Tiny Nonsense

Needles

I get the same two questions about needles over and over again. One has a super quick answer, the other takes a bit longer. Let’s start with the quick one!

Do I have to use DPNs

Nope! If you don’t care for DPNs, you can absolutely use one or two circular needles instead. And if you’ve found something that’s some sort of hybrid between the two, you can use those too.

The only thing I ever care about is that you use needles that let you knit in the round. I happen to love DPNs and have a rather complicated relationship with circular needles, but that’s just personal preference. None of my patterns require you to do anything that needs DPNs specifically, so please use whatever style of needle you like best.

And now for the longer one…

What needle size should I use?

I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m not being mean. I’m not messing with you. I’m not refusing to tell you as part of some weird power play. I really truly don’t know. The only way to know your needle size for sure is to swatch.

But here’s the thing, getting a specific gauge (like 5 stitches per inch or 8 stitches per inch) generally only matters if you’re trying to end up with a finished object of a specific size.

For the tiny things, getting a specific finished size isn’t usually the goal. That star or heart or snowman is going to be adorable whether it’s 4 inches tall or 5 inches tall. So getting a particular gauge isn’t important, and you don’t need to swatch with the intent of hitting a specific gauge. Instead, you want to create a firm, dense fabric that will give your project structure and keep whatever you fill it with from showing between your stitches.

The best way to get that kind of fabric is generally to use the smallest needle you can comfortably manage with your chosen yarn. For me, that often means using a 2-2.25 mm (US size 0-1) needles with thinner yarn and very slightly larger needles for thicker yarn. But you should use the smallest needles you can without hurting yourself.

For the tiny things, if you don’t want to make a proper swatch, you can often just cast on with the smallest needles you think you can use with your chosen yarn, work for a bit, and see if you like your fabric. You may have to rip it out and change needle sizes! But you can often get away with not working a gauge swatch if you’re willing to risk it.

For the wearable things, getting a specific finished size is usually the goal. A hat won’t fit if it’s two inches bigger or smaller than you’re expecting. So getting a particular gauge is important, and you will need to swatch to hit that gauge if you want the thing you make to come out the size you expect.

Nearly all of my wearable patterns include sizing information for several gauges, which gives you lots of options. That means that if you like the fabric your yarn makes at 5 stitches per inch instead of 6, or if you want to use dk weight yarn instead of worsted weight yarn for that hat, you can almost certainly do that! But having all those options means I absolutely cannot tell you what needle size to use. You’ll have to swatch.

If you truly have no idea where to start swatching, I will mention that I end up using 3.25 mm (US size 3) needles for a shocking number of my wearable projects (basically everything except socks, for which I use a 2-2.25mm, US size 0-1), so it’s generally what I reach for first. But you may well need something different.

Summary

In short, you are the boss of your needles.

You can use DPNs or circular needles or something between the two as you prefer for working in the round. It’s totally a matter of personal preference.

And you are the only one who can tell for sure what needle size you’ll need. Most of the tiny things don’t need to be a particular size, so you don’t need to hit a specific gauge, you just need to get a sturdy fabric. Use the smallest needles you can comfortably manage with your yarn. Most of the wearable things do need to be a particular size, but they are written for several gauges, and you’ll need to swatch to see what gives you a fabric you like.

It’s truly not that I know your one true needle size and am keeping it from you. It’s that every knitter is different, different projects call for different levels of precision, and there is often more than one gauge that will work for any particular pattern.

This is Hoard, which is pretty much more needles than fabric for most of the time you’re knitting it.

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