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A Beginners Guide to Knitting Needles

A quick guide to understanding the difference between interchangeable, straight, shorties and fixed circular knitting needles.

Straight Needles

These are the traditional needles that many of us grew up with. Made out of a variety of materials, they are two straight needles used as a pair and are available in different thicknesses. 

DPNs or Double Pointed Needles

DPNs or Double pointed needles are a set of needles used to knit in a round. Your stitches are spread over the set of needles with one needle kept as the working needle. Both ends of each needle has a tip allowing you to transfer the stitches onto the working needle as you knit. 

Fixed Circular Needles

Fixed Circulars have two needles joined by a cord that allows you to knit in a round or they can be used to knit back and forth like straight needles. Available in a variety of lengths, the length of the cord is usually chosen depending on the size of the project you are knitting and the method used. A shawl, for example, may need fixed circulars with an extra long cord in between to accommodate the large number of stitches.

Fixed circulars with a longer cord are useful for 'magic loop' knitting which allows you to divide the stitches in half and then knit in a round. Fixed circulars with a shorter cord allow you to knit in a round without dividing your stitches up such as for sleeves or hats. 

Interchangeable Needles

Interchangeable needles are similar to fixed circular needles. They have a needle tip at either end and are joined by a cable. Whereas the needles and cord are fixed on fixed circulars, Interchangeable needles allow you to connect a variety of cord lengths to the needle tip size needed for your project. With the ChiaoGoo Interchangeables for example, you choose the needle tip size needed, screw in the length of cord you need for your project and then tighten the join using a tightening key. Interchangeable needles have the option of 'parking' your project on the cord using stoppers so that you can use the needle tips for another project. They are available in sets or cords and needle tips can be purchased separately.


ChiaoGoo Shorties are interchangeable needles that have a shorter than usual needle tip. They are generally used for knitting in a round items with a small circumference such as socks or sleeves. Some knitters find that the smaller tip allows for more economical knitting movements and therefore faster knitting.