Mystery Needles: Determining the Size of Unmarked Needles

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Take a peek through your knitting needles and you'll probably notice that some of them — usually circular needles and double-pointed needles — are not marked with a size. (Ugh.) Don't panic! If you have mystery needles in your supplies, all you need is a knitting needle gauge to figure out what sizes they are.

What is a knitting needle gauge?

Knitting needle gauges are flat knitting notions with holes in varying sizes. The holes correspond with the size of different needles, so you can use the holes to measure the size of a knitting needle.

Needle gauges are often paired with a knitting gauge ruler, which are short rulers that are great for measuring a gauge swatch .

Think of that knitting needle gauge and ruler as your go-to tool for starting a project. Here's a closer look at how to use it.

Here's what you'll find on most knitting needle gauges:

  • Needle gauge: The needle gauge is the little holes that run down the center. (See the  Lion Brand Knitting Needle Gauge  above as an example). Each hole should be labeled with numbers that correspond with needle sizes.
  • Ruler in inches: The gauge ruler pictured above goes up to 5", but you might also see gauge rulers that are anywhere from 4"-6".
  • Ruler in centimeters: If you're a fan of the metric system, most gauge rulers have you covered. This is also handy if you're working from a pattern that doesn't use inches as the standard measurements.
  • Window: Some gauge rulers (like the one shown below) also have an L-shaped or square window to help you more easily isolate your stitches and count the stitches and rows per inch. This isn't standard to all gauge rulers, though.

How to use a knitting needle gauge

Using the needle gauge

Grab that mystery needle and start poking it through the holes in the gauge to discover what size it is. You might have a good idea of the size, so start with a guess. For example, if I have a really large needle, my first guess is that it might fit into the US size 15 hole.

If the needle won't slide through the hole at all, then try the next size up. If the needle fits through the hole with lots of room to spare, then try the next size down. You want the knitting needle to be able to slide through the hole without lots of extra space.

Take a look at my needle here:

I think this needle might be around a size 6, but I'm not sure. When I try to slide it through the size 6 hole, it seems to go through quite easily with some space to spare. See how there's quite a bit of space around it? So for this one, I'd probably want to go down one more size.

When I put it through the size 5 hole, it still slides through the hole, but there's practically no room to spare between the needle and the hole. So I know this is a size 5 needle.

If you're not confident you have the right size, you can always go down one more size to double check it. If the needle won't even fit into the hole, then you know the next size up was correct.

Here, for example, I was pretty sure the needle fit into the size 5 hole. When I tried the size 4 hole, I couldn't even get the needle to go in past the needle tip, so I know that the size 5 was correct.

There are so many different knitting needle companies, so you might find that not all US size 8s, for example, fit into the hole the same way. That's normal!

Using the gauge rulers

Knitting needle gauge rulers are great for measuring your gauge swatch, since gauge is usually measured at 4" (10 cm). The rulers are also useful for measuring smaller things like ribbed edges.

I also love needle gauges that have a little L-shaped or square window to measure the gauge. That makes it so much easier to count stitches and get an accurate gauge measurement. It's a lot easier on the eyes, too! The ruler pictured above has a 2" window, but ideally you'll want at least a 4" window so you can get a bigger sample size of your swatch.

I carry a needle gauge ruler with some of my projects for smaller measurements like that and leave the tape measure to my bigger projects like sweaters.

Do you own a knitting needle gauge and ruler? How often do you use it? Tell us how you use your needle gauge and ruler in the comments!

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Mystery Needles: Determining the Size of Unmarked Needles