Circular knitting needles are an essential part of any knitter’s toolkit. Whether you want to master knitting in the round or simply spread the weight of a larger flat-knit project such as a blanket, circular needles are the way to go!
In this guide, we’ll help you decide which circular knitting needles to buy and show you how to use them.
Circular knitting needles
Circular knitting needles consist of two needle points joined by a flexible cord. They can be bent into a circle, enabling you to work round and round rather than in rows (as you would on straight needles).
What are circular knitting needles for?
In short, almost everything!
Circular knitting needles are most often used for knitting in the round. This technique creates a knitted tube rather than a flat piece of fabric and is ideal for making hats, socks, jumpers and more.
However, you can also do flat knitting with circular needles. Instead of joining into a round you simply turn your work at the end of each row and work back across the needle.
This is useful for big projects such as blankets, where you can carry the weight of your knitting on the cable in your lap, rather than on the needle.
In fact, some knitters like to use circular needles for all their flat projects, because they find the distribution of the weight of the knitting on circular needles is easier on their wrists than on straight needles.
There are other clever techniques you can do with circular needles too, including Magic Loop knitting and knitting in the round with two circular needles, both of which enable you to knit small circumferences with long needles.
How to measure circular knitting needles
A circular needle has two important measurements: the needle size and the needle length. For example, a 5mm/80cm circular needle has a tip diameter of 5mm and a total length of 80cm.
Many needles will have this information printed on the needle tip or cable, but as this can sometimes wear away over time it’s good to know how to measure them yourself!
To check the needle size you will need a needle gauge (see our guide to knitting needle sizes for our favourites). To use the gauge, put the point of the needle into the hole that matches its size. If the needle goes in snugly then this is the correct size – if it’s too small or too big you’ll need to try the next size up or down.
The length of a circular knitting needle is measured from tip to tip, so to find out how long your needle is you can simply check it with a tape measure. To make sure you get the correct result, always include both the cable and the needle tips.
Give it a go…
Learn how to knit a bobble hat and put your new circular knitting needles to the test!
Types of circular knitting needles
There are two main types of circular knitting needles: interchangeable needles and fixed needles.
Interchangeable needles can be mixed and matched, while fixed needles come in a set size and length. We’ve also included circular sock knitting needles separately, as these fixed needles have their own special qualities.
The most popular circular needle lengths are from 20cm (8in) to 100cm (40in). The shortest 20-30cm needles are best for socks, baby hats and narrow sleeves.
The next sizes up, from 40-50cm, are often used for adult hats, baby jumpers and collars on sweaters. 60-70cm needles are a good choice for adult jumpers worked in the round.
Needles of 80cm and above are ideal for big, heavy projects that you want to work flat, such as blankets, and 100cm and longer needles are a good size for the Magic Loop method.
When working with circular knitting needles, make sure you use a needle that’s shorter than the circumference of the item you’re making. Otherwise, your stitches will be too stretched out, making them tricky to knit.
Interchangeable circular knitting needles
One of the most flexible and cost-effective ways to buy circular needles is to invest in a set of interchangeable knitting needles – you can combine different lengths of cable and sizes of tips to create all sorts of circular needles.
1. Lykke interchangeable circular needle set
Treat yourself to these beautiful driftwood needles from Lykke. The set comes in a range of colours, including this elegant grey, and includes 12 pairs of needle tips from sizes 3.5–12mm.
The needles are smooth, light and warm, and are joined to the cables using a screw-locking system with tightening keys.
2. Prym circular knitting set
Perfect for avid jumper knitters and Magic Loop fans, in this fab set from Prym you get 8 pairs of wooden needle tips, ranging in size from 4-10mm, plus four cords in 60, 80, 100 and 120mm lengths.
Plus of course, they come in a handy carry case to keep everything neat and tidy.
3. ChiaoGoo circular needle set
This set from ChiaoGoo contains all you need to create the right circular needle for every occasion. With their clever connectors, you can mix and match the three cable lengths to suit your project, and the sharp tips are ideal for lace knitting.
The set also includes stitch markers and a needle gauge, so you have everything you need in one handy pouch.
Fixed circular knitting needles
Fixed circular needles don’t have mix-and-match tips, so you’ll need to buy different needles for different projects.
They come in numerous widths and cable lengths, and a range of materials.
1. KnitPro Karbonz circular needles
If you’ve caught the circular knitting bug, these beautiful needles are well worth the investment.
Made from carbon fibre, they’re lightweight and warm to the touch, and the smooth tips and joins allow your stitches to glide effortlessly around the cable.
2. HiyaHiya circular needles
These stainless steel circular needles have tapered tips, seamless joins and a flexible cable, making them an excellent choice for knitters of all abilities.
Look out for the Sharp range too, with their extra-pointy tips to make working intricate stitch patterns a doddle.
3. Pony Classic circular needles
For beginner circular needles in a good range of cable lengths and tip diameters, look no further than Pony Classics.
