A Guide to Circular Knitting Needles

The circular knitting needles section of your local yarn or craft store can be a bit overwhelming. Even though I’ve been knitting for many years, I still space out a little when I walk into the needle aisle and see all the choices.

If you’re new to knitting, you probably ask yourself, why all the different lengths and why in the world would I need a 36″ needle?

Circular Knitting Needles

Find wide range of circular knitting needle sizes in the Craftsy Supplies Shop.

Often, your pattern will tell you what type of needle you need, but what if you’re designing something yourself? Don’t let the name “circular” fool you. Even though they’re called circular needles, you won’t just need them when you’re knitting in the round.

Use this guide next time you shop for circular knitting needles and breathe a little easier when you’re faced with all the options.

Girl in Knit Sweater Leaning Against House
Photo via Avrellyn Rose

36″ circular needles

Good for: heavy or large projects that will be knitted flat.

Have you ever tried to knit a heavy project, like a shawl, on straight needles? The wrist pain is unbelievable. I made this mistake early on in my knitting career and ended up having to hunch over my knitting so that the table held most of the weight. You can bet I never made that mistake again!

You may also need to use a circular needle if each row has a large number of stitches. Straight needles have a limited amount of space on them, so casting on 300 stitches is probably going to be impossible, even if you’re using a long straight needle.

Using a long circular needle, like the 36″ one, will put all the weight of the project onto the cord, allowing you to speed along as you knit. The majority of the weight can rest in your lap or on the table while you knit.

The Watercolor Ponies Poncho, seen above, is one example of a project that’s great for 36″ circular needles because each row has a lot of stitches. Any garment that’s loose-fitting, like ponchos and shawls, will call for a longer circular needle.

Shop 36″ circular knitting needles >>

Girl in Blue Knit Poncho
Photo via Super Fun Knits

29″ circular needles

Good for: medium-sized projects knitted flat, like the Iris Pi Shawl seen above.

Like the 36″ circular needle, the 29″ needle can be used for projects that are knitted flat. The difference is that the 29″ can be used for a project that’s just a bit smaller in size.

Shop 29″ circular knitting needles >>

Photo via Sans Limites Crochet

16″ circular needles

Good for: small projects knit in a tube.

If you’ve ever followed a pattern for a hat, you’ve probably used a 16″ circular needle. These needles are perfect when the project is just a bit too large to fit on double-pointed needles. The Purl Turban Headband, seen above, is a great example of when a 16″ circular needle will come in handy.

Unlike the 36″ and 29″ needles, the 16″ needle is used more often for knitting in the round. Hat patterns will often ask knitters to use a 16″ to work the brim, then switch to double-pointed needles as the hat gets smaller at the crown.

Shop 16″ circular knitting needles >>

How do you use your different sizes of circular knitting needles?

FREE Guide: Knitting in the Round Made Easy

knitting in the round

Worried that knitting in the round will throw you for a loop? Knit with confidence using this FREE downloadable guide.Get my FREE guide »



Nobody knits with straights anymore. My local yarn shop doesn’t even sell them.

Janet Evprax ia Wehlitz

Um, sorry from a “nobody” who DOES knit with straight needles. I am coming back to knitting having been away from it for about 35 years. I had a head injury in 2002 and do not always process things as quickly as I used to; not to mention being over 60 yrs old. So – YES, I am SOMEBODY who DOES knit with straight needles and is attempting to learn how to knit with circular needles. Patterns are not always easy for me to follow, but I am working at it. I am knitting baby hats for the Purple Crying Period group and refuse to give up on learning how to follow patterns. I WILL learn.

From a SOMEBODY who will not give up.

lise Johnston

I also knit with straight knitting needles. I never ever try knitting with the circler kitting needles.

Deborah Cox

Well the times update one to using circular because you use them to not loose your stitches and easier to travel with. So you might want to get with technology real quick.

janet baxter

I also knit with straight needles. When I asked in my local Wool Shop they told me most of their customers use straight needles and only a very few buy circular needles.


marylyn blake

Can you tell me if instead of using circular can you use straight needles?


So much sass about something that doesn’t matter hahahahaha
Calm it Debs
Just deal with your own knitting and let us get on with ours


I didnt even know what circular needles are I only heard of straight needles you guys need to learn im a nobody and that is awesome!

