Don’t get overwhelmed by all the sock knitting needle options! Learn what you need to know to choose the best sock knitting needles for you. You’ll be casting on your own pair of hand knit socks in no time.
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Knitting a pair of socks is the quintessential project for knitters of all skill levels. But if you are a new knitter it can be a bit daunting to knit your first sock. There are so many things to consider: Toe-up socks or cuff-down socks? Acrylic, wool, or blended yarn? Heel flap and gusset, short row heel, or afterthought heel? But the biggest question of all is what is the best sock knitting needle for me?
I have been knitting for nearly 15 years. In that time I have managed to produce a drawer full of socks using a variety of knitting needles. Using my years of knitting experience you can make the right choice of knitting needles for you!
Things to think about before choosing sock knitting needles
- How you Knit
- Sock knitting needles sizes
- Types of sock knitting needles
- Materials for sock knitting needles
- Your knitting budget
How do you knit
The first thing to consider when you are looking at different styles of knitting needles is how you knit.
Next time you are knitting take a look at how you hold your yarn tail. If you hold it in your dominant hand and throw the yarn over the working needle, you are knitting English style. If the yarn is in your non-dominate hand and you pick it up with the working needle, you are knitting Continental style.
Although you can knit in either style with any type of knitting needle, certain kinds of needles tend to work better for each type of knitting.
English style knitters
When you knit English style you repeatedly let go of the working needle to wrap the yarn around the needle to make the next stitch since the same hand is used for both actions. This is also where the nickname “throwers” comes from. Because they are constantly letting go of the knitting needle and then quickly picking it back up again, English style knitters have an easier time if they have something they can hold on to.
Continental style knitters
Knitting Continental style, or “picking,” is easier with smaller needles that stay out of the way. Because you don’t have to let go of the needles to make a stitch it is a faster technique and having less bulk from the needles increases speed. I almost exclusively knit Continental style and it is much easier for me to knit with smaller needles.
Sizes for sock knitting needles
Every sock knitting pattern you look at will list a recommended size needle. These recommendations will usually range from US size 1 (2.25-2.5mm) to 2 (2.75-3mm). Patterns are a great place to look for size ideas if you have no clue where to start. But just because a pattern lists a certain needle size, it doesn’t mean that will be the right size for you to use.
What yarn are you using?
Before you know your needle size, you will need to know what yarn you will be using. Then you need to decide how dense you want your fabric to be.
The yarn weight (how thick or thin the yarn is) also plays a big role in the final product. Different sizes of needles will work better with different weights of yarn. If you tried knitting socks with fingering weight yarn on a size 6 needle your socks would be so loose you could see through them. Trying to knit worsted weight yarn on size 1 needles would be impossibly tight.
Knitting a gauge swatch can help you get a feel for how your yarn will knit up with your yarn and needle combination. To knit a gauge swatch knit at least a 3 inch square using the exact yarn and needles you are planning to use for a project so you can see how the fabric will turn out.
Check your tension
You also need to take into account how tightly you knit stitches. Each knitter has a different natural tension and will get different results using the exact same needles and yarn. If you are a tight knitter you will need to use a smaller needle size than someone with a looser gauge.
How big are your feet?
A final factor that can influence your needle size is the size of your foot. Most sock patterns written for fingering (sock) weight yarn will have you cast on 64 stitches for the pattern.
I have particularly small feet. When I knit a sock with 64 stitches with a size 1 or 2 needle, the socks turn out too big. But if I knit the same pattern with a US size 0 (2.0mm) they fit perfectly. If you have large feet, you can try using a larger needle size.
It is easier to go up or down a needle size so you don’t have to go through the trouble of trying to adjust a pattern to a smaller number of stitches.
Types of sock knitting needles
Once you have determined what size of needle you will be using, you need to decide what style of knitting needle will work best for you
Most sock knitters will either use double pointed needles or circular needles and work in the round, but there are a couple other options as well.
Double pointed needles
Double pointed needles (DPNs) are the original way to knit in the round. Like the name suggests, they have points on each end of the needle. They are also typically shorter than the average straight knitting needle. To knit a sock with DPNs you need a matching set of at least 4 needles. At least 3 needles are used to hold the live stitches (some knitters prefer to use 4) and an extra needle is used to work the stitches. The extra needle is your working needle that takes the place of each other needle as you knit around and around.
DPNs tend to be more popular with English knitters since they have more needle to hold on to than circular needles.
Double pointed needles can be intimidating the first time you try them. Using that many needles at once can seem daunting. Give DPNs a try! You’ll be surprised how much easier they are to use than you thought!
Circular knitting needles
Circular needles have become very popular with knitters because of their versitility. Whether you are knitting flat or in the round, cables or colorwork, circular knitting needles can be used in almost any situation.
Many sock knitters use circular knitting needles for knitting socks in the round. These can be a great choice because there is only one continuous needle instead of 4+ smaller needles. There are many options of circular needles and a variety of techniques for using them.
Interchangeable vs fixed circular needles
Circular knitting needles come in two categories, interchangeable and fixed. For most knitting, I love using my interchangeable circular needles because they are easily adaptable to almost any knitting project. The one major exception to this rule is knitting socks.
By definition, interchangeable circular needles need to be interchangeable. To make that is possible there needs to be a place where the needles and the cables can be joined together, usually by some kind of screw. Because this screw can only be so small, the needles cannot be smaller than the screw. Interchangeable needles usually don’t go smaller than a US size 4 (3.5mm). For most sock knitting this size would be too large. Fixed circular needles, on the other hand, can go all the way down to a size 0.
