Ultimate Guide: Knitting Needle Sizes for Beginners

Ultimate Guide: Knitting Needle Sizes for Beginners

Ultimate Guide to Knitting Needles
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What size knitting needles should I choose for my first project?  What kinds of needles are good for beginners? I don’t know where to start! 

These are the questions I hear most often from totally new knitters.  You’re standing in the knitting aisle at the craft store or browsing online with a bazillion knitting needle choices.  It can be overwhelming. How do you know which pair of knitting needles to pick?!

I decided to split into a series of posts to make all this info about knitting needles easier to digest. Who knew knitting needles would be so complicated! Don’t worry, we’re going to break this down into three categories; knitting needle sizes, knitting needle types, and knitting needle materials. Follow the these links to jump to the section you need.

  1. Knitting Needle Sizes
  2. Knitting Needle Types
  3. Knitting Needle Materials

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In this post, I’m going to cover the basics of knitting needle sizes; how to understand the different standard sizing systems, how to determine the size you need and find the size on your needles, and which needles are best for beginners.

I’ve also included links to project kits that are appropriate for different sizes for your convenience! Plus, a great starter kit with a variety of knitting projects using a variety of sizes to make things even simpler.

1.     Understanding Knitting Needle Sizes

Knitting Needles sizes are based on the needle’s diameter. The smaller the size the thinner the knitting needle.  These sizes usually correspond with yarn weight; the smaller the needle, the thinner the yarn you would use.  You can find the suggested needle size for your yarn on it’s label to make things easier.

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Image Source: Craft Yarn Council

You can see in the above picture from the Craft Yarn Council that this example yarn label is suggesting US Size 8 or 5mm knitting needles in the second box from the left.

Standard Sizing

In the US standard knitting needle sizes go from size 0-50 (although there are needles as small as 0000 used for delicate lace, these are not common).  Knitting needles are also sized in millimeters (used mostly outside the US) and go from 2mm to 25mm.  There is also a UK/Canadian Sizing system, in which the smaller the knitting needle the larger the size number. 

Note: US size and Metric sizes are not equivalent, meaning a US size 8 is not 8mm…it’s 5mm.  Make sure you’re looking at the correct number when choosing your knitting needles.

Why Does Knitting Needle Size Matter?

Be careful about picking a different size than your pattern or yarn suggests, or just using what you have because it looks close enough. Many new knitters learn this the hard way. Knitting needles that are too big or too small will result in a finished project that is also too big or too small.

This is because the reason for different sizes of knitting needles is to control the size of the finished project. Tighter stitches knit with smaller needles will be close together and thicker, creating a smaller size and denser fabric. Loose stitches knit with larger needles will be spread apart, drapey, and may have holes or look lacey. Yarn weight (the thickness of the yarn) and gauge also come into play…I’ll have a post on that at a later date.

What Size Do I Need?

To make things simple, just follow the suggested size in the pattern you want to create. A good pattern will have this listed in a “materials list”. As a beginner, I recommend you start there.

If you’re purchasing a kit online many stores offer the option to purchase needles that go with the kit…which saves you from hunting around for the right sizes.

Where to Find the Size

The packaging or online product listing will almost always include the knitting needle size. Be careful to check the details for the size/s included.

Craftsy Bamboo Double Point Knitting Needles
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Craftsy Bamboo Double Point Knitting Needles

Most needles have the size stamped on either the shaft or end of the needle. But what do you do if it’s rubbed off? Or, if you have an antique needle with no stamp at all?

If you have any knitting needles that don’t show a size, you can use a knitting needle gauge. This is also helpful if your needle size is in US sizing, but your pattern specifies metric, or vice versa.

Boye Metal Needle Gauge
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Boye Metal Needle Gauge

Summary of Sizes

Sizes US 0000-0 (less than 2mm)

This size is actually hard to find as they’re used in very intricate lace knitting.  Not many people use these because of their super tiny size.

Sizes US 0-3 (2-3.25mm)

These knitting needle sizes are thin and mainly used for socks. You can also knit up very lightweight garments like shawls and lace. Typically used with sock or fingering weight yarn.

Here’s an intermediate sock knitting kit that uses US size 3 (3.25mm) knitting needles:

Sizes 3-5 (3.25-3.75mm)

These knitting needles are fairly small.  They’re great for using lighter sport weight yarn and mainly used for knitting baby items, lightweight sweaters, and other accessories, and some socks use these sizes.

Here’s a fun cowl knitting kit that uses US size 4 Knitting needles:

Sizes 5-7 (3.75-4.5mm):

These are on the smaller side of medium and used to knit many items; lots of winter accessories, color work and fair isle, sweaters, and baby blankets.  Typically used with DK / Light / 3 weight yarn.

