Knitting isn’t the quaint, old-fashioned hobby it used to be. In fact, its popularity is exploding, with no signs of slowing. And it’s no wonder. Knitting is fun, intellectually stimulating, and creative. Science has shown that it’s terrific for stress relief. Plus, it’s inexpensive, and you can take it everywhere.

The good news is, you no longer need a knitter to show you how to get started but knitting with a friend is certainly more fun. With just a few simple tools, your favorite yarn and a couple of good YouTube videos, you will be knitting in no time.

Knitting Equipment

One of the best things about knitting is that you don’t need a lot of equipment and what you do need is generally inexpensive and easy to find. Yarn, needles, a pattern — there’s not a lot to it. However, there are a few things you’ll need to know.

Knitting needles

Knitting needles with balls of various colors of yarn

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Knitting needles? That’s simple, you might think. But not so fast. It can be complicated.

There are three main kinds of knitting needles: straight, circular, and double pointed. Additionally, there is the cable needle. Correspondingly, each has a different purpose. Not to mention that you will need different sized knitting needles for different projects. And on top of that, there are three different systems of needle sizing. There is one convention for the United States, another for Canada and the United Kingdom, and a metric convention. Let’s have a look.

Needle size

Needles have different sizes for different uses. Large diameter needles are used with thick, bulky yarn. By contrast, thin needles are used for delicate work, small stitches, and fine yarn.

Straight needles often have the size stamped on the cap. Other kinds of needles may or may not be marked with their size. In the United States, the smaller the size number, the smaller the needle. By contrast, in the UK and Canada, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s easiest just to go by the diameter in millimeters. But how can you tell if your needles are unmarked? Fortunately, there’s a tool for that: the knitting needle gauge.

Using a knitting needle gauge tool to judge the needle size

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The gauge comes in different shapes and sizes. However, they all have a series of holes marked with measurements. How do you use it? Simply insert your knitting needle into the different holes until you find one where your needle fits in snugly with no wiggle room. This is the size of your needle.

Which size?

Different kinds of yarn call for different sized needles. Likewise, every skein of yarn will have suggestions for needle size. This article has a chart detailing common needle sizes and their uses. Here are the basics:

For chunky yarn, use needles of 9mm diameter or more.

For light worsted (also called DK or “double knitting”) use needles of 3.5 to 4.5mm in diameter. Light worsted is an eight-ply yarn and is the most popular general-use yarn.

For sock weight yarn, use needles of 2.5 to 3.5mm in diameter. This thin, fine yarn is ideal for baby clothes and toys.

Now, let’s look at the different types of needles.

Straight needles

A selection of different sized straight knitting needles

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Straight, or single-pointed needles have a point at one end to catch and make new stitches. On the other end, there is a cap, which holds stitches on the needle. Most straight needles are between 10 and 16 inches long. You can find straight needles in wood, plastic, and metal. The most common use for straight needles is knitting flat pieces of fabric.

Circular needles

A selection of different sizes of circular knitting needles

Image: CC SA 3.0, by pschemp, via Wikimedia Commons

A circular needle is two short needles connected by a cord. In the past, the cords have been made from metal. Many of today’s cords, however, are plastic. Circular needles come in the same range of sizes as straight needles, though often they are not marked.

When you want to knit a seamless tube, for example, sweater sleeves or socks, a circular needle is the tool you want. You can also use a circular needle to knit flat pieces. In fact, some people just like the fact that the needles are connected and use a circular needle for both kinds of work.

Double pointed needles

A selection of double pointed knitting needles in various materials

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Double pointed needles have points at both ends and no caps. These are another tool for circular and tubular knitting. Specifically, double pointed needles (DPNs) work really well for very small circular things, like the fingers of gloves. By contrast, circular needles are often too large for such small things.

Double pointed needles come in sets of four or five. How do you use them? First, set one aside. This is the needle that you will use to knit the stitches onto the others. Second, distribute your stitches evenly onto the remaining needles. Once you have cast onto the remaining needles, begin to knit. This video will give you an idea how DPNs are different from circular needles. In addition, it will show you how to set up your DPNs and knit with them.

Cable needles

A selection of differnet cable knitting needles

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Do you love the three-dimensional look of traditional Irish fishermen’s sweaters? This is cable knitting. Cable knitting makes its unique patterns by raising stitches from the work and knitting them out of order. And in order to do this, you need cable needles.

You don’t use cable needles to draw stitches. Rather, you use them to hold stitches away from the work while you stitch around them. Cable needles are small. That is, they are about the size of a toothpick. They may be shaped like a hook. They may also resemble a weightlifting bar. Additionally, you can skip using a cable needle altogether, and use a double-pointed needle to hold stitches away, instead.

This video provides the basics of cable knitting.

Knitting loom

You can also knit without any sort of needle by using a loom. Knitting looms come in round and rectangular varieties. With a knitting loom, you set up the rows of stitches along the pegs, then use a loom hook to manipulate them. This video shows you how it works.


Now that you know your needles, it’s time to think about yarn. The temptation is, of course, to grab the yarn that first strikes your fancy. However, yarn is a tool, just like knitting needles. And it’s always better to plan the project and then pick the appropriate tools than to choose your tools and plan a project based on them. What sort of yarn does your project need? Is it, for example, a pair of baby socks, which will need a very fine, soft yarn? Or perhaps you want to knock out a quick, chunky blanket. In any case, it pays to know your yarns. And here’s an easy guide.

Different weights for different purposes

Most of the yarns you will find at the craft store will be labeled with numbers one to six. This is the weight of the yarn. And this is what it means.

  • 1 – Superfine. This is used mainly for baby clothing and items.
  • 2 – Fine. Also for baby items and for some sport weight items.
  • 3 – Light or DK. For lightweight clothing and items.
  • 4 – Medium, including Aran. A good all-purpose yarn for medium weight projects.
  • 5 – Bulky. This is used mainly for rugs and crafts.
  • 6 – Chunky or Super Bulky. For ultra heavyweight projects.

Measuring your gauge

When you’re starting a project, it’s always a good idea to make a test swatch, just to make sure that your yarn is the right size. Even if you’ve followed the label instructions. This video will show you how.

Basic Stitches

There are literally hundreds of knitting stitches. However, there are really only four techniques that you’ll need to do most projects. These are: casting on, casting off, the knit stitch, and the purl stitch. These videos can show you what you need to know.

Casting on

“Casting on” means setting up the yarn on the needles. Every knitting pattern begins with casting on a certain number of stitches.

Knit stitch

The knit stitch is the basic stitch. And it’s easy! The video below will show you how to do it.

Purl stitch

You could get by with just the knit stitch. However, many patterns call for alternating rows of knitting and purling. In addition, some patterns call for different numbers of knit stitches and purl stitches in the same row. Here’s how to purl.

Casting off

Just as you cast on, to get your work onto the needle, you will also need to cast off in order to remove your work from the needle. Another word for casting off is “binding off.”

Where To Find Free Knitting Patterns

You can spend a lot of money on knitting patterns and books. But if you’re just getting started, why not try some of these free patterns instead?

Lion Brand, a yarn retailer, has a vast database of free, downloadable patterns. Choose according to difficulty, type of project, and more.

LoveKnitting also has free patterns. Take a look at their exciting catalog!

Knitting is fun. Also, it’s cheap. Best of all, it’s easy to get started. So what are you waiting for? Give it a try!


Featured Image: CC0 by MabelAmber, via Pixabay