So you've decided you want to learn to knit. What now? This section will help you brush up on yarn, needles and the ways they work together, so you'll feel prepared and confident when you take on your first stitches.
Though knitting needles share a name with their sharper sisters, they really should not be sharp at all. Needles come in many different styles and lengths and can be made out of metal, plastic, casein, bamboo and wood or more exotic materials such as ebony, rosewood, birch and walnut. Each is some variation on the “pointed stick” concept. Which to use depends on your project and personal preference, so experiment with a few different types until you find the one that suits your knitting style.
Straight needles, the ones that actually look like two individual “sticks,” have been around since the beginning of time, and are the tools most of us associate with knitting. Sold in pairs in varying lengths (the most common being 10"/25.5cm and 14"/35.5cm), they sport a point on one end and a knob at the other that keeps stitches from sliding off as you knit.
Circular needles appeared on the scene in the early part of the 20th century, an event heralded by some as the best thing ever to happen to knitting. Made up of shorter pointed “sticks” attached to one another by a smooth nylon cord, circular needles can be used to knit both tubular and flat pieces and are ideal for knitting in tight spaces (e.g. crowded buses, subways, movie theaters). They’ve also solved the problem of the missing needle; you’ll never lose one in the couch cushions or have it roll away from you during a plane’s descent.
The third and final variation on knitting needles are the double-pointed style (dpn). These have points on both ends and are used to knit small items in the round, turn sock heels and the like. They’re a bit trickier to use than straights and circulars, so most knitters wait until later in their knitting careers to use them.
All needles—straight, circular or double pointed—come in a wide range of standardized sizes. They are marked in numeric U.S. sizes (0-50) or millimeters (2.00-25.50) which indicate the diameter of the needle. As a general rule, the lower the number, the thinner the needle. See the chart above for a full listing of sizes.
Now we get to the fun part—yarn, and lots of it. Take your pick from natural fibers like wool, alpaca, angora, cashmere, cotton, linen, silk and mohair or sleek synthetics that range from inexpensive acrylic to pricey, glitzy rayon novelties and even new age materials like microfiber and paper. Thick, thin, smooth or textured, you’ll find them in solid colors as well as striped, variegated (lengths of different colors alternated within the same ball) and multicolored patterns. Make a trip to your local knitting store and take a good look at the multitude of choices available. Chances are you’ll never have time to try them all!
Whether spun from wool or paper, traditional or cutting edge, all yarn is grouped into basic categories to help you choose the right type for your project. Organized by weight (thickness of the yarn) they range from super fine all the way to super bulky.
Okay, so now you’re on your way to grasping the basics of yarn and needle size. But how do they work together? With rare exceptions (like some kinds of lace knitting), thinner yarns work best on thinner needles, while thicker yarns require a needle with a little more heft. We’ll discuss gauge and needle size later in the book, but for now you just need to know that each yarn weight has a corresponding range of recommended needle sizes. The chart below will help you familiarize yourself with how it all fits together.
HOLDING YOUR YARN AND NEEDLES TOGETHER
One of the biggest frustrations for a new knitter is finding the most comfortable way of holding the yarn and needles, so if you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never figure it out, don’t despair. With just a little time and patience your hands will fall into a comfortable rhythm.
Perhaps what makes learning to hold the yarn and needles a bit confusing is that no two people do it the same way. The two main styles of knitting are the English and the Continental. Though both create the same end product, most knitters have very specific opinions about which way is superior (their way, of course!). If someone has already taught you how to knit, chances are you have inadvertently chosen one way over the other. If not, or if you’d like to see how the other side knits, here’s the major difference: English knitters hold and “throw” the yarn with their right hand, while Continental knitters manipulate the yarn with their left hand.
Once you’ve decided which hand will hold the working yarn, there’s still one more decision to make—how to hold the needles. Some knitters like to grasp their needles over the top, while others would rather hold them like pencils, resting the majority of the needle between the thumb and index finger. There is honestly no right or wrong way to accomplish this, so experiment with the different choices and pretty soon you will have developed your own unique style.