Knitting buying guide

Knitting has recently seen a resurgence in popularity, with more and more people creating knitted garments and gifts. With a seemingly endless choice of wool, colours, needles and patterns, novice knitters may find the choice overwhelming. Use this guide to help you match up your chosen pattern with the correct wool and needles and check the tension of your knitting to ensure your final project is the right size. We’ve also got some handy hints to help you get a professional finish.

How do I choose the right wool?

Finding the right  wool  for your project depends on the pattern you’ve chosen, the needles you have and the effect you want to create.

You’ll find information about the wool on the label. This usually includes fibre content, weight and care instructions. You should also find the recommended tension and needle size included. The colour information will also include a dye lot number. Wool is dyed in batches and each one can vary slightly, so it’s a good idea to buy all the wool you will need for your project together, to ensure the colour matches.

Yarn also comes in 3 different types of packaging:

  • Hank : these will need to be wound into a ball before knitting
  • Skein : wound up into an oblong shape, pull the yarn from the inside, not the outside
  • Ball: wound into a ball, use the end of the yarn on the outside

 View our range of wool here

Ply

This is the thickness of the wool.  Yarn can be made up of a single strand of  fibre but often it includes a number of strands twisted together. Thicker yarns are made of more tightly spun strands, rather than more strands twisted together.

From lightest to heaviest weight, wool is classed as:

  • Baby: wool designed for babies is less fluffy, which helps stop the fibres going in their mouth. They are generally lightweight, delicate and soft on young skin
  • 2/3 Ply: this refers to the number of strands twisted together. Use for projects where accuracy is important, such as gloves or socks
  • 4 Ply: good for baby clothes or lacy garments. Also known as Sport
  • Double Knitting (DK): the most versatile and widely used yarn, it’s called DK as it’s double the weight of 4 Ply yarn.  Suitable for all kinds of garments. Sometimes referred to as Light Worsted
  • Aran: named after traditional knitting from the Aran Isles, it’s ideal for chunky jumpers. Also known as Fisherman
  • Chunky: chunkier styles create quicker, thicker knits, so they’re a good choice for beginners. Sometimes known as Bulky, they make cosy jumpers and outerwear, perfect for cold weather. However the bulky styles you create may be too hot for babies and aren’t suitable for warm weather wear
  • Super Chunky: A great ‘quick-knit’ yarn and  a good choice for beginners. Also known as Super Bulky
  • Fashion: These more unusual yarns will create unique projects, such as fluffy scarves

Material

For clothing and accessories consider fibres that are softer on the skin and aren’t scratchy. Fibres for rugs and home accessories tend to be sturdier and more durable.

The Blend Mix will show you the exact percentages of different materials within the yarn.  You can filter your choices by clicking on specific Blend Types; this will help you quickly narrow down the right wool for you.

Animal fibres: wool, alpaca, silk, mohair are popular and traditional choices for knitters as they’re warm and cosy.  Silk, alpaca and mohair have a beautiful handle and a luxurious feel. Mohair and angora give a fluffy feel, so it’s best to use them with larger needles for clothing that’s not worn next to the skin.

Plant-based fibres: includes cotton, bamboo and hemp.  These practical and versatile fibres are hardwearing and breathable.

Synthetic fibres: acrylic, nylon, polyester and viscose. These easy-care fibres are usually machine washable and good value. Acrylic is a practical choice for baby garments that need regular washing.

Speciality yarns: include chenille, which produces a velvet like texture; bouclé yarns, for textured knits; metallic yarns, which are an ideal choice for eveningwear; and ribbon yarn, with a flat strip shape that’s great for spring and summer garments.

Choosing your needles

If you’ve already bought your wool, you’ll find the recommended needle size on the packaging. Matching the wool and needles ensures you create the right tension in your knitting, so it’s not too loose or too tight and the finished project is the planned size.

Types

Straight needles: the most common type, used in pairs. Used for flat knitting.

Double-pointed needles: points at either end to allow you to knit from either end. Generally sold in packs of 4 or 5. By using more than two together you can create circular knitting.

Circular needles: two needles tapered at one end and joined at the end by a flexible cord. Used to create fabric without seams, these needles create a continuous spiral. The longer the tube that connects the needles, the wider the knit.

Size

Length: longer needles have room for more stitches, which produce a wider knitted piece. If you’re a beginner working on a small project you might prefer to use shorter needles, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by the number of stitches.

Diameter:  the diameter of your needles determines the size of the stitches you’ll create. Generally, the wider the needle, the thicker the yarn needed. However, you can use a wider needle with a thinner ply yarn to knit an open, loose fabric.

