Knitting Blog

The Beginner’s Guide to Knitting Needle Sizes

The sheer number of knitting needle sizes and types can be overwhelming for a beginner. Should you use straight, circular or double-pointed needles? Can you use size 7 knitting needles instead of size 8 if that’s all you have available? What’s the difference in plastic and bamboo needles?

It’s enough to make your head spin.

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Before you go crazy and buy every knitting needle size and type available, take a peek at this guide. We’ve divided yarn weights up as they appear in the Craft Yarn Council’s Standard Yarn Weight System.

This is not a hard-and-fast guide to the knitting needle sizes you should use with each yarn. For example, even though the recommended needle size for a lace-weight yarn is 000-1, sometimes a pattern will call for a size 5 needle, which creates a loose lace knit with a lot of drape. (Always consult your pattern first, if you’re using one.) But the guide can help you make a decision between, say, a bamboo double-pointed needle or a plastic circular needle.

Clover Takumi Bamboo 48in Circular Knitting Needles

1. Lace Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 000-1

Some lace-weight projects are large shawls that require tiny needles. But knitting on straight needles can take a toll on your wrists, especially if the project becomes heavy. That’s when needles like the Clover Takumi Bamboo 48in Circular Knitting Needles pictured above come in handy.

Circular knitting needles like these are not just reserved for projects that are worked in the round. You can also use them for flat, back-and-forth row projects that are heavy, like lace shawls and even heavier afghans. The cord takes all the weight off your wrist so that the project weight can rest in your lap.

Of course, if you’re knitting a small, delicate lace knit in the round such as gloves, you can use the circular needle for Magic Loop or opt for a double-pointed needle set.

Clover Takumi Bamboo 5in Double Point Knitting Needles

2. Sock Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 1-3

If you aren’t yet addicted to knitting socks, you soon will be! The sock sneaks up on all us knitters at some point. Most socks are knit using a size 1 or 2 needle, but you can also find sock patterns that are designed for heavier non-sock yarns. In addition to socks, you can knit up beautiful shawls using sock-weight yarn and these small needles.

I love these Clover Takumi Bamboo 5in Double Point Knitting Needles for knitting socks because the short length of the needles means you spend less time pushing your work around on the needles and more time actually knitting. Plus, the bamboo helps the yarn grip the needle so that the yarn doesn’t slip off unexpectedly.

If you are a fan of the Magic Loop, you can also use long circular knitting needles to knit socks. And while I personally haven’t used them for socks, I’ve heard plenty of raves about these Clover Takumi 9-inch circular needles

3. Sport Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 3-5

While not as thin as sock yarn, sport-weight yarn can still use those tinier knitting needles that might cause your hands to cramp up. Straight needles work well for this size if you’re working with a light-weight flat project, but opt for those longer circulars if your project is heavy. I recently knit a sport-weight sweater on size 3 needles, and you can bet I was using those long circulars to support the weight of the garment.

Clover Takumi Interchangeable Circular Knitting Needles Set

4. DK Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 5-7

DK weight is just slightly lighter than worsted weight, making it super common for everything from sweaters to scarves and gloves.

Once you begin working with lots of different yarn weights and decide that you’re going to be a knitter for the long haul, consider investing in a set of needles like the Clover Takumi Interchangeable Circular Knitting Needles Set pictured above. This particular set ranges from knitting needle sizes 3-15.5 and comes with five different cords. It’s like having 60 different knitting needles all rolled into one compact set.

5. Worsted Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 7-9

Worsted weight yarn is probably the yarn you’ll use most often. It is paired with knitting needles in the medium size range — maybe even the same knitting needle sizes that you learned to knit with.

If you are in doubt about the weight of the yarn you are using or the knitting needles sizes, consult the yarn label for help. Yarn labels always include a gauge, as well as a recommended knitting needle size that you can use as a starting point. You might find that you knit tighter or looser than the gauge given; in that case, you’ll need to change your needle size.

Want to know more about worsted weight yarn? Check out our overview on worsted weight yarn that includes plenty of patterns.

Lion Brand Scarf Knitting Needles

6. Bulky/Chunky Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 9-11

The knitting needle sizes are growing larger, and as they do you’ll notice that the knits work up faster and faster. Bulky or chunky weight yarn is famous for being a quick knit. You can use practically any knitting needle type for this yarn, but keep in mind that if you’re working with something large, those long circular needles will be a lifesaver for holding all the weight of the project. 

7. Super Bulky Weight

Knitting needle sizes: 11-17

Super bulky weight is fun to work with, and it’s not just because it knits up quickly. You can experiment with textures like cables that will really stand out when they’re knit up in a super bulky fiber. Imagine a super bulky weight blanket that features a beautiful cable wrapping down the center or even a hat knit up in a basic seed stitch. The super bulky weight yarn, combined with large knitting needles, will make any stitch stand out.

