A knitting needle or knitting pin is a long stick or rod used as a
tool in the manufacture of hand knitted fabric.
Antique knitting needles were made from tortoise shell, ivory and
walrus tusks; these materials are now banned and so these needles
are virtually impossible to find. Modern knitting needles are made
of bamboo, aluminum, steel, wood, plastic, glass and casein.
The needle is used
to reach through a knitting stitch in order to snag a bight of yarn
and pull a length back through the stitch to form a new loop at the
top of the current wale of stitches.
The simplest requirements of knitting needles are that they must be
smooth, thin and long enough to reach through a stitch and strong
enough not to break while manipulating the bight of yarn.
Knitting needles, commonly used in pairs, are the only essential tools
for hand knitting (Thomas, 1938; Hiatt, 1988).
Knitting needles have also been called knitting sticks, knitting
pins, knitting wires, or simply wires or rods (Rutt, 2003).
Length and thickness of the needles vary depending on the type of
yarn used (e.g., fine or thick) and the type of fabric to be produced
(e.g., firm or loose).
The most widely recognized form of knitting needle, probably invented
in the mid 19th century, is usually called a straight needle.
Straight needles are narrowed nearly to a point at one end and
capped at the other with a knob or head (like the head of a straight
pin), and are used almost exclusively for knitting flat
two-dimensional fabrics like rectangles and squares.
The needles are popular because the knob at the end of each needle
prevents the stitches from inadvertently falling off the needles.
The oldest known knitting needles, still very much in use, are
double-pointed needles. They are generally used to form
such as socks and the bodies or sleeves of sweaters.
As the name implies, double-pointed needles are tapered at both ends
nearly to points. They are normally used in sets of four or five
as depicted in a number of 14th century oil paintings, typically
called Knitting Madonnas, depicting Mary knitting with double-pointed
needles (Rutt, 2003).
Typical 21st century double-pointed needles range from about 4 in.
to 15 in. in length. Shorter needles are used for cable work,
knitting socks and the fingers of gloves.
Longer needles are used for nearly all other
work, including sweaters, shawls and blankets.
Circular needles, two pointed needles joined together by a flexible
wire or length of nylon, are popular today for
Some manufacturers sell the two needles and the joining length
of nylon separately. The two ends are used exactly like two needles,
in the sense that the knitter holds one in each hand and knits as if
One of the advantages of using circular needles is that the weight of
the fabric is more evenly distributed and, therefore, less taxing on the
arms and wrists of the knitter. Another advantage is that there is more
manoeuvrability of the fabric and needles without fear of the
needles falling out (an occasional occurrence when using
A technique that has become popular for knitting tubes is using two
circular needles, instead of four or five double-pointed needles.
This technique has been evolved further, and now, many people are
knitting two socks, sleeves, or matching items at the same time
on circular needles. It is said that this technique helps alleviate
difficulties when completing the first of a matching pair of items,
then having to duplicate it later on.
Cable needles are used in conjunction with straight and circular
needles to create cables.
Knitting needle storage
A tall, cylindrical container with padding on the bottom to keep
the points sharp can store straight needles neatly.
Fabric or plastic cases similar to cosmetic bags or a chef's
knife bag allow straight needles to be stored together but separate,
rolled up to maximize space.
Circular needles can also be stored this way but are better kept
dangling on a hanger device, so the
cables do not get wound up.
If nylon or plastic circular needles are coiled tightly when in
storage, it may be necessary to soak them in hot water for a
few minutes to get them to uncoil and relax for ease of use.
A needle gauge makes it possible to determine the size
of a knitting needle. Some may also be used to gauge the size
of crochet hooks.
Most needles come with the size written on the needle, but many
needles (like double-pointed needles) tend not to be labeled.
Also, with use and time, the label often wears off.
Needle gauges can be made of any material, but are often made
of metal and plastic. They tend to be about 3 by 5 inches.
There are holes of various sizes through which the needles are
passed to determine which hole they fit best,
and often a ruler along the edge for determining
the gauge of a sample.