Q- What is the easiest method for knitting small diameters, like legs for my toddlers pants?
A- Personally, I dont like DPN's, I exclusively use the Magic Loop method for small diameter knitting. It does the same job as double pointed needles, but its MUCH easier to do if your just beginning. There is a wonderfully helpful video on the Magic Loop topic on this site: http://www.knittinghelp.com/videos/advanced-techniques
I love Magic Loop, I wouldnt be without it
Q- And what needles would you buy if you were first starting out?
A- I say, dont bother with straight needles. Circular needles do just the same job and are much more comfortable to work with, but try both and see what you like best.
US Size: 7 (4.5mm) Is the needle I use for most of what I knit.
US Size: 8 (5mm) Second most used needle, for me.
US Size: 9 (5.5mm) Handy for doing bulkier yarns.
OR, if you wanted him to spend lots on you, splash out and get a set of Knitpicks Options needles drools a little
Its a fancy set of interchangeable circular needles that can also be used as straight needles, its a beautiful set!
Q- What other knitting items would you say are an essential?
* Stitch markers (buy some small curtain rings or just tie a piece of wool in a circle to start with).
* Small tape measure.
* Tapestry (or other large) needle.
* Knitting needle guage, should be in your hand bag at all times incase you come across a second hand shop and find some cheap needles and need to know their size.
* Crochet hook, for fixing dropped stitches and other stuff.
Thats what I had in my knitting box when I started out. Over time ive added much more stuff, most of it I dont need lol.
Im sure other people out there can add to this list
... Good luck!