Michelle Christopher

@Janet Evprax ia Wehlitz I’m so glad for your post and also to know I’m not the only one who loves straight needles! I’ve heard the same thing at one of the LYS here, and for me personally, the cords are the biggest annoyance. I do have a few pairs of circulars with a nice cord, no memory to it…but I never use them. I always, always go back to the love of straight needles. When I learned how to knit, I purchased Debbie Stoller’s book “Stitch and #####” and in fact, she uses straight, 14 inch needles exclusively!! I love how connected to the craft it makes me feel, and the needles are SO much prettier. I like bamboo, and I paint the tips with fun colors and designs to inspire me. I think it’s AMAZING that you are knitting considering your injury and what a beautiful thing that you keep on doing it. From one knitting purist to another…grab your sticks and keep knitting!!


Couldn’t agree more!!! Great reply and inspiration!

Happy Knitting to you too!!!

Linda ingram

I want to use straight needles on a project that calls for 37 in circular I’ve tried them don’t like them. What size straight needles would I use


I love that everyone knits differently!!! I started knitting with my first child and then 10 years later I’m pregnant with twins and this has become my bed rest go to…lol Knitting is so interchangeable just like people and that’s the fun part about it. So if you knit with straight needle or circular needles, there is a spot for you in knitting! Things evolve and sometimes we are forced to do the same but knitting isn’t one of those things. Just as I prefer to send letters in the mail, cause I find hand writing to be more personable. But there are times I need to send stuff quick so I use email. Either way it’s an interchangeable preference. So Janet take your time and to each their own RIGHT?! Keep using what your using if it works and you love it! But most of all congrats on your recovery from your head injury…what an amazing blessing to get through that and be able to continue to enjoy some you love. I’m super happy for you… From one woman to another. I practice in s field with lots of brain injuries and mental health issue… I have seen the hardship and pain it can cause. I’ll keep you in my thought … And as I learn to circular knit I’ll keep you in my thoughts as well… Cause it’s a little different to me too when I have done something one way for so long.

Happy Knitting Lady’s & Have a beautiful Day!
From: A Fellow Knitter (well trying to be a knitter lol)


I must also be a nobody , I use straight needles all the time !

Michelle Christopher

@Claire we are like fine wine! Let them have their circulars. Debbie Stoller uses straights like we do!!


Hey guys I’m a nobody too!!!! It feels good to be in the club. I haven’t tried circular needles yet but I want to. I came across this website trying to find out what they’re good for.

Umm'Salama Jackson

well I knit mittens using straight needles and dpns

Malia Waldheim

The craft shops near me do sell straight knitting needles, even Walmart. I have straight ones that were given to me from my Grandma.


I would love to knit with circular needles, but every time I try the circular comes apart. I am very leery to even start a project on circulars now. I am currently working on a baby blanket. It starts in a corner and expands. I am at a point where I need to change to a circular needle (no more room on the straight ones I am using), but I do not want to again end up tearing a whole project apart because the needles came apart. Any suggestions about what needles to use.


Best circular need brand is knitter’s pride marblz needles and I get them from knitpicks.com mostly and some from jimmy beans wool. Reasonable priced and cords are great on them – no snags !! I get the fixed circular needles ! If you get a cord that’s twisty – easy fix – put the cord – not the needle- in a basin of hot -not boiling -water and watch them uncoil and straighten in seconds ! Hope that helps ! 😀


I hate straight needles, They kill my hands, but I found a great use for my old straight needles. Gave them to my dog show friends who use them to part coats on Lhasa Apsos, Tibetan Terriers, and Skye Terriers to name a few.

Ruth Haydon

I must be nobody, because I knit with straight needles quite often. They are great for small items like scarfs. I use circular needles when I have a large number of stitches or am knitting in the round. I use double pointed for hats and socks.


I guess I am a “nobody” as well. I also love my straight needles for making small projects like cup cozies, scarves, and etc. I use circular and DPN’s as well but I think all of them have a purpose.

Miss Cara

People have been knitting with straight needles for a longer time than circular. I use straights all the time as my first preference if possible and I use straight double pointed needles to do circular knitting. For example, a slipper that uses several short rows cannot handle a circular needle because the turns are too sharp and it bends the cord to almost snap. Also, circulars can waste time since they seem to loosen and I’ve lost stitches this way….and, some yarns snag too, making obvious marks! I think straight needles have it’s place, but hardly are they on the level of parting animal hair for their only utility.


I would not be able to knit if it weren’t for circulars My hands could never take it.

Diane Addams

Contrary to popular belief, there are people who still use straight needles and they still make and sell them….true they aren’t as popular as in times gone buy, but they are very useful for small projects with a small amount of stitches. As a matter of fact, I currently have 47 stitches on a set of straight needles…I ‘m making square for a baby blanket!


I’ve thrown out my old straight needles — can’t imagine ever using them again. Well — maybe when I teach someone how to knit….

