7 reasons why circular knitting needles are better than straights

New to knitting and wondering if circular needles are better than straight needles? Or maybe you’ve always knit on straight needles and are curious about circulars.

Circular knitting needles have several advantages over straights, even if you never want to knit anything in the round. Here are 7 ways circular needles make knitting easier & more enjoyable.

1. Knit any pattern with circular needles

The number one reason why circular needles are better than straights is that you can use them for all knitting patterns. 

That’s right. You can knit any pattern that uses straight needles with circular needles, because you can use circulars to knit flat as well as in the round. But the opposite isn’t true: you can’t knit patterns that need a circular needle with straights instead.

If you only use straight knitting needles, you’re much more limited in pattern choice. For example, modern top down seamless sweaters are all the rage these days and you can only knit those with circulars. So, if you’re stuck with straights, you’re missing out big time. 

Knitting garter stitch flat on circular needles
You can knit flat on circular needles (back and forth in rows). They’re not just for knitting in the round.

Most sock, hat & glove patterns are knit in the round too. While you can use straight shorter double pointed needles (DPNs) to make these, it’s less fiddly & faster to just use a circular needle instead.

Learn how to knit in the round with a circular needle in my beginners step by step guide (including a video tutorial).

Bottom line: with circular needles you can knit ALL the things

2. You need to buy fewer knitting needles

Circular needles are extremely versatile and can knit almost everything. So instead of buying a mix of straight needles, circulars and DPNs in various sizes, you can just invest in circular knitting needles instead.

There are 2 types of circular knitting needles: fixed and interchangeable. With fixed circular needles, you cannot remove the tips, so you need to buy a needle every time you need a different length cable.

With interchangeable circular knitting needles, you can take the cables and needle tips apart. They’re a little more expensive, but the best value in the long run because you only need one pair of needle tips in each size. 

Interchangeable circular needles have separate needle tips and cables
Interchangeable circular knitting needles have separate needle tips and cables

With just one pair of needle tips, you can make any length circular needle by just swapping the cable. You can also knit multiple projects at once with the same needle tips, by switching the tips between your WIPs (works in progress).

I love my interchangeable circulars & use them for nearly all my knitting. Interchangeable needles do tend to come in fancy sets with fancy price tags though. But they are also available individually and that’s what I recommend, especially to newer knitters.

Just buy one pair of interchangeable tips in the size you use most often first. The cables are cheap so you can get a few in whatever lengths you need. See how you get on. If you’re an instant convert like me, you can buy each size of needle tips as you need them for a project.

When I switched from straight knitting needles, I built up my circular needle collection like this slowly over time instead of buying an expensive set with needle sizes I may never even use.

Interchangeable sets should last a long time though so they’re a justifiable splurge or an amazing gift for any knitter.

3. It’s easier to judge your work in progress knitting on circulars

You have a better idea of size and fit when knitting with circular needles.

If you’re knitting a sweater flat in pieces, it’s much easier to judge the width and drape of it in the early stages on a circular needle. You just spread out the sweater front on the cable or fold a sleeve and measure it or compare it with another top. You can also quickly review the fit at any stage by putting it up against your body or wrapping the sleeve around your arm.

Work in progress yellow cardigan being knit on a circular needle from the neckline down
Knitting this cardigan top down (from the neckline) with a circular needles means you can try it on throughout and adjust the size early on if needed

Playing with your work in progress knitting is much more restricted on straight needles. You can’t twist it around much and if you’re knitting something wide like the front of a sweater, your piece is all bunched together to fit all the stitches on the needled. So you have to knit a fair few inches before you know if you’re on track.

If you’re knitting a sweater in the round, you can even try it on as you go. How cool is that?

I prefer knitting socks and gloves on circulars to DPNs for easy try ons too. It’s not much fun trying on a work in progress sock on double pointed needles, struggling to get your foot inside the frame while keeping all your stitches safe.

4. You can knit larger pieces with circular needles

You can fit a lot more stitches on a long circular needle cable. With straight needles, the stitch count is limited by the length of the needle (usually 14 inches).

The most common circular needle lengths are 32-40 inches (80-100 cm), but you can get extra long cables up to 60 inches (150 cm). So it’s possible to knit a one piece blanket on a circular needle.

You can knit a width up to twice the circular needle length in the round according to Vogue Knitting – The Ultimate Knitting Book (page 115). If you’re knitting back & forth in rows instead, you can knit a piece slightly less wide than double your needle length.

Ideally, use a circular needle longer than the minimum length needed so that your stitches are not too crowded.

5. Circular Knitting Needles are easier on your wrists

Circular knitting needles put less pressure on your wrists because the weight of your knitting is on the cable rather than the needles.

Knitting has oodles of benefits, but it can be hard on your joints (hands, wrists, shoulders and neck), especially if you knit a lot of large items on straight needles.

Knitting with circular needles is much easier on your wrists. So if knitting with normal straight needles gives you muscle aches, try circular needles as you may find them much more comfortable so you can enjoy this relaxing hobby again.

6. Easier to carry your knitting around on circulars

Straight knitting needles are awkward to take with you on the go. They’re long & pointy and there’s always the danger of stitches falling off the end of your needle too. Sure, you can put needle protectors on the end, but I’ve had these fall off before.

Circular needles take up next to no space so are more portable. More importantly, your knitting is always safe mid cable and cannot come undone. Plus you don’t have to worry about losing a knitting needle somewhere.

7. Knit stockinette without any purl stitches

So many knitting patterns are mostly stockinette, which means knitting every right side row and purling every wrong side row when you knit with straight needles.

But when you knit in the round, you only work on the right side. This means that knitting every row gives you stockinette instead of garter stitch.

Beautiful yoke sweater knitting patterns are usually mainly stockinette. That’s right: lots of easy mindless knitting with no purls. Period.

So if you’ve only knit with straights but prefer knitting to purling like me, try knitting in the round ASAP. Get started right now with my knitting in the round for beginners step by step tutorial.

Are circular knitting needles better than straights? Technically speaking yes, because knitting with circular needles has so many benefits.

The only advantage straight knitting needles have over circulars is that they are more widely available & often cheaper. Regular knitting needles have been around forever & are still very popular. Ask anyone to think of a knitting needle, and they’ll always picture long pointy sticks! Many knitters are loyal to the straights they know and love. There’s no right or wrong here.

But having knit on & off for 2 decades with straights, finally trying knitting with circular needles changed my life. So I encourage you to try them, so you can see for yourself if circular needles are better than straights for YOU. That’s all that counts. Happy knitting!

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