These practical aluminium pins have everything you need in a circular needle – and for a great price too!
Circular sock knitting needles
Circular sock knitting needles are designed specifically for working small circumferences and tend to have shorter tips than regular circular needles.
You might find you prefer them to double-pointed needles.
1. Addi Sock Wonder Lace
If you haven’t tried asymmetrical needles before, give these clever circulars from Addi a go for your next small-circumference project. For right-handers, simply hold the longer needle in your right hand and the shorter in your left.
The long needle has a pointier, sharper Lace tip to help you work those tiny sock stitches, and the cable has Addi’s usual smoothness and flexibility.
2. KnitPro Symfonie Circular Needles
KnitPro’s 25cm fixed circular needles come in a range of sizes from 2mm to 5mm, so as well as socks they’re also ideal for working sleeves and baby garments.
They’re made from durable birchwood, ideal if you like a bit of extra grip when knitting small items in the round.
3. Pony Sock Circular Knitting Pin
Made from lightweight plastic, these 28cm pins from Pony have asymmetric tips for speedier knitting and come in a range of sizes to cover all your sock knitting needs.
They’re also a great budget option if you aren’t sure whether small circulars are for you.
How to store circular knitting needles
With all those long cables, circular needles can easily get tangled, so it’s useful to have a good place to store them when they’re not in use.
You can buy knitting bags designed especially for circular and interchangeable knitting needles, with pouches to hold the cables and slots for the tips.
Or for a DIY option why not try a ring binder and plastic wallet files? Simply label the files with the different needle sizes and slip your needles inside.
You could even repurpose other items you have around the house – plastic tubs and zip-seal bags are popular choices for knitting storage.
Here are a few of our favourite circular needle organisers:
1. Prym Circular Knitting Needle Folder
This wallet-style knitting bag from Prym opens to reveal eight compartments for storing your circular needles.
There’s also a zipped pocket on the front for smaller knitting accessories, and it closes securely with press fasteners.
2. Rowan Circular Knitting Needle Roll
Get organised with this stylish hand-sewn needle roll from della Q, made from grey cotton fabric.
The labelled pouches make it easy to find the needles you want at a glance, while zipped pockets enable you to store needle tips and notions securely.
3. Norfolk Sew N Sew Circular Needle Case
These beautiful needle cases are handmade to order in a choice of durable fabrics, each one is padded to help keep your needles safe. The case is finished with a pretty ribbon tie.
The case measures 14 inches wide x 10 inches tall and has space for a mix of circular and straight needles.
How to straighten circular knitting needles
If your needles are brand new, have been in storage for a while, or have been wound up tightly, you may find that they’re twisted and difficult to use.
There’s a simple fix for this. All you need to do to uncurl the needle cord is place it in hot (not boiling) water for a few seconds while gently smoothing and straightening it with your hands.
Avoid submerging the needle tips, particularly if they’re made from wood, as they can be damaged by hot water.
You may need to repeat the process a couple of times, but you’ll soon find that the cord has relaxed and is ready to use.
How to use circular knitting needles
Practise knitting with circular needles by following our steps below, using DK yarn and a 4mm circular needle.
Choose a needle with a cord that’s not too short to start with, to make it easier to bring the needle tips together. Try using a 40cm (16in) length and cast on 120 stitches.
This will ensure you have enough stitches to go comfortably all the way around your circular needle.
You Will Need
- Knitting needles
Choose which side of the circular needle you want to use as the left-hand needle, and which one you want to use as the right.
Cast on your stitches (see how to cast on knitting for techniques), then ensure your working yarn is at the right-hand tip.
Now mark the end of each round with a stitch marker or knotted piece of spare yarn on the right-hand needle, sliding it up to sit next to the last stitch you cast on.
Check that your stitches aren’t twisted.
Next, bring the two needle tips together, with the first and last stitches as close as possible.
With the working yarn in your right hand, knit the first stitch from the left-hand needle, pulling the yarn tight for a neat join.
Continue knitting, pushing the stitches around the needle as you go. Once you reach the marker, you will have knitted one round.
Slip the marker and knit more rounds in the same way, without turning.
Other ways to knit in the round
Now you’ve mastered working with circular needles, why not learn another technique for knitting in the round, using double-pointed needles (DPNs)?
Know your circular knitting needles
Like many techniques in knitting, when it comes to working in the round there are a few ways to achieve the same results – and a huge choice of tools to pick from.
We recommend trying out different types of circular knitting needles to see which ones suit you best.
Some knitters love to use circular needles for working flat, but prefer DPNs for working in the round; others only like them for Magic Loop and two-at-a-time socks. Or you might find you end up using them for pretty much everything!
Either way, getting to grips with circular knitting needles is a great way to take your skills to the next level.
Find your next steps with Gathered
Now that you’ve mastered knitting with one circular needle, it’s time to try two! Knitting in the round with two circular needles is an easy way to work smaller projects such as socks, and a great alternative to DPNs.