It would be helpful to have reviews of the various brands of circs — especially the ones with replaceable tips.


You no doubt know this, still, please check out Knit Picks.com! They sell all kind of needles, singly & in sets. I think (maybe) that I’ve seen what you are wishing for over there! They can, at least, get you started. GOOD LUCK*!*

Joan Archer

I’m finding I prefer to use circulars now for knitting even when the piece is flat. I mainly use Interchangeable needles so depending on the number I can pick different size cords.
I do still use straights on the odd occasion in fact the project I’m knitting at present has a separate front lace border that’s stitched on after and I’m knitting that on 8” straights there’s 21 stitches for it.


I’m wondering about the sizes that I usually see in the stores: 40″, 32″ and 24″. Do you have different size needles in your stores than we do here in VT??


Using a cross between irish cottage and continental style knitting, I find long straights to be much faster then circular needles which is especially nice when working on big projects because you finish them sooner, but I do agree the weight can be tremendous.


I want to make a knitted cap for my grandaughter, the instructions say to use 5 dpns. Could I use circular needles to knit this as long as I use a row start stop marker. I’m new to knitting and just wondering. It seems to be much easier.


Yes! I’ve never enjoyed using dpn (I never got past the early awkward stage), and my results with them have been less than optimal. But doing it with small diameter knitting using 2 circular needles works great for me, and I find it much easier. I use circular needles for almost everything I knit whether flat or in the round. And I knit almost any size project in the round using a traveling loop for larger projects (I find it best to use the longest cable I have) or small diameter knitting when dpn are recommended. Google “traveling loop” or “small diameter knitting” for helpful videos.

Shirley Kendall Ward

I saw someone using circular needles that were for a very small item 3 inches round. Need smaller tips and lengths for hats so I don’t have to use double points for binding off, Where can I get them.


A lot of places sell them! Just search for 9″ or 12″ circular needles, and websites will come popping up. Clover, HiyaHiya and Addi all make those small sizes. They take a little bit of getting used to but they’ve made my sleeve knitting so much more enjoyable.

Anita Fuehrer

Go to ebay and search for 9″ circ needles. There are a lot of sellers. I have almost a complete set.

sara merritt

Im 32 yrs old. I just started knitting about 2 weeks ago. I had knitting needles that I couldn’t let go to waste. After crocheting since I was 7 yrs old…I grabbed those knitting needles and said lets give it a shot! I was so excited 2 nights ago when I did rows of purls and knit stitches. I just saw last night that there are different kinds of needles like the circulars. I jope as I advance…I dont give up on the straights. I have tiny hands and like the needles I have inherited. I know I may be extremely new to knitting and teaching myself from casting on to the two stitches ive learned…but im really enjoying it as much as I do crocheting! I placed an order for a variety of knitting needles. Im learning just from reading your comments and glad I stopped by here.

Ashley Little

Go, Sara! Remember that if you find you like circular needles better, you can use those for knitting flat, too.

Diana Sturcz

Very helpful but the size of the needles are all the same except for the length, right? How can that be?


The size of the needles refers to the diameter, eg. 4.0 mm, 4.5 mm, 3.25mm, or in whole numbers if you use the US sizing system (6, 7, 8….). For a circular needle, the length is the needles plus cord, and each needle size can be bought in many different lengths, depending on what you require for each project. I have a set of Denise interchangable needles, so all of my needle tips can be attached to many different lengths of cords.


Hi there, I just started to knit and I want to make just a simple knit stitch throw. Can anyone tell me please if I should use straight needles or round. How many stitches would you cast on. I like the look of like size 15 needles for my throw. Any info anyone can share with me is much appreciated. Thanks


Hi Jana, I’d say your throw will get pretty heavy, especially when you get toward the end. I’d recommend using a long circular needle, 36″ or even longer if you can find one. To figure out how many stitches to cast on, check out the recommended gauge on the yarn label. The label will tell you how many stitches are in 4″ using the recommended needle size, and that should give you an idea of how many to cast on based on how wide you’d like the blanket. Good luck!


Jana, if you want to do a simple throw, you could use a basic pattern like granny’s basic dishcloth (knitted on diagonal so visualky more interesting) until it is as wide as you want it. Then you decrease. YouTube is your best friend when learning to knit. Type any type of stitch or project in the search bar and there will be tons of videos.

Jenny S

Circular needles are the ones for me. Except for bead knitting, I can’t find 1.5mm circs, and like tiny steel straights then. My reasons for using circulars include: they take less room when knitting on the train, plane or bus. when you have found one point the right size, you have found them both. if you drop your needle, it doesn’t roll away. they don’t take much room in the bag. And now I have 2 sets of interchangeable circulars its bliss!


