They say necessity is the mother of invention. And so it was with the creation of circular knitting needles.
The need to provide and clothe one's family, this is at the core of how knitting began. But to be able to sustain and provide, one had to have the right tools to be able to knit in the round.
This guide to circular knitting needles aims to explain circular knitting as a whole. We’ll talk about the types of circular knitting needles, their uses, and throw in a little knitting history for good measure. Let’s begin.
It may come as a surprise that the earliest knitting needles designed were for circular knitting, but it’s true. Even before flat knitting came to be popular, knitting in the round was the singular method of knitting in use.
It remains a popular method for knitters today and we can understand why. Knitting in the round takes functionality and efficiency to a whole new level. Faster knitting, more yarn, endless projects.
But I’m getting carried away. Let’s deep dive into the types of circular knitting needles and their uses.
Types of Circular Knitting Needles
There are three types of needles for knitting in the round. They are double pointed needles, fixed circulars, and interchangeables.
But first, I think it’s important to say that the language associated with these types of knitting needles can be confusing.
Knitting in the round, circular knitting, circular needles but not speaking of double pointed needles. It’s all very clunky, I agree. And it is so because it’s a mixed bag of related subjects.
I’ll try to break it down for you.
Circular knitting and knitting in the round = same thing. That's the easy one to explain away.
I feel the biggest confusion comes when talking about circular knitting needles. Let’s talk about that.
Circular Knitting Needles
Circular knitting needles are ANY needles which provide the function of knitting in the round. They may have a cord attached between them, they may not. An instance of the latter are double pointed needles, or DPNs.
When speaking of circular knitting needles, double pointed needles may not be your first thought. But if we look back in the history of knitting, some of the earliest knitting needles were double pointed needles.
Double Pointed Needles (DPNS)
The earliest DPNs were quite basic. They looked more like skewers or wires, but they were practical and necessary. They were often made of steel as this material was common and plentiful. Other materials such as ivory and bone were also used but were more of a luxury item.
Their design concept hasn’t changed much since its earliest inception. With points on both ends, and aptly named, this feature allows the knitter to work projects in the round.
What has changed is the number of knitting needle materials you can find them in. In addition to metal, they are also available in bamboo, wood, and carbon fiber.
You can read more about these knitting needles types and others here.
What Are Double Pointed Needles Used for?
DPNs are used when a project is too small to fit on a fixed circular or interchangeable needle. These tools help knit seamless tubes and are most frequently used to knit:
- Children’s garments and hats
- Amigurumi toys
- and more!
DPNs are also used for smaller projects that don't require the full length of a knitting needle. Some examples of flat knitting projects are:
Fixed Circular Needles
Unlike DPNs, fixed circulars are two short, single point needles, and connected by a flexible cord. Their needle tips come in 4” or 5” lengths, while their cords range from 8” up to 40” long.
Why are their different needle lengths, you ask? Well, the needle length and cord length dictate what types of projects you use them with.
Since you cannot change the size or length of these needles, you will need to be precise with your project requirements.
Interchangeable Knitting Needles
These are available in the same sizes as fixed circulars. Unlike them, you must screw or snap the parts together, then lock the interchangeables in place.
While commonly sold in sets, you can also purchase them in pairs. I find this feature to be quite handy. If you’re also a knitter with too many WIPs and UFOs, then you know what it’s like to suffer a shortage of needles. To remedy this, I have duplicates in my most used sizes to offset this conundrum.
Compared to fixed circulars, interchangeables are generally more preferred. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Why are Interchangeable Circular Knitting Needles Preferred?
- Cord length is adjustable (shortened or lengthened) in progress.
- Needle tip sizes are adjustable in progress.
- Able to vary needle sizes.
- Come in a handy case for protection, quick access, and travel.
- Joining cable prevents lost or dropped needles.
- Can be used to knit flat or in the round.
- Allow you to knit a wide range of project sizes.
- You can lock your work in place if you need to use your knitting needles for another project.
- Great for large projects as they distribute the weight evenly.
- Some brands provide a lifeline built in to the cable.
- Some brands provide cables that spin and/or are kink-free
What Can You Make with Circular Knitting Needles?
Some examples of projects knit with circular needles are:
- Hats and headbands
- Gloves and mittens
- Cowls or infinity scarves
- Amigurumi toys
Compared to DPNs, these knitting needles allow for knitting in the round on a larger scale. Also, fixed and interchangeables are great for large projects designed for flat knitting. Overall, they provide more flexibility in your knitting.
This concludes our guide to circular knitting needles, their uses, and what you can make with them. Did you find it helpful? Please drop us a line and share your thoughts with us.