Knitting in the Round: Fixed Circular vs. Double-Pointed Needles

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Knitting | Comments


If you’re new to knitting, the vast selection of knitting needles probably gives you a headache. Straight needles are easy enough to understand, but things get complicated when you start knitting in the round with fixed circulars, double-pointed needles, or both!

No need to cry when you shop the knitting needle section. Here are a few ways to know when you should use fixed circular needles and when you should use double-pointed needles.

Trendy Knit Headband with Knit Flower

Photo via Craftsy instructor Stefanie Japel

When to use double-pointed needles

Stefanie Japel’s Trendy Headband from her Knit Lab: In the Round class is a great (and pretty!) example of a project that uses double-pointed needles. Double-pointed needles are perfect for smaller knitted projects, like fingerless gloves, that won’t fit on circular needles. The smallest fixed circular needle available is 16″ in circumference. Taking into consideration that you want your needle circumference to be slightly smaller than your project’s finished circumference, anything you knit that’s less than about 16″ in circumference will need to be knitted on double-pointed needles.

When to use fixed circular needles

You know one thing that’s so awesome about circular needles? You don’t have to knit in the round to use them! Don’t tell straight needles I told you this, but you could use fixed circular needles for the majority of your knitting projects if you wanted to. In fact, I prefer circular needles for heavier garments, like shawls, because they make it much easier on your wrists when holding the weight of the project.

But of course, circular needles are also fantastic for in-the-round projects. Some knitters prefer circular needles to double-pointed needles because they’re a little easier to hang onto. Plus, your work doesn’t slide off a circular needle quite as easily as it might a double-pointed needle. (I’m a fan of circulars. Can you tell?) To read more about what circular needle lengths are best for which projects (yes, even projects that are knit flat!), check out our guide to circular knitting needles.

Sawtooth Knit Hat

Photo via Craftsy instructor Stefanie Japel

Transitioning between circulars and DPNs

Sometimes a project requires you to have both circular and double-pointed needles. This is because as the circumference of the project changes, you’ll need a smaller needle. If it’s a larger project, like a poncho, the pattern might just ask you to change from a 36″ circular to a 24″ circular as the poncho decreases in circumference. For something like Stefanie Japel’s Sawtooth Hat above, you’d begin knitting the bottom with a 16″ circular needle, then change to double-pointed needles when you start decreasing the crown. That’s because the hat is becoming so small that fitting all those stitches on a circular needle would be impossible!

What better way to start off knitting in the round than with someone to guide you through each little step?

Stefanie Japel is here to help you do just that in her Knit Lab: In the Round class. She’ll walk you through making a magic loop, plus help you knit the beautiful projects seen in this post, like the Sawtooth Hat and Trendy Headband.

How do you determine when to use circular needles and when to use double-pointed needles? Which needles are your favorite?