Before starting to knit, it is important to familiarize yourself with the basic materials involved with knitting as well as a few common terms you will encounter frequently in patterns and posts.
Knitting Needles: Knitting needles come in a variety of sizes, materials, and types.
- Size: The size of a knitting needle is denoted by a number ranging from 000 to 50 that represents the diameter of the needle. Size 000 needles are the smallest needles available and Size 50 are the largest. This particular numbering system is specific to the United States, however, so when determining which size needle a pattern requires, be sure to look for the U.S. Size description in the materials section. Aside from diameter, all needles also come in different lengths to accommodate different-sized projects.
- Material: Knitting needles of all shapes and sizes are generally made from either metal or bamboo. Most experienced knitters prefer metal needles, as they tend to increase knitting speed since the yarn slips over them more easily, but new knitters often prefer bamboo needles for the opposite reason — the bamboo grips the yarn better, so it decreases the likelihood of losing stitches while knitting. Ultimately, however, the choice in material comes down to a personal preference.
- Type: There are three basic designs for knitting needles — straight needles, circular needles, and double-pointed needles.
- Straight needles: Straight (or single point) needles are probably what you first think of when you picture knitting needles. There are two separate needles in each set, each with a point on one end and a cap to keep the yarn from falling off on the other.
- Circular needles: Circular needles are much shorter than straight needles and are connected by a flexible synthetic chord at one end of each needle so that the two needles create a circle when the pointed tips are brought together. These needles are used in circular knitting when you want to knit a tube of fabric, such as a hat.
- Double-pointed needles: Double-pointed needles look somewhat like straight needles but are typically a bit shorter and have a point on each end of the needle instead of just one, hence the name. You will often see these referred to in patterns as DPNs. Like circular needles, DPNs are also used to create tubes of fabric, but they are specifically designed to make smaller tubes, such as socks.
Yarn: When selecting yarn for a project, the two most important aspects to consider (other than color) are weight and fiber content.
- Weight: Yarn weight refers to the relative thickness of any given yarn compared to another. When combined with needle size, yarn weight determines how thick/bulky a particular project will be. In order to create standardization across all yarn brands, the Craft Yarn Council has developed a standard yarn weight system that groups yarn into seven different weight categories, each with a corresponding number and recommended needle size. Most knitting patterns will specify in the materials section which yarn weight is preferred for the particular project at hand.
- lace (0) — U.S. Size 000 to 1
- super fine (1) — U.S. Size 1 to 3
- fine/sport (2) — U.S. Size 3 to 5
- light/DK (3) — U.S. Size 5 to 7
- medium/worsted weight (4) — U.S. Size 7 to 9
- bulky/chunky (5) — U.S. Size 9 to 11
- super bulky/roving (6) — U.S. Size 11 to 17
- jumbo (7) — U.S. Size 17 and above
- Fiber content: Fiber content refers to the blend of materials used to make a particular yarn. Some yarns are made entirely of wool, whereas others are made from cotton, silk, fleece, synthetic fibers, or some combination of all of these materials. Different types of yarn fibers have different qualities (look, feel, texture, price, wash-ability), and all of these factors need to be weighed when choosing which yarn is best for your current project.
Stitch: Each individual loop that is created in a knitting project is referred to as a “stitch.”
Tension: When working with yarn, “tension” indicates how tightly you hold the working yarn as you create new stitches. Tension determines how loose or tight your stitches will be, so it is important to try to maintain even tension while you work so that your stitches appear uniform throughout the piece. The tightness or looseness of your stitches also affects your gauge, which, as discussed below, determines the final dimensions of your project.
Gauge: In knitting, “gauge” refers to the number of stitches and rows needed to make a 1″x 1″ square of fabric using a particular needle size and yarn weight in the current pattern. Due to individual variations in yarn tension while knitting, two different knitters using the same needles, yarn, and pattern can each arrive at a slightly different gauge if they are simply knitting at their default tension. Thus, it is important to check your gauge before beginning a project and, if needed, adjust your tension accordingly so that the piece turns out as intended.