Needle size conversion table:

Metric Sizes (mm) UK sizes US sizes
2mm 14 0
2.25mm 13 1
2.75mm 12 2
3mm 11 -
3.25mm 10 3
3.5mm - 4
3.75 9 5
4mm 8 6
4.5mm 7 7
5mm 6 8
5.5mm 5 9
6mm 4 10
6.5mm 3 10.5
7mm 2 -
7.5mm 1 -
8mm 0 11
9mm 00 13
10mm 000 15
12.5mm - 17
15mm - 19
19mm - 35
20mm - 36
25mm - 50

Material

Bamboo or wooden needles: some knitters prefer these as they are less noisy than metal needles. They’re also warmer to hold. Some needles have a square cross section; these can be a good choice for beginners or those with arthritis as they are easier to grip.

Metal: generally more hard wearing than bamboo or wooden needles.

Choose from our range of needles here.

Tension

Tension (also known as gauge) refers to the number of stitches (width) and number of rows (height) you’ll need to create in order to knit a 10cm square.

Working out the tension is particularly important when it comes to making garments, as it allows you to work out the number of stitches and rows you’ll need to create the finished item. By working out the stitches and rows in a 10cm square, you can calculate the stitches and rows you will need to create the final measurements of your entire garment.

For example, if you need to create a knitted piece 60cm wide, you will know how many stitches will create a piece 10cm wide and you can multiply this by 6.

Tension is included on the wool label. However, the combination of the wool, your needles and your personal knitting style will lead to variations. Knit a 10cm square and compare this to the guidelines to see how your combination compares.

Tension guidelines:

Ply Tension Needle Size
2 Ply 27-32sts 2.24-3.25mm
4 Ply 23-26 sts 3.25-3.75
DK 21-24 sts 3.75-4.5mm
Aran 16-20 sts 4.5-5.5mm
Chunky 12-15 sts 5.5-8mm
Super Chunky 16-11 sts 8mm+

Patterns

All patterns use abbreviations to describe the stitches you need to knit.

Stitch

Abbreviation

 

alt

alternate

 

beg

beginning

 

cm

centimetres

 

CO

cast on

 

cont.

continue

 

dec

decrease by working two stitches together

 

g

grams

 

inc

increase by knitting into the front and back of the same stitch

 

in

inches

 

K

knit

 

K2tog

knit two stitches together

 

LH

left hand

 

no.

number

 

P

purl

 

P2tog

purl two stitches together

 

rem

remaining

 

rep

repeat

 

RH

right hand

 

rs

right side

 

St st

stockinette stitch

 

st

stitch

 

sts

stitches

 

tog

together

 

ws

wrong side (the inside of the piece: the part that won't be seen)

 

yo

yarn over

 

*

marks the beginning of pattern repeats

 

Some patterns will include square, gridded charts with symbols to describe stitches. They’re helpful if make a mistake and need to backtrack, as the simple layout offers easy to follow instructions.

Browse our selection patterns and books here.

Accessories

Stitch counter: they slip onto one needle and allow you to count how many rows you’ve knitted

Stitch markers: used to mark out your knitting. Useful for keeping track of different stitches

Cable needles: smaller needles for creating cables by holding stitches apart as you knit

Point protectors: if you’re an ‘on-the-go knitter’, they protect the end of your needles from wear and tear

Stitch holders: resembling large safety pins, they hold a section of stitching while you knit the rest, so it doesn’t unravel

Crochet hook: useful for picking up dropped stitches. Available in a variety of sizes and materials

Pins: for temporarily holding knitted pieces while you sew them together

Tape measure: use to check the tension and measure your finished knitting

Needle gauge: measures the size of your needles as not all needles are marked

Darning needle: for sewing in all the yarn ends and for sewing up seams. Once you’ve completed your knitted piece you can weave the loose piece of wool back through the stitches for a neat finish.

Bobbins: holds a length of yarn while working on intarsia (patterned stitches)

Graph paper: use it to plot out a pattern or work out intarsia colours - just count each square as a stitch

Explore our range of accessories and kits.

Hints and tips

Uneven tension

  • Too tight: may be caused by creating stitches on the tip of the needles. Choose needles with a shorter point.
  • Too loose: may need to pull your yarn tighter as you knit the stitches

Dropped stitches: there’s no need to unpick the rows and start again;  use a crochet hook in a similar size to the knitting needles to pick up the stitches.


Keeping track of your knitting:  for more complex designs, it’s easy to lose track of  where you are in your pattern. Use marker pins to map out your design.

Avoid knitting a really intricate pattern with a Fashion yarn as the design will be lost.

Needle size conversion table:

Metric Sizes (mm) UK sizes US sizes
2mm 14 0
2.25mm 13 1
2.75mm 12 2
3mm 11 -
3.25mm 10 3
3.5mm - 4
3.75 9 5
4mm 8 6
4.5mm 7 7
5mm 6 8
5.5mm 5 9
6mm 4 10
6.5mm 3 10.5
7mm 2 -
7.5mm 1 -
8mm 0 11
9mm 00 13
10mm 000 15
12.5mm - 17
15mm - 19
19mm - 35
20mm - 36
25mm - 50