8. Jumbo

Knitting needle sizes: 17 and larger

Make way for thick knits! Jumbo is the newest yarn weight category and uses the biggest knitting needles of all. If you’re working with a small project that isn’t too heavy or wide, the Lion Brand Scarf Knitting Needles (pictured above) are a nice choice. These needles are made of plastic, keeping them lightweight and easy to wield. The needles come in sizes 11-35, so they are perfect for both super bulky weight projects and jumbo projects.

Beginners, what types of knitting needles have you tried so far? Experienced knitters, what are your favorite go-to knitting needles?

knitted hat in progress

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15 Comments

WheelyBad

I think it needs to be acknowledged by the post writers that a large number of Craftsy’s customers are not US based and either mention of the needle sizes in mm or a conversion table or link to one at the end of the post would be greatly appreciated. The same can be said for crochet patterns and stitch guides, I am used to working to US terms but others are not. Although it is simple (US single = UK double crochet, US double = UK treble etc) a conversion table or links to conversion table on each post or pattern would help people a great deal. Same goes for Sewing. A large number of sewers in the UK still measure in imperial, there are a number who, like those in the EU, use metric. I know Craftsy have produced conversation PDFs to go with their sewing classes.

I have seen conversion tables in the past but maybe others, including new members haven’t, plus it isn’t always practical to have to search the site to find alternative sizings or terms for things. Would it be possible to have permanent pages of alternative terms/ measurements for each craft eg, knitting needle sizes, crochet hook sizes and stitches, US/UK/EU/AUS clothing size comparisons, imperial to metric at a glance, weights and fluid measures for cooking and simply post the link to the relevant page (weights and fluid measures after a recipe for example) at the end of a blog post, guide, recipe or pattern so those who need it can look up the terms relevant to their country with just one click. Maybe also offer it for download? A conversion page in a 24 page guide is great but this is often forgotten about when reading a blog post on the bus. If such pages exist then links need to be put on the article pages from now on.

Please consider this, it will better serve the whole of the Craftsy community.

Reply
Christina

I am a knitter from the US and unfortunately we never went to the metric system, although we had been promised that many years ago.
Anyway; well said!

Reply
Chonyi

Thanks for posting this. I have the same problem. I started knitting 60 years ago, so it is not easy to switch from the English to the USA sizes

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lilyj

All the yes! My thoughts exactly. I don’t even have a vague idea about what sizes they’re talking about.

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Leah

I cannot live without my Knitter’s Pride Cubics Interchangeable Circular set or my Cubics DPNs, I use them for almost everything! I have hand and wrist issues and the square shape is so comfortable, the wood is like velvet, I can knit for hours without a problem.

Reply
Diamarie

Leah, thanks for your feedback on the cubic needles. I have been considering them since I also have hands issues.

Also, it is worth mentioning that those of us that are tight knitters may benefit from metal knit needles.

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lilyj

I’m an extremely tight knitter, but I recently discovered that I work way better with bamboo needles (haven’t tried other woods yet). Why? ’cause with them I worry less about dropping stitches and they “encourage” me to loosen up… or the work won’t slide on the needles , at all! Just today I bought a Kinki Amibari starter set. New project tomorrow! Can’t wait <3

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Margaret krawchuk

I want to make a vest for my daughter in law but need it small ladies but l can fine anything that is like what she wants please help me if possible a free pattern would be nice thank you. Very much

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Margaret krawchuk

I also have hand issues so l like to knit a vest that is very simple to make can you please help me out. Thank you margaret

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BringData

I prefer circular needles, I love that they take up less space. Once I started using them, I never went back to straight needles.

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Ben

As a beginner knitter, the US sizes make no sense to me as they don’t seem to relate to any actual measurement. Metric makes far more sense as I know exactly what the difference is between 10mm and 6mm needles. It immediately made sense to me. I have a significant educational background in math and physics though where metric is used almost exclusively (once you get out of grade school in the US anyway). I will probably stick with metric so it would be nice if you would include both as many websites do. Thanks!

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Barbara Young

I agree with those asking for metric needle sizes alongside the US sizes. I am an American living in the USA, but took up knitting in a big way when I lived in Germany. Therefore, my mindset for neeedle sizes is metric. I have no clue what a US6 needle would be! Many of your readers aee unfamiliar with US sizes – please don’t exclude us!

Reply
Roberta

Wooden needles are great for beginners, but I wouldn’t make a huge investment in lots of sizes. As you progress in confidence and speed, most wooden needles will feel sluggish. At that point, a lot of knitters like to switch to a slicker needle.

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Amy

I am have two sets of needles in front of me that are both marked Size 17. One is 12.00mm and one is 12.75mm. Is this simply a manufacturer decision? I am disappointed because the 12.00mm gets the right gauge, but the cord is only 12 inches. The 29 inch cord is connected to needles the wrong size. What gives?

Reply

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