Having the right tool for the job can mean the difference between success and not even being able to get started. When it comes to knitting, your needles are some of your most important tools. Using the wrong needle will make your knitting nearly impossible, while using the right needles will help you to knit in a skilled and flowing manner.
Consider these factors when you select your needles:
Gauge The thickness of your needle is usually determined by the weight of the yarn that you are knitting with. If you are using a pattern, the suggested needle thickness will be included. You may also see a suggested needle size listed on the ball band or label of the yarn you plan to use to knit with. If you tend to knit tightly or are a very new knitter, try going one size up. If you knit loosely, try going one size down. After you knit a gauge swatch you may need to change your needle size to get the right gauge.
Material What material your needles are made out of is mostly based on the texture of the yarn you are using. Grippy, springy yarns like wool can stay well on smooth, slick aluminum or nickel plated needles. Super slick cotton is easier to knit on grippy wooden needles. Feel the texture of bamboo needles with your hands. I have found that most bamboo needles are slippery smooth, but some have a hand carved finish that is a little bit grippy. Needle makers are constantly trying out new materials, yet the smoothness of the needle is the main factor. Whether the colors are natural materials or feel cool or warm is more a matter of personal preference. Feel free to have fun and see how different materials feel when you knit.
Color The color of your needles should stand out from the color of yarn you are using. You want to avoid knitting white yarn with white needles. It is hard on the eyes to try to differentiate between the needles and the yarn. Needles in a color that stands out form your yarn will allow you to see your stitches as they are being made and where they are at on your needles.
Length You want to look for needles that are just long enough to hold your stitches and give you room to knit, but not much more. Long needles are great when you are knitting long, wide afghans and blankets, but the extra needle length will just get in the way when you are knitting a narrow washcloth or necktie. Longer needles will also let you distribute the weight of a growing blanket across the needles instead of trying to bunch it up on too short needles.
Needle Type Needle types include circular, straights, and double pointed needles. This depends on the techniques used in knitting your item. Items that are knit flat can usually be knit on two straight needles. Circular knit items that are less than about 12 inches in circumference can be knit on double pointed needles. Circular items greater than about 12 inches in cirucmference or best knit on circular needles. There are some techniques that can allow knitters to use circular needles in almost any situation, but those are fun and special techniques to learn another time.