Knitting is a rewarding hobby and a great skill to master. But, getting started with something new can be overwhelming. There’s new terminology to learn and you don’t understand what all these numbers and abbreviations mean. Take a deep breath. You can do it. We’re here to help learn how to knit. If you prefer videos be sure to watch these free videos to learn the basic stitches.
If you’ve looked online at knitting needles, you’re probably staggered by the sheer variety of sizes, materials, lengths, and types. There are three main categories of knitting needles: straights, circulars, and double pointed needles or DPNs.
All knitting needles come in standard sizes. There are two main systems of needle sizing that you’ll likely encounter—US sizing and metric sizing. US standard sizes range from size 000 to 19 or so. You can find larger sizes, but they’re not very common. Metric sizing measures the diameter of the needles in millimeters. Patterns published in the USA will normally use US standard sizing. But, there are a variety of patterns available from designers in other English speaking countries who use metric sizing. Many knitting needles have the US size as well as the mm stamped or engraved on them. If yours don’t and you have a pattern that calls for a metric size, there’s a lot of handy size conversion charts online.
We recommend beginners start with size 8 (5 mm) straight wooden needles.
Straight Needles: Straight needles are the type of knitting needles you’re used to seeing in cartoons. They’re also called single pointed needles. They come in sets of two needles, and are usually available in either 14 inches or 10 inches. Many people like the shorter size for narrower or smaller projects like scarves and washcloths. Straight needles are great for projects that are worked flat. You can knit nearly anything you like on straight needles, though you may have to work certain types of projects in pieces and then seam them together.
Straight needles are made out of a variety of materials. At Alpaca Direct we carry straight needles made from aluminum, bamboo, birch, and rosewood. We recommend beginners start with one of the wood varieties because aluminum can be quite slippery. Slippery needles make it easier for your work to come off the needles accidentally, which is very frustrating, especially when you’re starting out.
Circular Needles: Circular needles are made of a flexible cable with a solid tip on each end. The tips are made of the same types of materials as straight needles. In addition to the standard sizing of the needles, circular needles come in a variety of lengths, ranging from 12 inches to 60 inches. The length of your circular needles is dependent on the project you are working on.
Circular needles allow you to work your knitting in the round, which makes seamless tubes. This is useful for things like hats, socks, sleeves, and the body of a seamless sweater. Because circular needles also come in much longer lengths than straights, you can also work larger flat items on circulars, like blankets and cardigan sweaters knitted in one piece.
Double Pointed Needles (DPNs): DPNs are straight needles with points on both ends. They usually come in sets of five, though sometimes you’ll find them in sets of four. DPNs are used for knitting in the round, usually in projects with a fairly small circumference. They come in different lengths, most often 5 inches, 6 inches, or 8 inches. You can occasionally find longer ones, but they’re fairly rare. DPNs are mostly used for socks, hats, and sleeves that are knitted in the round.
The next piece of the puzzle is selecting a yarn for your first project. This, like picking knitting needles, may seem simple at first. But when you look at the sheer variety of fibers and weights available it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are really only two main things to consider with yarn—fiber content and how thick the yarn is, also called the yarn weight.
Fiber Content: Yarn can be made from a variety of fibers, including wool, alpaca, cashmere, angora, cotton, bamboo, and acrylic, to name a few. There are other exotic or specialty fibers that exist like buffalo, camel, and milk. The fiber content of a yarn affects how you wash your finished project as well as how the finished item behaves. Cotton, for example, tends to grow as it’s used. Wool, on the other hand, has more elasticity and will spring back into shape better. Wool, with the exception of superwash wool, needs to be hand washed. Most animal fibers need to be washed by hand. This is because animal fibers tend to felt, and unless you’re doing that on purpose, it isn’t really a good thing.
Yarn Weight: Yarn is classified by how thick it is. Most commonly, yarn weight is described by a name. From thinnest to thickest they are lace, fingering, sport, DK, worsted, Aran, bulky, and super bulky. These weights also correspond to a standardized number.
First projects should be relatively simple and straightforward. For this reason, many people start with scarves when learning how to knit. In our Beginning Knitting class, we give our students a free simple scarf pattern. It is easily within reach of a first time knitter, but is a bit more interesting than the garter stitch scarf that is often chosen as a first project.
If the thought of a scarf is daunting, you could shorten it, sew the ends together, and make it a cowl or infinity scarf. This article on "How much yarn do I need?" may be helpful when you choose your project.
If you’d like to look for more patterns on your own, our pattern browser is a great place to look. You can filter your search by difficulty, yarn weight, project type, and many other methods. It’s also a great place to explore and get inspired.
Now you know what kind of yarn and needles to buy and have some ideas about first project patterns. Now you just need to know the mechanics of how to form the stitches!
If you’re local, and want to learn how to knit, the best thing you can do is take a class in person. Our Beginning Knitting class includes all the materials, plus two class sessions. You can also attend our open knitting groups for additional help between and after your classes.
If you aren’t in the area, you can visit our YouTube channel and watch videos to learn to knit. Once you have found the perfect project, you can calculate how many skeins you'll need based on the size, gauge and type of yarn you will be using.
You can also join our VIP Facebook group where members share ideas, post projects and help each other out...and it's Free!
Here's an updated video where Kelley shows you everything you'll need to know to knit a scarf. We have more free video tutorials on knitting here
While it can seem overwhelming when you’re first learning a new skill and new terminology, the world of knitters is full of friendly people who are willing to help.
Remember that new skills take practice. Be patient with yourself as you’re learning. And, most importantly, have fun!
Note: Please use the following sizing chart for general reference only. Sizes between different vendors and manufacturers may vary. Please match your measurements to those in the size chart below.