This blog post has been on my list of things to write for a very long time. It was one of the first ideas that popped into my head, when I brainstormed ideas that I wanted to write about the very first time I thought about a knitting blog. I am glad it's finally seeing the light of day.
It’s interesting that the first draft at this post really drifted into talking about the importance of swatching, but there are already so many amazing posts out there about that topic (like here and here). Instead, I rewrote the whole thing to focus more on the real impact of the knitting needle size, and how absolutely important it is to pick the right needle and yarn combination for your project.
I'll share some images of swatches I made to prepare for this post. All of these are in the exact same yarn, number of stitches and stitch pattern (stockinette) - the only difference is the needle size. Each of the images is labelled with the needle size and the final measurements of the swatch from edge to edge.
The end result with this little swatch experiment, was that you get entirely different behaviours of the final fabric depending on the needle size that you are working with. Of course you likely won't get the exact same behaviour with the same needle size, because you are probably using different yarn, but you can manipulate the fabric similarly by sizing your needle up or down.
The smallest two needle sizes resulted in a tight fabric that was quite stiff to the touch. Frankly the knitting experience wasn’t the most pleasant either, my hands started to hurt after knitting these two. This is the type of fabric that you would look for if you were knitting something intended to be protective . Like the mitts that I made for my husband, that were meant to protect his hand when he throws sticks for our dog. An alternative use could be if you were making a toy and you wanted to make sure that absolutely no stuffing was showing.
On the other end of the spectrum the have the biggest two needle sizes. They create a fabric that is light, airy and has a lot of drape. Without needing to work any lace stitches you still get a fabric that has a lacy effect. I could absolutely see this used for a summery top, or in a shawl combined with some stitches for texture and interest.
The in-between needle sizes differ in size, but the fabric characteristics are not hugely dissimilar from each other. These are the types of textures that you would be looking for if you were making a jumper/sweater, or really most projects that you would use stockinette for.
Overall, the size difference between the swatches is massive. The smallest needle made a final swatch sized 14.5 x 9cm / 5.75 x 3.5", whereas the biggest one made a swatch sized 24 x 15.5cm / 9.5 x 6". It shows that is is important to get your gauge swatch right (especially if you’re working on a garment), but also listen to your swatch. Make sure that the yarn and needle combination that gives you the gauge, also gives you a fabric consistency that you love and that matches what you want from your project.
These are all the swatches in order: