Metal, wood, plastic? A detailed buying guide to finding the best knitting needles for beginners.
So, you are eager to start knitting? Ready to start with my free knitting school? Then you definitely need to buy some needles! But how do you pick the best knitting needles for beginners?
You probably already had a look at Amazon or your favorite crafts shop and were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different choices, right? Well, then you came to the right place. In this guide, I will show you exactly which needles will make things easier to start and what you have to look out for.
You probably don’t want to spend a fortune on a 100 pieces knitting needle set made of carbon. But at the same time, you don’t want to waste money on subpar products that will ruin your learning experience, right?
But what exactly makes a good beginner’s knitting needle?
Knitting is a hobby that is enjoyed all around the world. As a result, there are many different variants and techniques, which all require different needles. Hence the vast number of available products. In this guide, I broke down the selection process to the four most important characteristics of a good knitting needle:
- Size (read thickness)
I want to put even the rawest of knitting recruits in a position where they can find the perfect needle for themselves.
Important note: I don’t believe there is a single best needle. All knitters are different. If someone tells you, this is the best needle, then they are always talking about their own preferences. The way you hold your hands and the tension you apply to your yarn matter just as much as the yarn itself and pattern you are working with.
You should also keep in mind that your knitting needle needs will change as you get more proficient. Experienced knitters will prefer fundamentally different needles than beginners. In fact, chances are high you will discard your beginner’s knitting needles after a month or two.
But, let’s dive right into it, shall we?
For the impatient: If you have never knitted a single stitch before, then I want to make this as short as possible. Get cheap single-pointed bamboo needles in US size 8 or 9 (~5mm) for bulky yarn. It will be a great starting point. After you finished your first work, you can come back to this guide and make a more elaborate decision.
Tip: If you got a knitting friend, ask them to borrow you a couple of needles so you can try them out!
The best knitting needle material for beginners
The most important factor that determines how well you will be able to work with a knitting needle is its material. Different surfaces create different frictions. The material of your needle will influence…
- how easy or hard your stitches/yarn slip across your needles,
- how fast you can knit,
- the tension of your yarn,
- and how durable they are.
Now, don’t think of one needle allowing you to knit at 60 miles per hour and the other at walking speed – the differences are comparably small. But still noticeable.
So, let’s take a look at the different materials.
Knitting needles are commonly available in metal, wood, plastics, and carbon. Here are the differences you should be aware off
Wooden knitting needles – for beginners and loose knitters
For knitting beginners, wooden needles are probably the best choice. Bamboo, birch, ebony, and rosewood are very common. They have a nice warm feel to them and generally will feel very comfortable in your hands. They are usually very light. This will be a real benefit for beginners who usually start with needles in bigger sizes. The wood typically creates nice friction, which prevents stitches from falling off and will help you creating a neat work.
Bamboo knitting needles are usually rather inexpensive as well. As most people who start a new hobby don’t want to spend a fortune, this is another reason why I think they are the best knitting needles for beginners. (Note: needles made of exotic woods are anything but cheap, though.)
On the negative side, wood can break rather easily (especially the small-sized needles) and if you are not careful you can also damage them creating unwanted splinters.
- Pro: light, warm & comfortable, moderate friction
- Con: break easily; damaged surface can easily pull threads
- Suitable for: people with joint problems, beginners, loose knitters
Metal needles – for speed knitters
Metal needles are typically cast from brass or aluminum. They are very durable and rigid, with a nice sleek surface and great for speed knitting.
The thing is, while professionals will love the way the stitches slip off so easily (I am among them), beginners might have problems with the needles sliding out of your work all the time.
I try to stay away from the small sizes in metal. Anything below size 1 (2,25 mm) will get crooked very fast. Also, be aware that if you are working with acrylic yarn, you may experience triboelectric charging. Metal needles are also somewhat louder than other needles (this may disturb hyper-sensitive persons).
- PRO: very durable, allows very fast knitting, very small sizes available
- Con: cold, triboelectric charging, slippery, you may accidentally bend them
- Suitable for: fast knitters who keep a high yarn tension
Plastic knitting needles – for extra-large projects
Plastic needles are somewhere in between wood and metal needles. They are the lightest option and excel at very big sizes where other materials would simply be too heavy. They are both durable and cheap. If you feel that wooden needles create not enough tension in your work, then acrylic needles will be an excellent idea. They can be a fine choice for knitting beginners and sometimes come in really fun colors.
- Pro: moderately durable, cheap, ideal for extra-large projects
- Con: Not the best needle to work non-natural yarns, high friction
- Suitable for: Loose knitters and beginners
Carbon knitting needles – for professionals and very tight knitters
My favorite knitting needles are made of carbon with a metal tip. Carbon is extremely hard and light. I always bend my metal needles and frequently have to replace them. Carbon won’t bend even in size 0 and feels much warmer than metal as well.
Since the tip is usually made of metal, they are perfect for speed knitting, but the higher friction of the carbon prevents the work from sliding off (especially when you work on a circular project like socks).
They are pretty expensive, and I’d generally only recommend them for experienced knitters who are looking for something special (and those who frequently break their needles).
