If you have never used circular knitting needles, let me fill you in on what you’re missing!
Circular knitting needles are an excellent tool for knitters of any ability level from beginner to expert.
Circular knitting needles consist of 2 needle points connected together with a cord. They can be purchased either in fixed form of various lengths, or in interchangeable form.
Fixed circular needles are exactly as their name implies, they are fixed at whatever length they are. These are available in all the typical needle sizes in various lengths. So, you buy them based on 2 criteria. The first is the diameter of the needle. This will be indicated by a US size or by the diameter measurement in millimeters. Most packaging will show both sizes. The second, is the length from tip to tip. The length includes the length of the needles and the cord connecting them. Typically this measurement will be shown in inches and in centimeters. So, when you look at the package, you’ll see something like: US 8/5.0mm 24″/60cm. In other words, it’s a US size 8 that measures 24″ from tip to tip; a 5.0mm that measures 60cm from tip to tip. This is important to know in order to get the right size for the pattern you want to use.
Interchangeable circular needles allow you more flexibility than fixed ones do. These consist of two needle tips and a cord, a key and two end caps. My descriptions are specific to Knitters’ Pride, which is the brand I use. There are other brands out there that I have not worked with. The needle tips look like a regular knitting needle on one end, but the other end has a connector that screws into a connector on one end of the cord. Once you screw the ends together, you slide the end of the key into a small hole in the connector on the cord and use the key to give you something to grip so you can tighten the connector effectively.
Needle tips and cords are sold separately, or in sets that contain the most popular sizes. The cords come in several lengths and allow you to create circular needles that range from 16″/40cm all the way to 60″/150cm. Tips come in 2 lengths; “special” that are used with the very short lengths of cord (you can’t get the ends of the needles to reach around if the tips are too long on a short cord) and “normal” ones. One thing to be aware of is that because of the minimum diameter that the connector needs to be, finer needle sizes are not available in interchangeable format. So sizes up to and including 3.25mm are only available in fixed form.
The end caps are handy. Let’s say you have a project on the go and for whatever reason you want to start another project that needs the same sized needle points. You remove a needle tip, replace it with an end cap and repeat with the second needle tip. Take a different cord (they are inexpensive) and attach the needle tips, tighten them and voila! Now, your first project is safe from dropping stitches and you are ready to start your new project without having to buy a second set of tips in that size.
So what makes circular needles so special? Let me count the ways!
- Casting on large numbers of stitches: need to cast on 321 stitches for that lace shawl you want to knit? No problem! Select a length of circular needle that comfortably accommodates those stitches. You knit back and forth, just as you would on single point needles, without the stitches bunching up tight risking dropped stitches. You really don’t want to be dropping stitches on a lace shawl!
- Using 2 circular needles to knit in the round requires less coordination (and less awareness of what’s going on with the other needles) than working with 4 or 5 double pointed needles. Cast half the work on each circular needle and work each needle independently. So using only needle #1, knit the stitches to the end. Move the needle to position the stitches in the middle of the cord of needle #1 and switch to needle #2; using only needle #2, knit the stitches to the end and so on, working in the round. (I use this method for making socks. I weigh out my yarn in 2 balls and knit both socks off 2 balls of yarn alternating. This allows me to do exactly the same process to each sock as I go and I don’t have to keep notes. Also, it means that when I’m done, I’m done both socks.)
- It’s gentler on your body. The weight of your project will sit more directly in front of your body. After a shoulder injury, I was unable to knit using single point needles because of the way that the weight would move from one side to the other. This put a lot of strain on my already very painful shoulder. Switching to circular needles allowed me to knit for many hours without any pain at all.
- Less risk of dropping stitches: When your work is on single or double point needles and you have to stop mid row and set your work down, it’s really easy for stitches to drop off the ends of the needles or needles to slide out of the work. On circular needles, you can pull the work well onto the centre of the cord and out of harms way.
- Easy for beginners: Circular needles make it easier to work out the coordination of knitting without fighting the weight of the project on one side or the other or navigating multiple needles.
As you can tell, I love using circular knitting needles. I encourage you to give them a try and see if you like them too. At the end of the day, what matters is that we each find tools that enhance our knitting experience.