Depending on the yarn you are working with, interchangeable needles may be out of the question for sock knitting. If you are knitting socks with thicker yarn, a size 4 may be small enough for what you need. In that case, interchangeable needles could work perfectly for you.
If you are interested in knitting socks on circular needles there are a few methods you can use and each works with a different length of cable.
A popular method for knitting anything in the round that has a small circumference is the magic loop method. This technique uses a long circular needle with a flexible cable that can be pulled beyond the live stitches to leave room to maneuver the needles into place for knitting. If your circular needles do not have a long enough cable or the cable is too stiff, it will be very difficult to use this technique.
Knitters feel very strongly about the magic loop technique. They either love it or they hate it, depending on personal preference. I happen to be a fan of magic loop. I use it for socks, hats, sleeves, you name it!
Short circular sock knitting needles
Another option is to get circular needles with short cables and short needles. The length of the needles should not be larger than the circumference of the sock you are knitting. Using small circular needles is a seamless way to knit small circumference circles. The downside to the short circulars is losing the versatility of a longer cable. You can knit fewer stitches on a long circular needle, but you can only have so many stitches on a short needle.
Two at a time
If you have a matching pair of long cable circular needles, you can try knitting two socks at once! If you are someone who easily loses motivation in the middle of a project, this method can help prevent second sock-itis.
Like magic loop knitting, this is a divisive technique. Either you will love that you have both socks done simultaneously or you will hate trying to keep two circular needles, two half-finished socks, and two balls of yarn from getting hopelessly tangled with each other.
The key to using this technique is having a ball of yarn for each sock. If you are working with 100 grams of yarn, this will mean you will need to split your yarn into two even balls before starting.
Before I start a new knitting project I am too excited to get started to have the patience to divide my yarn. For other knitters, it is worth the extra step.
A newer product that was designed specifically for sock knitting is Addi FlexiFlips. They are a hybrid between circular needles and double pointed needles. At first glance, they almost look like DPNs, but they have a very small cord between each side of the needle. These are used in sets of 3, similar to working with a set of double pointed needles.
The short bit of cable between the two ends gives each needle enough flexibility that you only need 2 FlexiFlips to hold the live stitches. This flexibility also helps prevent stitches from falling off and keeps the inactive needles from poking your hands as you work.
These needles don’t quite feel like any other style of needle and take some getting used to the first time you try them out. While they may seem a bit gimmicky, they kept the best traits from DPNs and circular needs and took away some of the issues.
Most sock patterns are written in the round, but that is not the only way to make a sock. If you happen to hate knitting in the round, or only have straight knitting needles available you can still knit a sock. In this case, you would knit them flat and seam them together when you have finished knitting, You can use just about any type of knitting needle to knit flat, as long as you have the right size.
Sock knitting needle material
After deciding on a needle size and style that will work for you, you will need to think about what kind of material you want your needles to be made of.
Knitting needle materials generally fall into two categories, wood or metal. The types of wood or metal can vary as well, but in general, a wood needle will perform similarly to other wood needles, and a metal needle will be comparable to other metal needles.
The best thing about working with wood knitting needles is they don’t have a perfectly smooth surface. This means that while you are knitting, there will be slight friction on the stitches, which gives you more control when knitting.
I love the feel of wooden knitting needles when I am working with them. They are quieter and warmer to the touch than metal needles. I also think they look nicer than metal knitting needles.
The most common complaint knitters have about working with wooden needles is they do not always have sharp tips or the tips can become dull over time. While this can be true, it depends on the brand of needle. Some wooden needles have managed to keep a very sharp tip
The other downfall of using small size wooden needles is they are easy to break. More than once I have sat down on the couch, not realizing I had left my project bag behind, and finding later I broke my knitting needles.
In contrast, metal needles generally have sharper tips and are more durable. Some brands of needles, like Signature Needle Arts and Hiya Hiya, are known for their sharp points. Other brands have duller tips, or have a sharp end and a duller end on the same needle.
If you absolutely need to have sharp tips, you should stick to metal knitting needles.
It is also possible to find knitting needles with a wood body and metal tips. Although it is not as common, this combination gives the best of both worlds. You get a sharp tip from the metal but more grip from the wood.
I have a set of combination DPNs that I love to work with. It is definitely something to keep an eye out for!
Budget for sock knitting needles
Your budget will also be a large determining factor when choosing the right sock knitting needles for you.
If you don’t have much money to spend, you can find a set of bamboo DPNs with 15 different sizes for around $15. This can be the perfect thing to try out sock knitting without too much of an investment. At the other end, a single set of Signature Needle Arts DPNs are over $50!
The Signature needles are extremely high quality and would only need to be purchased once, but that high of a price point would be out of budget for most knitters.
A set of interchangeable circular needles are a good investment because of their versatility. Just make sure it includes the size needles you want for knitting. You can find sets of interchangeable needles with a variety of needle sizes and cable lengths.
I purchased my first set of interchangeable needles from Knit Picks and they are still my most used knitting needles. Knit Picks is a great resource for affordable yarn and needles, especially when you first start knitting.
How much you want to invest in sock knitting needles will be entirely up to your own financial situation and knitting journey.
So what are the best sock knitting needles?
The answer, like most things, is it depends! There isn’t one right answer for everyone and it will probably take some trial and error. There may not even be one right answer for you, but several options you rotate through.
My best recommendation is to try as many options as you can get your hands on until you find your perfect match.
I have tried magic loop, double pointed needles, and FlexiFlips. Sometimes I knit with wood and sometimes with metal. All options have their strengths and weaknesses, but only you can decide what is best for you.
What is your favorite knitting needle for socks? Let me know in the comments below!
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