How to Pick the Right Circular Needle Length

Have you ever sat down to start a new project and wondered which length your circular needle should be? Sure, sometimes the pattern gives you this information… but what if it doesn’t?

It’s super easy to determine which length circular needle will give you the best results. Use this handy checklist:

  1. When knitting in the round, consider this: what size bust measurement are you making? Remember that your needle should never be longer than the body circumference of the stitches. For example: If you’re knitting a size 44″ (110 cm) bust, you’re not going to use a 60″ length (150 cm) circular needle – if you tried, you’d quickly discover that your stitches can’t stretch around the full width of the needle. I recommend using a needle the next size down (or smaller) than the bust size you’re making so that your stitches can move freely without being too crammed together or too spread apart.
  2. When knitting flat on a shawl, consider this: how much extra cord do you want to have to fiddle with? If you’re working on a shawl that starts with a single stitch and builds from there, it can be pretty fiddly to be using a 32-40″ (80-100 cm) cord. Start with a 24″ (60 cm) cord and transition to a longer needle when the stitches feel unmanageable. Or, if you don’t have multiple length options, choose a needle that can work for a good range of stitches without being either too long or too short (like a 32″/80 cm) cord.
  3. When knitting a sweater (not in the round), consider this: Will you be knitting your sweater in pieces or all in one piece (i.e. seamless, but worked flat)? If you’re knitting in pieces, then a 24-32″ (60-80 cm) circular needle can work fine for each of the flat pieces since you’re working them one at a time. However, if you’ll be working the whole sweater in one piece (seamless sweaters for the win!), then you’ll have significantly more stitches on your needles and will want to work with a 32-40″ (80-100 cm) needle so that your stitches have a little room to move as the sweater grows.
  4. If you’re knitting a hat, a 16″ (40 cm) circular needle usually works well. If it’s a tiny baby hat, you might prefer a 12″ (30 cm) circular, instead.
  5. For sleeves, I love a 12″ (30cm) circular needle, but you may find that for larger sleeves it’s more comfortable to begin the sleeve on a 16″ (40 cm) circular needle and transition to a smaller circular needle as you begin decreasing the sleeve.
  6. Are you using Magic Loop? In that case, the longer the needle cord, the better!

Here’s the long and short of it: The length of your circular needles is determined by your comfort level, how much cord you want to wrestle with, and the overall width/circumference of your project. Whatever you do, don’t sweat it. If you’re not sure, just start with what you have; you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if you need more or less length.

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