A Guide to Circular Knitting Needles

The circular-knitting needle 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?

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 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.

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.

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.

Want to be a real circular-knitting whiz? Take Stefanie Japel’s Hats Four Ways: Circular Knit Lab class to learn how to choose supplies and creating hat circumferences to fit any size head.

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

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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.


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!


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


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.

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…


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