For as many different types of yarns and patterns out there, there are also different types of knitting needles. (And I’m not just talking sizes.) The various shapes and materials of needles will affect how you knit and how the final product ends up.

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Shapes of Knitting Needles

Straight Knitting Needles

These needles are usually the needles that knitters start with (or at the very least, I did). They’re a very easy to handle and utilitarian needle. They have a single pointed end and a single blunt end. It’s a one-way street when it comes to knitting: It’s very easy to tell which end goes where (stick them with the pointy end!) and how to get the live stitches off the needle.

Straight needles are meant to create flat pieces, such as scarves and sweater pieces. You can use them to create three-dimensional pieces, but you’ll need to seam them after creating them (or you’ll have to pick up stitches).

When knitting on these needles, it’s important to pay attention to right sides and wrong sides of whatever you’re knitting. A knitter will finish off a row and turn the piece around to complete the next row, hence the right and wrong side issue.

Double-Pointed Knitting Needles

Double-Pointed Knitting Needles

These needles are meant for tube-shaped projects, like socks and hats. They come in many lengths, but they’re commonly short (5 or 6 inches long). They have two pointed ends. No blunt sides. It allows you to knit a single piece in a continuous circle. There’s still a right side and a wrong side, but you don’t flip your piece back and forth to access them. The right side is usually on the outside of the tube and the wrong side is usually on the inside.

Double-pointed needles are not as difficult as they look. New knitters may find them fiddly. I know when I first started knitting, I had issues keeping the stitches on each needle. It takes practice to get used to them, but once you do, you can easily create seamless pieces.

Circular Knitting Needles

Circular Knitting Needles

Circular needles are two needles connected by a cord. You can purchase them as a solid piece or you can purchase them as interchangeable–needles that come in a set with multiple cords that you can screw into place. The cords also come in multiple lengths.

They’re the best of both worlds: They can easily knit flat pieces and in-the-round pieces. However, they’re limited to things with larger circumferences. Normally, you have to switch from circular needles to double pointed needles to finish off hats and socks are right out of the question. The Magic Loop Method (invented by knitting magician Sarah Hauschka) allows you to knit socks and other smaller items using circular knitting needles. The circular needle cord needs to be flexible for this to work out well, so some brands of needles are out of the question.

Personally, circular needles are still my favorite to use. They double as stitch holders for flat projects: When I’m not working on it, I push the live stitches to the cord and fold the needles over like a handle.


Plastic Knitting Needles

Plastic Knitting Needles

Not too long ago, big chain craft stores carried only plastic needles and for that reason, many of us learned on plastic needles. Many of us moved on. However, plastic needles are still good for beginners. They’re often cheaper than alternatives and they’re lightweight and therefore easier on your wrists.

The major problem with plastic needles is that they’re not particularly luxurious feeling (hah, “major”) and they’re not the most durable.

Broken Plastic Crochet Hook

This crochet hook (not a needle, but made out of the same material) snapped under the pressure of my thumb while I was in the middle of making a blanket.

Metal Knitting Needles

Metal Knitting Needles

For a long time, metal needles were my favorite type of needles. Metal needles are slick, which means that yarn moves easily across it and never gets caught. That slippery feature becomes a pain under certain circumstances: Less experienced knitters, people working on delicate projects, or people working with slippery yarn might find their stitches just slipping right off the needles.

Metal needles are durable. I bought a set of metal interchangeable needles in college (almost 10 years now) and they’re still used on a daily basis. There’s a couple scratches here and there on them, but they’re not anywhere close to being out of commission. I throw them around a lot and they’ve moved with me (also about 10 times), so I’ve definitely tested their durability.

This next feature/bug is divisive: Metal needles are noisy. Every stitch results in a click. Knitting away while watching Netflix? You’re going to have a background soundtrack of click click click click. Some people really enjoy the click of the needles. If you’re the kind of person that gets annoyed by little sounds that other people make (like chewing or breathing), you probably won’t enjoy the click click click.

The worst part of metal needles is that they’re heavy. Knitting with them for long periods of time can be brutal for anyone, but especially for people who already have repetitive-motion injuries.

Wooden or Bamboo Knitting Needles

Wood Knitting Needles

These are my current favorite types of needles and it’s because I’ve gotten into sock knitting and other small, fiddly projects. These needles are slippery enough to let most yarns move easily across the needle, but it still has some grab so I’m not just throwing stitches off the needle when I scoot them up towards the point.

They’re also very lightweight and easy on my wrists.

The downside is that these needles are not the most durable. You have to take more care about putting them in a bag or you might end up with a broken needle. They also have the potential to give you slivers while you’re knitting. It’s something that’s only happened to me once, but it stung.

Materials versus Gauge

Alexis Winslow of Knit Darling conducted an experiment with four different kinds of needles: Plastic (resin), wooden, metal, and carbon. Using the same size needles and the same yarn, she knitted up large swatches for each needle set.

After blocking these swatches and taking measurements, Alexis found that the needle material itself could have a profound effect on the final measurement of your knitted product. Her findings are summarized in her blog post: Needle Material Affects Gauge.

Your final product could vary as much as 2 inches depending on the type of needle you use! According to the results of her experiment: Plastic needles create wide and short products, while metal and carbon create narrow and long products, while wood is in between.

(This experiment also illustrates the importance of making swatches, even though making swatches is terrible. It’s like eating your veggies.)

The Best Knitting Needle

Ultimately, you’ll pick a different needle depending on your project’s needs. The best needle for one project may not be the best for the next project.


  • Straight needles are good for flat projects
  • Double-pointed needles are good for small tube projects
  • Circular needles are good for both in-the-round and flat projects
  • Plastic needles are good for beginners
  • Metal needles are good for yarn that might snag on rougher needles
  • Wooden/bamboo needles are good for keeping stitches from slipping around

How to Pick the Right Knitting Needle

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