Straight or circular needles

When we meet knitters at events, we are often asked about using circular needles – in particular if there is any difference to using straight ones.

knititng needles

As with all things knitting, needle choice is a very personal thing and some needles will suit some knitters more than others. When you are using circulars, you make each stitch as you would with straights but if you are used to tucking long needles under your armpits, you may find the shorter needle tips of circular needles harder to get used to.

The obvious use for circular needles – and the one there were originally invented for – is to create seamless tubes of knitting. For example you can make a hat without having to sew it up at the end. You simply cast on the required number of stitches, place a stitch marker, or a loop of scrap yarn, to tell you where the start of the round is and keep working in one direction round and round.

There are a few things to remember:

  • As you work you will need to slide your stitches along the cable of your circular needle. Sometimes you may find your circular needle is longer that the number of stitches you have. When this happens, slide some stitches round to your left hand needle tip and pull a loop of needle cable out between two stitches to take the slack (see picture below).

    When you reach the loop of cable, just slide more stitches round and repeat the process.

  • Because you are always working in the same direction without turning your knitting if you want stocking stitch you just keep working the knit stitch. If you want garter stitch you need to alternate rows of purl and knit.
  • Some people find their tension is different when working in the round on circular needles – so don’t forget to swatch.

You can also use circular needles to work back and forth in rows – think of the tips of your circulars as two separate needles joined by a cord like kiddies’ mittens. There are various reasons why someone might choose to use them this way: they are more comfortable with shorter needles; a long circular needle can accommodate a lot of stitches for example when making a shawl; the cable of the circular needle means you can distribute the weight of your knitting more evenly; and if you knit on the move a lot, circular needles are much easier than straights to store in your bag.


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