- Pro: A combination of fast knitting tips & medium friction on the needle, don’t bend, very light & warm
- Con: Very expensive, tips may break off nevertheless
- Suitable for: patterns with very small needles, knitters with a strong grip
Note: There are a needles made of natural materials as well. Most specifically bone and horn (like porcupine needles). As these are not readily available in western knitting shops, I am not going to discuss them here.
The best Knitting needle size for beginners
Knitting needles come in many different sizes. There is a metric system, the UZ size, and the UK size. It’s probably just as confusing as shoe sizes. But don’t worry. You’ll mostly find the US size printed somewhere, even if it’s a European needle and vice versa. Also, while the name for the sizes varies, the actual physical size is the same. So, it doesn’t matter if you knit with a size US size 3, UK size 10 or European 3,25mm needle.
I personally usually use the European system the most, as it the clearest, and I see a lot of patterns agreeing with me. If a pattern says “size 5” it can be quite confusing because you might not know if that’s a UK size, a US size or an old US size.
Anyways, for knitting beginners, I recommend medium-sized needles. That means around 5 mm or US size 8 to 9.
Why? Well, the very small needle sizes can be very tricky to knit. But perhaps more importantly, it will take a long time to finish a project.
Do the maths: If you were to knit socks with 2mm needles, you will have to cast on as much as 80 or 100 stitches and then knit them for 200 rows. That’s a lot of stitches!
If you knit the same sized socks using 3 mm needles, you’ll suddenly only need around 48 stitches and perhaps 100 rows. Because you need roughly the same amount of time to finish each stitch, that means it will take 3-4 times as long to finish the work.
I feel it’s important that beginners experience a feeling of success – otherwise you’ll get frustrated or bored very soon. And that’s not good, eh?
Don’t pick too big needles either. While you will produce a lot of fabric in a very short amount of time, they are actually a bit unwieldy and won’t make it easier at all for you to start knitting.
Different knitting needle types
Last, but certainly not least, you need to decide on a type of needles. Knitting needles come in quite a lot of different shapes.
Why? Well, they are all produced with a certain method or pattern in mind. Here are the most important types you should be aware of.
Single Point needles
The oldest and most common needles are single point needles. They have a little knob at one end, which prevents the work from slipping off the far end. I feel these are the best needles for beginners and are perfect for knitting stockinette stitch patterns.
As you start out, you won’t have perfect control over your work yet. It’s very common for beginners to drop stitches. Also, every time you stop knitting, you have to put your unfinished work somewhere. Again, it’s so easy for your work to slide off those needles. With single point needles you can bunch your work to the side with the knob to prevent that.
The only problem with single-pointed needles is: The amount of stitches you can cast on is limited by the length of the needles. So, they are not suitable for very large projects. But most beginners don’t plan to work on a 3-yard lace shawl as their first project, eh?
Circular needles are very similar to single-pointed needles. The only difference is the flexible cable connecting the two needles. This allows you to cast on a lot more stitches while keeping the weight of the needles low at the same time.
They can be a great choice for beginners. The two tapered ends are fairly short and thus easy to handle, while you can easily let your work rest on the cable during knitting pauses.
Later on, you can use them to work in the round as well as interesting projects that require you to be able to start from either end. They are very versatile, but beginners may find it a bit difficult to handle the cable at the start.
Double pointed needles
If you are interested in knitting socks or hats then you will have to learn circular knitting at one point or another. For circular knitting, you will need double pointed-needles (also needed for the two colored brioche stitch), you can slide in and out of either end of your work.
It’s an advanced knitting technique that requires quite a bit of control over your work and delicate yarn tension, so I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.
These needles are usually fairly short (10-20 cm). This makes it even easier for your work to slide off.
A special sort of double-pointed needles is the cable needle, which can be used to temporarily hold stitches when knitting cable patterns.
The ideal length of your knitting needles
At the very end of this guide, we have to talk about the length of your needles. Knitting needles don’t only come in different sizes, but also in different lengths.
As a rule of thumb: The longer the needle, the harder it is to work with.
At the same time, you don’t want your knitting needles to be long enough to accommodate all your stitches. For beginners, I thus recommend knitting needles that are 2 inches longer than the pattern requires. Say you want to create a scarf that is 7 inches wide, then pick up needles that are around 9 inches.
Of course, you can bunch together the stitches on smaller needles as well, but this will increase the risk of stitches dropping off the front tip when you are not watching.
Summary: the best knitting needles for beginners
The best knitting needle for beginners are single point needles made of bamboo with a length of around 9 inches. The knob on the far end and the medium friction of the wood prevents the work from sliding off too easily. They are both very light and warm, making them very easy to work with. On top of that, they are often among the cheapest option.
I do not recommend buying one of these big bamboo needle sets, though. Rather pick a single quality pair instead. First of all, you don’t know if bamboo is the perfect material for you in the long run. Secondly, you probably don’t know which projects will be next and if single-point needles will be what you need. And of course, the tips of the bamboo needles can split rather easily, so you want quality over quantity.
Next lesson: How to find the best knitting yarn for beginners.