I’m knitting a blanket with straight needles. I was wondering if it’s possible to tranfer my work from straight knitting needles to circular needles?? I don’t see why not but I don’t want to mess anything up.


Sure you can, just knit your next row using the circular needle! Just make sure the needles are the same diametre and you’re good to go :)

Cindy Bahl

I had a question and am such a newbie that I really need help. I tried out the Hiya Hiya bamboo circular needles and really liked them. So I thought getting an interchangable set would be an excellent investment. They have one set which is for US sizes 2-8. However, they have two different versions of this set. One has the actual needle length 4 inches long and the other needle length 5 inches long. I have no idea which one to choose, why the sizes are different, what it means for different projects. Any and all help appreciated!


The shorter needles in these sets can be used with shorter cables to make 12″ and 16″ rounds. I just bought a set and I discovered that the bottom of my right hand rubs against the joining point of the 4″ needle causing it to come apart. I gave up and finished the project on my 5″ needles!

Helen (of Troy)

I never use short circulars (circs). I don’t like the short tips.. 24 inches (55cm) is about as small as i go. Options for longer needles include, magic loop and half magic loop (aka travelling loop) –but it just goes to show–tools (and circ’s are a tool) are always personal– I have lots of straight needles, and still occationally use them… but no short circ’s at all!

Linda Wilson

Circular needles scared me. I used to take hat patterns and modify them for straight needles. I also like to keep one needle under my arm so straight needles work well for that. I challenged myself this summer to make a summer hat on round needles and so far so good. I won’t give up my straights, but at least now I can increase my collection/addiction/ repertoire of knitting patterns :)


I bought my first pair of circular needles to complete a collar for a vest I had knitted with straight needles. I almost finished the collar when the plastic edge came away from my needle and I lost stitches. I don’t have faith in the manufacture of these needles. I much rather knit with my metal straight needles anytime.


i can’t imagine ever going back to straight needles again. I am 75 years old and yes I learned to use circular needles and that’s the only kind I use now for everything!!


I have knitted many things on straight needles–afghans, hats, scarves, and sweaters. I’d never give them up. My couple forays into using circulars worked, but I HATE them and went right back to my trusty straights.


I’m 47 and I’ve been knitting on straight needles since I was 12 because circular needles are not available in Nigeria. Recently, I got a set of circular needles as a gift from a friend. I was overjoyed! Sadly, I discovered that the circumference is too big to knit hats that I enjoy knitting for babies. I’ll still stick to my straight needles until I find good use for my circular needles. It’s a joy to have them, though.


I’ve been knitting with straight and circular needles for years and I still prefer to use straight needles, they’re just easier to work with UNLESS you are making a larger garment like a sweater-jacket or maybe a throw blanket. Basically I go by the size of the piece. I did have several instances where I learned that I needed to use larger size circular needles… When I broke several of them! I only had two choices… Change the needle size to larger, or decrease the yarn size…which meant buying all new yarn of lesser weight.
Happy stitching!
PS. Straight needles are sold at every hobby, craft, and yarn shop that I’ve ever been in, and that is quite a bit… I’ve been sewing, knitting, crocheting…even cross-stitching for 46 yrs…

Adriana Lesemann

I am new at knitting and I need to know what size circular needle I need to complete the neck of a size 10 childs sweater…. Thank you so much!!


How do I stop the stitches snagging on the circular needle at the pint where the metal needle joins the plastic loop?


I just bought a set of circs that had a rough metal join on a couple of the sizes. I took a file and filed the snaggy edges and that seemed to do the trick.


Surely it’s down to personal preference ? I use straight needles , I don’t like the look of circular …..but am considering trying them for a shawl . I knit socks and use 5 dpn s. Each to their own , do whatever works for you .
This reminds me of the kindle versus books debate ……….

Kelly Erickson

I still prefer my straights and DPNs for most things. I use the larger circular needles for big things like blankets.


People use circulars for all knitting purposes because they are lazy! Yes it is true. Some people are too lazy to learn how to purl stitch properly and so try to avoid it by knitting in the round all the time even when it isn’t the best thing for what they are making, and other people are too lazy to do knitting that has seams. All this floppy knitting without the stability of seams is not a step forward at all – consideration should be given to the garment. No seams works for some designs but truthfully not so much with others.

