namely a very large and fast-growing one). In principle, everything that we mentioned above about wooden needles applies. Bamboo needles may have a little more grip than wooden needles and are therefore particularly suitable for very smooth yarns. Coarse sheep's wool, on the other hand, doesn't knit as well on bamboo needles as on metal ones.
With needles made of bamboo, special attention should be paid to quality: In cheap shops you can get bamboo needles for little money. Unfortunately, they are often of poor quality, and if you are unlucky, they will soon show rough spots or have splinters that can snag your yarn. High-quality bamboo needles are made from very slow-growing bamboo varieties.
Plastic knitting needles should not go unmentioned here. They come in all imaginable sizes, are light and are usually very affordable. In addition, they are often colourful or even available with glitter. With high-quality workmanship, they are easy to knit with, the yarn glides well over the surface of the tips. However, plastic needles are not an ideal choice if you tend to have sweaty hands. Some yarns made of pure cotton, for example, do not slide well over the plastic needles.
Of course, when it comes to knitting needles, the shape of the needle point must not be forgotten. In addition to the “normal” ones, there are also particularly sharp tips.
Of course, the shape of the needle tip differs from manufacturer to manufacturer and also within the individual materials. If nothing else is mentioned, the needle tips are "normally" sharp, so that in principle they are equally suitable for all yarns and patterns.
Lace needle tips are extra pointed. They are particularly suitable for very fine yarns and patterns because even small stitches can be knitted easily and accurately. But they are also ideal if, for example, several stitches are knitted together at the same time - this is easier thanks to the thin tip. Lace tips are less suitable for plied yarns or wick yarns, i.e. yarns that are not twisted. It's easy to poke between the individual threads or in the middle of a fluffy thread.
Ergonomic Needle Tips
Still relatively new on the market are knitting needles that are not classically round but square (rounded) and/or embossed. They are usually made of metal. They are said to lie particularly comfortably in the hand and ensure fatigue-free knitting even after a long period of time. They are especially made for knitters who have problems with their wrists and finger joints.
By the way …
The largest needles in the world recorded in Guinness Book of Records for 2017:
British art student Elizabeth Bond used a 3D printer to create knitting needles that were 14 feet long (4.42 meters) long and 3.54” (9.01 cm) thick.
One of the finest needles in the world must have been a model with Swarovski crystals on the tips, which glittered while knitting.
In our shop you will not find the largest or the most luxurious needles, but you will find a wide variety of needles to choose from: there should be something for every taste!