Your Complete Guide to Knitting With Circular Needles

Circular needles allow the weight of your project to rest in your lap, which relieves the stress knitting can put on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.

Knitting needles with fabric
Photo: Kristina Strasunske / GETTY IMAGES

It's time to add a new, versatile tool to your knitting arsenal: Circular needles. Different from straight needles, these iterations have either pointed or rounded tips and come attached to a length of smooth nylon or plastic cord. Since circular needles allow the weight of your work to rest in your lap (rather than on the needles), they put less strain on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.

This is especially helpful when you're working on heavyweight garments like sweaters, vests, and chunky-style cardigans. And if you like to knit while traveling—a commute on the train or a trip by flight—they're convenient, since they eliminate the risk of dropping a needle mid-transit.

What Are Circular Knitting Needles?

Circular needles come with sharp, pointed tips (for detail-oriented lace knitting) and rounded tips (for bulky-style projects). The needle cables can range from 9 inches to over 40 inches.

Interchangeable Circular Needles

Interchangeable circular needles can be attached and detached from a set of cables, allowing you to customize knitting to practically any size and length. These should attach firmly to the cord without unscrewing and coming loose.

Many sets of these needles have connectors so that you can further extend the length of your knitting for items like bed-size blankets. Just remember that the length of your circular needles should be smaller than the diameter of the tube you are knitting. Otherwise, the stitches will stretch as you knit.

How to Adapt Circular Needles for Flat Knitting

While they are mostly intended for knitting in the round, circular needles can be adapted for flat knitting if you turn your work at the end of each row. The benefit of using circular needles for flat knitting is that it distributes the weight of your knit piece, which is helpful when you're working with a high number of stitches.

How to Knit With Circular Needles

Since there are a few different types of circular needles, there are also a handful of techniques you can follow when using them.

Double-Pointed Needles

Cast on the stitches, distributing them evenly. The last cast-on stitch is the last stitch of the round. Place a marker here to indicate the end of the round. When doing this, be sure to keep your stitches even and do not twist them. Work until you reach the marker again; this completes the first round. Slip the marker to the right needle and work the next round.

Two Circular Needles

Some prefer to knit smaller pieces with two circular needles as an alternative to double-pointed needles. In this method, you cast on the number of stitches as required by your project and slip half of them to the second needle, then slide the stitches to the opposite ends of your needles and join to begin knitting in the round.

Magic Loop

Magic Loop is a technique for knitting in the round that avoids the use of double-pointed needles. Using one longer-than-average circular needle, you can knit smaller items, like socks, sleeves, and mittens. This method is usually done with a circular needle cable that is 29 inches or longer, although the ideal needle should measure up to four times the size of your project. You can even knit a pair of socks or sleeves at the same time.

Common Mistakes Made When Knitting With Circular Needles

As is the case with any style of knitting, you're bound to run into a few issues while working on your project. Luckily, most of these common mistakes are easily fixable.

Snagged Stitches

When choosing circular needles, pay close attention to the join, which is the area where the needle shafts meet the cord. A roughness here can cause stitches to snag, slow down your knitting process, and shred your yarn.

Tightly Coiled Cable

A cord should be strong enough to support the weight of your knit piece, but flexible enough to allow your stitches to move smoothly without kinks. If the cable on your needles becomes coiled too tightly, try soaking it in warm water to relax the kinks. Some circular needles swivel at the join, which eliminates this problem altogether.

Twisted Stitches

If the stitches become twisted, the knit fabric will, therefore, become twisted and once you've completed the first round, you will have to undo all of your work to straighten them.

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