For some people, knitting needles are a world of confusion. I’ll never forget the novice knitter who gazed at me in frustration and asked, ‘But why are they all different sizes? What do they do?’ It was then I realized that knitting needle sizes were not clear to everyone — far from it. With that in mind, here’s my easy guide to knitting needle sizes.
So why are they different, anyway?
Simply put, the bigger the needle, the bigger the stitch. Knitting works by creating loops of yarn, or stitches, and weaving them through one another. Large knitting needles produce large stitches with large gaps in them. That means that your work develops faster (big stitches means you need less rows to get the length you require). Large sizes work well for afghans or decorative sweaters. Small knitting needles create a tighter stitch that doesn’t leave holes in it. They take a lot longer to work with since they are so narrow. We use very small knitting needles for things like mittens and socks — items where warmth is an issue and you don’t want stray fingers or toes poking through errant holes.
Understanding knitting needle sizes
Most patterns contain a suggestion of what size needle you should use to obtain the right size finished product. So how do you find a certain size of needle? It seems pretty straightforward: the pattern calls for a size 9 needle, so you go to the store and find one with a 9 on it. There’s only one problem: there are actually three methods of sizing needles: American, British, and metric. You’ll be able to tell right away if it’s a metric size because it will be in millimetres (5.5 mm instead of a numeric size). British and American needles, though, both use numbers for sizing. In American sizes, smaller is smaller. In British sizes, smaller is bigger. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s worth your time to double check which knitting needle size your pattern actually calls for and look up a conversion chart online if you’re not sure what to buy.
Choosing your knitting needles
If your pattern doesn’t call for a specific needle size, or you are making your own pattern, here are some rules to follow. -Use very small needles for socks, mittens, intricate sweaters, or anything where you want a tight, neat final design -Use very large needles only for decorative items — nothing where warmth or function is an issue -Medium sized needles, around a US size 7, are functional but not too small and work well for most items If you follow these tips, you should have no trouble deciphering and working with knitting needle sizes. Take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help at craft and knitting stores: they will be happy to help you find the right knitting needles.