Does Knitting Needle Size Matter?

Are you a novice knitter and overwhelmed with the choices in knitting needles? You may be wondering why there are so many different shapes and sizes. Does it matter which needle you use? We researched all the details on knitting needles and how to choose the right shape and size for your project.

The size of your knitting needles matters and will affect the outcome of the size of your project. The needle you choose will depend on the weight of the yarn you are knitting with and the desired size of the project.

To understand why knitting needles come in so many sizes, you'll need to understand the concept of "gauge." This is much more important when knitting garments or items that need to be a specific size when completed. Choosing the right knitting needles for your pattern will ensure an expert outcome in the finished project. Keep reading to learn all the specifics of matching your knitting needles to your project, and you'll be turning out expert knitting in no time.

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Understanding Knitting Needle Sizes

Close up on woman's hands knitting

If you are knitting a project from a pattern, the pattern will usually recommend a specific yarn and the size of knitting needles to use. Following these instructions gives you the best way to recreate the project as accurately as possible. The pattern will also list the expected "gauge" for this yarn and needle combination.

In general, the larger the knitting needle diameter, the larger the stitch or "gauge." However, the gauge is also impacted by yarn weight. A heavyweight yarn would be too challenging to knit with on small diameter needles and automatically give a larger width stitch.

What is gauge?

Knitting gauge is a measure of stitches in a swatch of knitting. For example, a pattern may state a gauge of 9 stitches over 2 inches of stockinette stitch. To ensure you are getting a gauge of a pattern, you will knit a swatch that is just a little larger than the measurement given in the design. Then measure the number of stitches in your sample across the number of inches listed.

Use a gauge tool like this one to help you measure your gauge.

Click here to see this gauge tool on Amazon.

What if the number of stitches in your swatch doesn't match the pattern gauge, or you've chosen a different yarn than recommended? This is when you adjust your needle size to accommodate. Sometimes even using the exact yarn and needle listed in the pattern, your gauge won't match. You may be a tighter or looser knitter than the pattern author.

If your stitch count is fewer than the pattern gauge size down your knitting needle.

If your stitch count is more than the pattern gauge size up your knitting needle.

Gauge is most important when knitting garments. As you can see, a sweater knitted on the wrong size needles for the gauge will come out either too large or small. Gauge is less critical for a project such as a blanket or a scarf that doesn't necessarily need to fit. But you may still need to adjust needle size based on yarn weight.

Yarn weight

The next thing to consider when choosing a knitting needle is the weight of your yarn. Yarn comes in 7 weights. Reference the list below for the recommended needle size to use with each weight of yarn.

  1. Lace weight yarn: US needle 000-1
  2. Superfine, fingering, or baby weight yarn: US needle 1-3
  3. Fine or sport weight yarn:  US needle 3-6
  4. Light worsted or double knitting (DK):  US needle 5-7
  5. Medium or worsted weight, afghan, or Aran: US needle 7-9
  6. Bulky or chunky:  US needle 10-11
  7. Super bulky:  US needle 13-15

A handy tool like this can help you determine your needle size.

Click here to see this needle size gauge on Amazon. 

Types of knitting needles

There are five different types of knitting needles; however all come in the same sizes - 0000 up to 50. The larger the number, the thicker the needle. Knitting needles are also made in various materials ranging from bamboo, wood, aluminum, to plastic.

Straight needles

Click here to see these straight needles on Amazon.

Circular needles

Click here to see these circular needles on Amazon.

Interchangeable needles

Click here to see these interchangeable needles on Amazon.

Double-pointed needles

Click here to see these double-pointed needles on Amazon.

Cable needles

Click here to see these cable needles on Amazon.

What size knitting needles do I need?

The size of knitting needles that you need depends on the type of knitting you intend to do. If you are using a pattern, check the pattern recommendation first for the yarn/needle combination. You may need to adjust if you've chosen a different yarn or if you tend to knit more tightly or loosely.

A beginner will the most easily handle a medium-sized needle. Size 6, 7, or 8 are good choices. A length of 10 inches is suitable for most projects.

Click here to see this starter set of knitting needles on Amazon.

What is the most commonly used knitting needle size?

The most commonly used knitting needle is a size eight straight needle. This size needle works best with medium weight or Aran yarn. Many beginners learn to knit with this combination of yarn and needle. The medium weight of the yarn combined with a needle that is not too thick or thin allows a beginner to get a feel for the stitches and techniques of knitting with a needle that is easy to handle.

Click here to see these size 8 knitting needles on Amazon.

Do larger needles use more yarn?

Although it doesn't seem to make sense, you use less yarn using larger needles. Larger needles will make larger stitches and bigger rows. You'll need less yarn to do the same project than if you use a smaller needle.

Click here to see these size 50 knitting needles on Amazon.

How many stitches can fit on a knitting needle?

Knitting needles come in varying lengths. The number of stitches that will fit depends on the length of your knitting needle. A straight knitting needle can hold twice its length in stitches, while a circular needle can hold three times its length. Circular needles are preferable for extensive projects like blankets; as a size 8, 16-inch long circular needle will hold between 130-260 stitches.

Click here to see these size 8 circular needles on Amazon. 

How do I know what size my circular knitting needles are?

Most needles are labeled with their size, but sometimes the number may be difficult to read or can be rubbed off over time. A needle size gauge can help you determine the size of your needles.

The diameter of a circular knitting needle is measured the same as a straight needle and follows the same sizing. Use the same needle size gauge for both straight and circular needles.

Click here to see this needle size gauge on Amazon.

Circular knitting needles come in various lengths; the most common circular needles are 16, 24, or 32 inches long. The length of the circular needle is measured from needle tip to tip. This is important when using interchangeable needles. The cord between the needles can be changed out to alter the overall length of the circular set.

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There's a lot to consider when choosing a set of knitting needles. If you are using a pattern, follow the guidelines given in the pattern to get you started. Gauge swatches are your friend when beginning to knit. Too many stitches mean you need a larger needle, and too few means try a smaller needle. Keep swatching and test out different styles of needles, and soon you'll be turning out hand knits to be proud of!

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