Ask Amy: Can I use circular needles instead of straight needles?

In some patterns, when a project is worked flat (such as a scarf or perhaps a garment that’s worked in pieces and seamed, like Beleza shown above), the required tools section may list straight needles. But as many of you know, you can use circular needles to work flat pieces. We’ve been asked about using circulars instead of straight needles a few times so it’s time for a blog post! The short answer is “Yes, absolutely.” Use whichever style of needle is most comfortable for you.

A slightly longer version goes like this: Both circular needles and straight needles have their uses. Many of us started out knitting on straight needles, so we’re more comfortable having those two separate needles for flat knitting. That’s okay!

The free knitting pattern Eastman calls for straight needles, but you could use circular needles to knit the pattern flat if you choose.

Some of us feel more comfortable using circular needles for flat knitting as well as circular knitting. And you can absolutely use those in patterns that call for straight needles. I can’t think of any pattern I’ve ever knit where the pattern called for straight needles and could only be worked on straight needles (I’m sure there are patterns that would bend this rule, I’m just saying I haven’t come across it yet).

Personally, I prefer working all of my pieces on circular needles for these reasons:

  • Most of the time I’m knitting large pieces with a good amount of stitches, and I have found that, for me, having all the stitches bunched up on the ends of straight needles creates an overload of weight and leads to wrist fatigue. If I can spread the stitches out on a circular needle cord, the weight is evenly distributed and doesn’t cause any pain (for reasonable durations of knitting—always remember to take breaks and rest your eyes and hands!).
  • For many projects worked in the round, I like to start working my cast-on flat and then join to work in the round after a few rows—that way I can more easily tell if my stitches are twisted before I join. It would be one extra step if I started it out on straight needles and then moved everything to circular needles.
  • If you need to change needle size and have interchangeable circular needles, you can leave the work on the cord and just change out the needle tips when the pattern says to change needle size—easy peasy!

All of that said, if you prefer to work flat pieces with straight needles, do that! Knitting should be enjoyable and you should use the method that works best for you.

4 Comments

  1. What type of circular needles do you like best? I have old plastic ones and I don’t care for them. The cable seems too stiff.

    1. Hey Audrey! Alison and I in the design team are really partial to ChiaoGoo metal circulars and interchangeables. I really like the tips and the cable, especially where it joins the needle tip. I think Amy C is partial to addi circular needles, and they are all really good. Mostly we use metal needles because they’re speedy, but if we’re working with a slippery yarn, we will use wooden needles.

  2. Thank you. I am not a speedy knitter and I prefer wooden needles and crochet hooks, so maybe I will try wooden ones first. Thanks!

    1. If you want wooden circular needles, I highly recommend Lykke – you can get interchangeable sets or fixed circulars – I love them because they’re wood, but so smooth and slippy compared to something like bamboo. They even come in different colours!

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