What tools and materials do you need to start knitting?

When I'm teaching someone how to knit for the first time, I'm often asked "what tools and materials do I need to start knitting?" or "which knitting needles should I buy?".

The great thing about knitting is you don't need to invest a lot of money in a lot of kit. You can build up what you need over time, project by project. It's a very affordable hobby!

If you are about to learn to knit, or are in the early stages of learning how to knit, here's a short list of the things you will definitely need. I've also including the things you might need, but not necessarily for every project.

The tools and materials you need when you learn to knit

You definitely need:

  • Knitting needles

  • Yarn

  • Scissors

  • Darning needle

You might need:

  • Knitting pattern

  • Tape measure

  • Row counter

  • Stitch holder

  • Stitch marker

  • Pins

Here's a bit more information about knitting needles and yarn...

Knitting needles

There are many different types of knitting needles in different shapes and sizes, and it can be a bit overwhelming when you first learn how to knit.

Materials that knitting needles are made from

Knitting needles are usually made from either wood, metal or plastic. Over time you will work out which type you prefer. Wooden needles are often easier for beginners, because the yarn doesn't slip so much. This reduces the risk of all your stitches flying off the needles!

Wooden knitting needles are more sustainable than metal or plastic, so they get my vote. I rarely use plastic needles, although some people like them because they warm up quickly and are cheap to buy. When the knitting needles I am using are narrow (less than 3mm diameter) I use metal knitting needles because they tend to be stronger.

Types of knitting needles

Different types of knitting needle

There are different types of knitting needles:

  • Single pointed knitting needles: for knitting flat or straight pieces of fabric, like jumpers or scarves.

  • Double pointed knitting needles: for knitting tubes, like socks or gloves. Knitting on double pointed knitting needles is called 'knitting in the round'.

  • Circular knitting needles: can be used for straight knitting or knitting in the round. Often used for knitting in the round for bigger pieces of work - like a tube for a snood or even a jumper.

  • Cable needles: these are a shorter double pointed knitting needle, used for doing cable work. Check out our stitch glossary to see some examples of cable knitting (like cable braid, cable twist and celtic braid)

Size of knitting needles

Knitting needles range from very small diameter (2.0mm) to very large diameter (40mm and above!). The size of knitting needles you choose is affected by the thickness (weight) of your yarn and the density of the fabric you are producing. As a general rule, the thicker the yarn, the larger the needles you would use. This does not always follow, as sometimes you will knit with a thin yarn on large needles to get a loose fabric.

When you buy a ball of yarn it usually gives you guidance on the range of knitting needle sizes that can be used with it.

The name of the size of the knitting needle can be written in millimetres (mm), or in UK or US measurements which are numbers to describe the thickness. For example, a 4mm diameter knitting needle is the equivalent of a US size 6 or a UK size 8 knitting needle. We have a handy knitting needle size conversion chart to use if you need to convert a knitting needle size from one naming convention to another.

Link to knitting needle size conversion chart

If you're a first-time knitter, it's good to start with some knitting needles that aren't too big and aren't too small. Something like a 4mm pair of single pointed needles.

Knitting needles also vary in length. I prefer to knit with shorter needles because I find them easier to work with. But some people prefer longer needles. You will develop your own personal preference the more you knit. Sometimes you need longer needles because you are working on bigger pieces, and you need enough space on the needles for all of your stitches.

World record knitting needles!

As I write this, the largest knitting needles in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records) is 3.98m (13ft 0.75in) long and have a diameter of 8.25 cm (3.25in) in the USA on 20 May 2013. One of the qualifying criteria to achieve world record size knitting needles is that you have to be able to knit with them. Would need some sizeable muscles to contend with that form of giant knitting!

Yarn

Yarn comes in the most fantastic variety of shapes, sizes and colours. There are some extremely talented indie dyers, creating hand-dyed yarn in wonderful combinations. The world is your oyster when choosing the colours you want to work with. If you need a bit of inspiration, read our blog on choosing yarn colour.

Different types of yarn

Yarn weight (thickness)

The thickness of the yarn is known at the weight of the yarn. There are different names for different weights, some of them seem a little strange when you first find out about them! There are different names to mean the same weights from different parts of the world. For example, a medium-weight yarn in the UK is called 'Aran' but in the US is called 'Worsted'.

There is a really useful chart on the Craft Yarn Council website which explains all of the different standard yarn weights, and the different names for the same weights.

Yarn is made from different materials including animal fibres, plant fibres and synthetic materials. To name a few:

  • Wool (from sheep)

  • Alpaca (from alpaca!)

  • Angora (from goats)

  • Silk (from silkworms)

  • Linen

  • Cotton

  • Bamboo

  • Acrylic

Yarn is also made from recycled material such as recycled t-shirts and recycled silk.

I avoid knitting with synthetic fibres. I find that yarn produced from animal or plant fibres feels softer and is more enjoyable to work with. Some synthetic fibres are more flammable and can melt if put near an open flame, which doesn't feel like a good thing to have against your skin. Wool has a natural flame retardant. It naturally regulates itself to the individual's body temperature, being warm in winter and cool in summer. It is also naturally water resistant.

Synthetic fibres do have benefit is when nylon is blended with yarn to make sock yarn. This makes your socks much more hard-wearing. When you've gone to all the effort of knitting some lovely socks, you want them to last as long as possible!

When I choose a yarn I'm also very interested in the welfare standards of the animals that have been used to produce the yarn. Whilst most farming practices are good, there are cases of animal cruelty and for me it is important to understand what I'm buying and how the animals have been treated. I also love yarns made from recycled materials. We've only got one planet! We should enjoy our time here but act respectfully and kindly.

Do you want to learn how to knit?

We are working together with the fabulous Wool Couture Company in Yorkshire to provide classes to teach you how to knit. There are a range of classes on offer ranging from classes for absolute beginners to classes for people who already know how to knit and want to develop their skills.

Check out http://www.woolcouturecompany.com/workshops/ to see what's on offer!

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