A knitting needle or knitting pin is a tool used in hand-knitting to produce knitted fabrics. They generally have a long shaft and taper at their end, but they are not nearly as sharp as sewing needles.  Their purpose is two-fold. The long shaft with a ‘head’ at one end holds the active (unsecured) stitches of the fabric, to prevent them from unravelling, whereas the tapered ends are used to form new stitches.

Most commonly, a new stitch is formed by inserting the tapered end through an active stitch, catching a loop (also called a bight) of fresh yarn and drawing it through the stitch; this secures the initial stitch and forms a new active stitch in its place. In specialized forms of knitting the needle may be passed between active stitches being held on another needle, or indeed between/through inactive stitches that have been knit previously.

Circular needles have two pointed tips and come attached with a length of smooth nylon or plastic cord. Circular needles can be used for knitting flat or in the round (as for socks and gloves where a seam is not required). Because circular needles allow the weight of the work to rest in your lap (rather than on the needles) they put less strain on the hands, wrists, and shoulders. The first US patent for a circular needle was issued in 1918, although in Europe they may have been used a little earlier.

When buying knitting needles Medium sizes are generally the best for beginners. This means you should look for a width size of six (4mm), seven (4.5mm), or eight (5mm). For length, a 10-inch needle is usually a good starter size because they will be small enough to handle easily.

The size of a needle is described first by its diameter and secondly by its length. The size of the new stitch is determined in large part by the diameter of the knitting needle used to form it, because that affects the length of the yarn-loop drawn through the previous stitch. Thus, large stitches can be made with large needles, whereas fine knitting requires fine needles. In most cases, the knitting needles being used in hand-knitting are of the same diameter; however, in uneven knitting needles of different sizes may be used.

Larger stitches may also be made by wrapping the yarn more than once around the needles ith every stitch. The length of a needle determines how many stitches it can hold at once; for example, very large projects such as a shawl with hundreds of stitches might require a longer needle than a small project such as a scarf or booties. Various sizing systems for needles are in common use


To check the size of your knitting needles a needle guage makes it possible to determine the size. Some may also be used to gauge the size of crochet hooks. Most knitting needles come with the size written on them, but with use and time, the label often wears off, and many needles (like double-pointed needles) tend not to be labelled.

Needle gauges can be made of any material but are often made of metal and plastic. They tend to be about 3 by 5 inches. There are holes of various sizes through which the needles are passed to determine which hole they fit best, and often a ruler along the edge for determining the tension (also called gauge) of a sample.

To store knitting needles, you can get a tall, cylindrical container with padding on the bottom to keep the points sharp which can store straight needles neatly. Fabric or plastic cases similar to cosmetic bags or a chef’s knife bag allow straight needles to be stored together yet separated by size, then rolled to maximize space. Circular needles may be stored with the cables coiled in cases made specifically for this purpose or hung dangling from a hanger device with cables straight.

After the war years, the British bred specific sheep to produce high-quality yarn and Knitting began to receive a massive boost because new colours and different yarn types were developed and introduced.

Thousands of patterns fed the market hungry for designs in bright colours. Children learned to knit in schools. It was a useful skill to have, not just a hobby. Many magazines in many different countries had good ideas and patterns for clothing, blankets, toys, bags, curtains, and other items. People made things to sell for a profit.

There are a few designs or patterns of knitwear we all recognise:

Aran : the history of knitting in Ireland encompasses the intricate patterns that were created on the Aran Islands. Jumper patterns were zealously guarded and kept within the same clan throughout the generations.

Fair Isle : these patterns originated on the remote island of Fair Isle, one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. The intricate patterns that originated there are famous around the world. Fair Isle designs are complicated and often very colourful. The traditional motifs have a long history, and each knitter had their own interpretation. Inspiration for designs and colourwork was found in the Isle’s wild beauty and the lives local people led.

In the 1980’s and 90’s the hobby of knitting went into decline. Sales of patterns and yarn almost collapsed, as the craft was thought of as old-fashioned. Children were rarely taught knitting in schools any more. The availability and low cost of machine-knitted items from commercial companies made it more practical and less expensive than making items yourself.

However, during the 21st century, knitting has seen a revival. This revival is partly due to the growth of the internet and internet-based technologies, The “Handmade Revolution,” and growing interest in DIY Crafts.

The Handmade Revolution is the name given to a various number of movements online focusing on bringing back handcrafts and encouraging people to learn these crafts.

Natural fibres, from animals such as alpaca, angora, merino and mohair, and plant fibres such as cotton, have become more accessible and cheaper to obtain and process. This has increased the interest in knitted items again.



Key theme(s):

Homemade Home

More information:

Date 1920s
Material(s) MetalSteel
Item number MBPO232

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • What items have you knitted?
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  • What other handcrafts can you make?

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