Here’s an adorable baby cardigan knitting kit made using US size 6 knitting needles:

Sizes US 7-9 (4.5 mm-5.5 mm):

These medium sized needles are the most common, especially for beginners. They’re used mostly for winter accessories like hats scarves, and mittens, warm sweaters, toys, and other accessories. Worsted weight yarn pairs with these needles as your knitting stash staples.

Here is a great knitting kit, suitable for beginners, and made with US size 7 knitting needles. These mitts are part of the Bluprint Knitting Box that pairs with the Startup Library: Knitting class.

Sizes US 9-11 (4.5 mm – 8 mm)

Now we’re getting to the larger knitting needles and more great sizes for beginners. These knitting needles are used with Aran or Bulky / 5 weight yarn to make cozy winter accessories, blankets, sweaters and anything you’d like to make a little heavier and warm.

Below is an example of a project you can make using US size 11 (8mm) knitting needles. This striped pom pom hat project is covered in the Startup Library: Knitting class, along with the above mitts.

Sizes US 11-19 (8mm-15mm)

OK, now we’re getting to some hefty knitting needle sizes. These bigger needles can be paired with Super Bulky / 6 yarn and are used to knit very chunky, over-sized items. Thick throw blankets, fluffy sweaters, you can have a lot of fun knitting with these needles.

Keep in mind that as we go up in size these needles may be harder to grip and manipulate the yarn. Make sure to do hand stretches if you struggle with joint pain.

Here’s a third knitting kit included in the Bluprint Knitting Box that goes with the Startup Library: Knitting Class. You’ll get a chance to practice with US Size 17 needles with this Waffle Stitch Cowl kit.

Sizes US 19-50 (15mm-25mm)

The remainder of knitting needles are huge. You’ll need jumbo weight yarn, which usually comes as super soft roving. Jumbo knitting is great for creating a statement piece, experimenting with super over-sized cables, textures, and shapes, and because it’s so big it allows you knit very quickly.

If you want to give them a try, here’s a free knitting pattern from Lion Brand that looks like a great project:

While these can be a lot of fun, they’re not very common and can be difficult to manipulate and grasp. Instead, you might consider trying arm knitting, covered in the next section, rather than spend money on a new pair of needles.

Alternatives to Needles:

Arm knitting and finger knitting have become very popular lately. For those who find holding knitting needles very fiddly and cumbersome, this can be a great alternative.

Finger knitting can be used to help children learn to knit as a first step, but it’s not limited to kids. There are a lot of great items you can make using just your fingers.

Arm knitting is a great substitute for jumbo knitting needles. You can knit giant blankets and other home decor with huge, thick specialty yarn. This book is full of arm and finger knitting patterns, from Anne Weil of Flax & Twine


Still Feeling Lost? Check This Out:

If you’re a total beginner, struggling to sort out the knitting info overload, I highly recommend you start with the Bluprint Box: Knitting that comes with the three knitting kits mentioned above. Look at all the stuff that’s included below!

You’ll get three different projects that use different knitting needles (US sizes 7, 11, and 17 (4.5, 8, and 12.75mm)) so you can get a better idea of the difference between them. Plus all that YARN and other goodies!

They’ve really set this up to be an exhaustive overview of the tools, materials, and techniques of learning to knit…so you don’t have to feel lost about where to start with any of it.

I also love that you can upgrade this kit to include a year subscription of unlimited Bluprint class for only $9.99! Opening up a whole bunch of possibilities, not only with knitting, but you can jump over to other categories and learn crochet, embroidery, quilting…so much crafty awesomeness!!

Conclusion:

I hope you enjoyed this brief, but thorough, summary of all the different knitting needles sizes and their uses. Do you have a better understanding of how the sizing system works, which needles to use for different projects, and some ideas of things you can make using those needles?

Don’t Miss This!

My Free Resource Library currently features a Learn to Knit Checklist that you can use to track your progress as you gain new skills. Plus a shopping list for essential supplies you can use to shop online, or print and take to your favorite craft store. Sign up below to download.

I’d Love to Hear From You!

Which knitting needles have you tried so far? Or is this something that’s holding you back from giving knitting a try? Let me know about your experiences in the comments.

If you have additional questions please send me an email at krista@woolysimple.com. I love getting your emails and answer each one personally!

More in this Series:

  1. Knitting Needle Sizes
  2. Knitting Needle Types
  3. Knitting Needle Materials

Sources:

Ultimate Guide: Knitting Needle Sizes for Beginners
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Ultimate Guide Knitting Needles Wooly Simple

This Post Has 2 Comments

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m working on lots of new posts 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoy what I’ve got posted so far!

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