Knitting in the round is a rite of passage for most knitters. Learning how to knit in the round allows you to access more patterns and make more types of garments with less effort.
To master knitting in the round and the different methods of knitting in the round, you will need to become familiar with different sizes of circular needles and the pros and cons of each size.
Circular needles come in various sizes, ranging from as short as 9” to as long as 60”. The most popular sizes of circular needles, however, are 16”, 24”, and 32”, which allows you to knit in the round to make various projects, from socks and mittens to hats and even sweaters.
But sometimes the needle size you have is too large for your project. If you don’t have a set of double pointed needles (DPNs) in the same size, you may feel stuck when your circular needles are too long.
What can you do if your circular needles are too long? If your circular needles are too long for your project, you can switch to a shorter pair, use the magic loop method, or even use two pairs of circular needles of the same size (a substitute for the magic loop method).
In this article, we will walk you through the use of each circular needle size and help you troubleshoot some common problems when it comes to knitting in the round with circular needles.
Does the Length of Circular Needles Matter?
The short answer is yes: the length of your circular needles does matter a lot.
The basic understanding is, you want to match the length of your circular needles with the circumference of the loop that you are making.
For example, if you are using 9” circular needles, your loop would be approximately 9” (circumference). You can always make a slightly bigger loop with more stitches, but it can be uncomfortable if you have too many stitches for a short circular needle.
If the size of your loop is too small for your circular needles, you won’t be able to knit comfortably, and your stitches will be quite stretched out. If you have a small loop, for example, when knitting socks and mittens, we recommend using the magic loop method using 32” or longer circular needles.
Since the two needles are attached to a cord in the middle, some knitters don’t love the shorter circular needles because it is too short for the knitting motion, making knitting quite uncomfortable. In that case, the magic loop method is also recommended.
How Long Should My Circular Needles Be?
Depending on your project and knitting method, you may want to pick the appropriate circular needle length. We will walk you through some of the most common circular needle lengths below and help you choose the perfect size for your project.
9″ circular needles are the shortest circular needles that you can find on the market, which means that they are not very versatile.
You will need to match this length with the circumference of the loop that you want to make, which means that this length is best if you want to make tiny hats for children, pets’ clothing, and sweater sleeves.
16” circular needles are more popular because they are simply more versatile and easier to work with. You can use 16” circular needles to make garments that fit the length of the needles, mainly hats, sweaters’ yokes or sleeves, small sweaters for babies and pets, etc.
24” circular needles are less popular because they are somehow not very versatile. They are too short to knit using the magic loop method easily but too long to make sleeves or hats. They’re mainly good for knitting children’s sweaters.
32” circular needles are arguably the most versatile size when it comes to circular needles. They are long enough for the magic loop method, so you can use them to knit pretty much any size loop that is smaller than 32” in circumference.
You can use 32” circular needles to make sweaters, hats, and even mittens and socks!
40” and longer circular needles are mainly popular when you want to use the magic loop method to knit two socks or two mittens at a time. Otherwise, the length may be too cumbersome if you want to use the magic loop method. This length is also too long for a regular sweater.
Some knitters love to use long circular needles to knit a flat garment, especially if it is a bulky garment like a blanket. For big and heavy garments, using straight needles may be difficult because you have to hold up the entire weight of the garment when you knit. Using large circular needles to knit a large garment may alleviate that pain.
What to Do If Your Circular Needles Are Too Long?
If your circular needles are too long and inconvenient for your small project, there are a few ways to go around the problem:
1. Change to a shorter pair of circular knitting needles.
This is the most obvious answer, but sometimes, the simplest solution is the one that’s right in front of you. If you have on hand a pair of circular knitting needles that match the circumference of your loop, why not put them to work?
You can do this by picking up the stitches without knitting using the shorter circular needles on your right hand. Then, after transferring the stitches to the new needles, you can start knitting as normal.
2. Use the magic loop method for knitting in the round.
We have mentioned the magic loop method for knitting in the round a lot in this article. If you are not familiar with this method, it is a way to use long circular needles – 32” or longer – to knit a small-sized loop.
This method makes knitting in the round easier because you won’t have to use DPNs or try to stretch all of your stitches to match the length of your circular needles. You will also be able to take advantage of your long circular needles and knit faster as well.
How to Do the Magic Loop Method
Here’s how to knit a small loop using the magic loop method:
Step 1: Cast on the number of stitches that you want. Keep in mind that the number of stitches will establish the circumference of your loop.
Step 2: Move all of the stitches to the middle of the circular needles so that the stitches are all on the cord portion.
Step 3: Fold the circular needles in half with the wrong side of your work facing each other. Find a middle point of your cast-on row (it doesn’t have to be exact), and pull the cord outwards from that middle point so that each needle holds half of the stitches.
With the tail end of the cast-on row facing you, adjust your needles so that the front needle is holding half of the stitches and the back needle is empty (all the back stitches should be placed on the cord portion).
Step 4: Use the back needle to knit all of the stitches on the front needle.
Step 5: Flip your work so that the back stitches are now at the front, and place all of the back stitches on the needle by pulling the cord from the other side, and the other needle should be empty. Repeat step 4.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have the desired length.
And that’s the magic loop method! It is a great way to utilize a pair of circular needles that is too long for your project, and it will even make knitting in the round a lot faster as well!
3. Use two pairs of circular needles.
If your circular needles are too long for your project but too short for the magic loop method, you can use another pair of circular needles with the same needle size to knit in the round.
This solution may not make sense to you at first, but it employs the same logic as the magic loop method. You will need to divide your work into two portions, with one pair of circular needles holding the front portion and another pair of circular needles holding the back portion of the loop.
When you knit, hold your project so that the live yarn is in the right side. Adjust the front portion of your project so that the stitches are placed on the needle, ready to go. The back stitches should be placed on the cord portion of the other circular needles, and you can use the empty needle to start knitting.
When you are finished knitting all of the stitches on the front portion, flip the workaround and adjust the stitches similar to the previous step. Then, you can continue knitting.
Of course, this technique can seem confusing and cumbersome because you will have a few empty needles hanging from your work. But if you don’t have DPNs or shorter circular needles, this method is the next best thing.
Can You Shorten Circular Knitting Needles?
If you have a set of interchangeable knitting needles, then you can place all of your stitches on the two needles and switch the cord with a shorter cord from the same brand (so that it’s compatible) that fits with the number of stitches that you have.
Interchangeable knitting needles (like these) are quite convenient this way since you are allowed to “change needles” without actually having to change needles.
If not, then the magic loop method is highly recommended. You can follow the same instructions as above to knit a small loop using your long circular knitting needles.
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