Unfortunately people can’t sew and don’t want to learn that skill and finish off their knitted work nicely. Sometimes seams are the better answer, not the inferior one that people insist on. A beautiful seam and finishing skills is just as rewarding and important as the knitting itself. Yet people want short cuts. Big chunky yarn and needles where people think they have to do the minimum, are increasingly popular. Impatience is what it is all about, yet the denigration from people who use circulars to those who prefer straights is just incredibly rude and happens often all over knitting forums. It is so silly to suggest that straights are somehow passé and is a naïve attitude. It suggests people don’t know their craft that well.

I am tired of hearing how people who use straight needles have something backward about them. Not true! We use different needles for different things. For small circular items, dpns are much better. (That’s another thing knitters are lazy about, learning to use dpns!) For regular flat knitting, straight needles are far better. They have no cord to get the ball of yarn entwined in, and no constant tugging or pushing stitches up and down the cord. The coiled up cord is also irritating. You get longer needles suitable for wider items and our ancestors who were better knitters than most of us used them to do marvellous work comparatively and they needed to be speedy too.

So much ingenuity is given over to avoid the things people find hard (which are not anyway in my view), so we have all kinds of things like the magic loop in order to avoid dpns, yet its convoluted methods are not any less complicated than the simplicity of dpns which take an afternoon to adjust to. Not really in favour of bending the cords on my needles in this way.

The cord of circulars is a big nuisance for straight knitting as well and gives my cat something else to fixate and pounce on, as well as the yarn.Circulars should be used for circular knitting of sweaters or blankets and although the point is well made about distributing weight evenly (something to consider with weight projects) there are other issues. Knitting generally is harder on the hands with circular needles, with all the manipulating of stitches necessary. No wonder all the circular knitters have carpel tunnel syndrome – ouch! The join where you have to pull the stitches on the needle from the cord is often not very smooth either and makes it hard work to tug across and can damage the yarn as well.

So learn dpns, to use when they are best, knit with straights when appropriate and circulars when they are. I object to people casting down others for using the proper materials at appropriate times, when they themselves are not and are the ones lacking in skills. People are very snobby and compete about who has got what needle set, none of which seem to be built to last. Plain metal needles last a life time and more.

Debby Acuff

With all the discussion regarding straights vs circulars, I did not find any comments supporting those who use straight needles in the manner that the Scottish and British knitters (as well as many other cultures) use their straight needles. I was taught to knit by an English woman who learned in high school how to knit and knit quickly. We had a wager back in 1979 that I would give up my speedy crochet projects if she could teach me to knit faster that I could crochet. She did and I became an avid fan of knitting with my needles under my right arm and simply manipulating my stitches off the ends of my wonderful straight needles with considerable speed and accuracy. I was always impressed with how she would come to work and show us that she had knitted an entire back of a sweater in just one evening. I couldn’t even count her stitches as she would knit. I can knit all day and never have tired hands. I actually had custom 36″ wooden rug needles so I can sit on a stool and knit rugs…yes, with one needle under my arm. I may look funny to some when I knit but I have a wonderful collection of blue ribbons for my work. I’m so thankful that this gift was passed on to me particularly when I was struggling with failing eyesight, this method of knitting is easily done by those who are totally blind. Do I use circulars? Only when I absolutely have to. My circular projects take many times longer and become quite frustrating to me. For more information on this type of knitting, please research this method and give it a try. It takes only a few hours to adapt and now with my restored eyesight I enjoy knitting anywhere and everywhere. I find that knitting the car most relaxing…particularly for whoever is driving while I knit and refrain from comment on their driving skills. Since I learned to knit with limited eyesight, I find that I can sight see and knit at the same time. Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

Bev Dueck

Can you tell me what this type of knitting is called? I’m 60, left-handed, and self taught and would really love to learn the technique you are talking about. I would really appreciate hearing from you if possible.


Although I found all comments above interesting, this is not so much a comment but rather a question. How do I convert patterns using dpns to circular needles? I have made several pairs of fingerless gloves using 2 pairs of 16″ circular needles. I am ready to try something new.


I also use to use only straight needles but I since have found that circular needles are the best . Their better for your wrist and neck use. I was afraid at first to use them but I googled ( watched video , how to cast on circular etc) and watched how to use them . I found that it all depends on WHAT BRAND of circular to use . I got all mine from knit picks.com and jimmy beans wool . The cords are excellent and don’t twist. I don’t use the interchangeable ones just the fixed circular . If you do get a cord that’s twisty all you have to do is soak the cord ( not the needle ) in a basin of warm to hot water ( not boiling ) and they straighten out ! I’ll never go back to straight needles ! I use to hear other people talk how great they were and they were right ! Don’t be afraid to try – you may just find you like them !




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>