Yes, circular needles are a great alternative to double pointed in many cases. In fact, many knitters prefer to use circular needles over DPNs for a number of reasons.
I learned to knit in the round using double pointed needles myself & still use them for certain projects. But I am a complete convert to the magic loop technique using one long circular needle & now use this instead of straight needles wherever possible.
Why are Circular Needles better than DPNS?
1. Easier to work with fewer Needles
The cast on and first few rows with double pointed needles is awkward and messy. There are pointy tips everywhere. You feel like Edward Scissorhands!
If you use a circular needle instead, it’s much easier to start your project. Just cast on the full amount of stitches onto your circular needle. If using a long circular needle (magic loop technique), pull out a length of cable halfway to divide your stitches in 2 and away you go.
2. You can’t lose your Needles!
It’s impossible to lose a circular knitting needle during your project, because your knitting hangs right in the middle of it. They are more awkward to store when not in use, but at least that means they won’t go AWOL on you!
With double point needles, there is always a spare needle not in use and herein lies the danger. DPNs usually come in sets of 5, but my favourite KnitPro symfonie wooden DPNs actually come in packs of 6 because they know every knitter will lose 1 sooner or later. In North America, these are sold as Knitter’s Pride dreamz needles but you only get a standard 5 pack. Perhaps US knitters know the secret to not losing DPNs. 😉
3. No risk of dropping Stitches
Your knitting stitches are always safe and sound on a circular needle cable, well away from the needle tips. But your stitches are dangerously close to the ends when you are using short double pointed needles, .
Even while knitting, a few stitches can drop off the end of a DPN without you knowing. Between knitting sessions, the risk increases. Stitches can easily come off the end of these short straight needles just moving around in a project bag.
You can get little point protectors for DPN tips to keep your stitches safe between knitting sessions. But it’s fiddly hassle doing this and they don’t always stay put either.
4. Easier to try on as you go
If you are making a pair of socks or gloves, fit is vital. It’s best to try on regularly as you go but that’s tricky with DPNs. With lots of short straight needle points it’s all too easy for stitches to drop off as you try to get your hand or foot in. You could move your stitches on to a length of yarn first, but that’s a load of faff.
If you use a long circular needle (magic loop approach), you can easily judge the size and shape at any time by just pulling out both needle tips leaving all your stitches on the cable. This also makes it really easy to try on your hand, foot or head at any time.
I recommend trying on from early on in your project, so you can quickly start again if the fit is wrong.
5. Less likely to have Ladders between Needles
When using DPNs, your knitting may look a bit different at the points where 2 needles meet. The change in tension can cause loose stitches which leaves a slight gap. So you get visible lines or ladders down your knitting where each DPN ends. These can wash out but it’s not a great look.
If you struggle with laddering, using a circular needle instead often solves this problem.
When should you use DPNs rather than Circular Needles?
Double pointed needles are still the best option in certain cases. It’s easier to use DPNs instead of a circular needle when knitting very small circumferences in the round.
For example, while you can easily knit the main part of a glove on a circular, it’s best to knit each glove finger on double pointed needles.
Double pointed needles also come in handy when knitting small toy parts in the round. Knitting fiddly bits in the round is usually much easier on DPNs.
How to use one Long Circular Needle instead of DPNs (Magic Loop)
The easiest way to knit small items like socks, gloves, hats and toys without DPNs is to use one long circular needle. This knitting technique is called the magic loop. It’s best to use a circular needle that is 100-150cm long for this. An 80cm long circular will also work for small stitch counts, but it won’t be as comfortable to work with. I also find the halfway point column can be noticeable in my knitting if I use too short a cable.
Here is a good magic loop video tutorial or you can follow the steps below:
How to cast on and knit using the Magic Loop method
Cast on all the stitches on your circular needle.
Move all the stitches down the cable.
Split your stitches in half
Find the halfway point of your cast on stitches. Hold the 2 halves of your stitches in your dominant hand and pull out the cable at the halfway point with your other hand to split your stitches in half.
Slide stitches up to needle tips
Slide each half of stitches up to the points of your needle, with a big loop of cable left between them.
Your working yarn should be hanging from the end of your back needle tip.
Get in position to start knitting
Holding the 2 needle tips together in your left hand (if right handed), pull the back tip out with your right hand and around to meet the front needle. There should still be a good loop of cable out the left side but enough cable on the right so you can comfortably knit into the first stitch on the front needle.
Knit across the first half of your stitches and turn your work
Get in position to knit 2nd half
Push the front needle down so the front stitches are on it. Hold both needles together again and pull the back tip out and around again as before.
Knit across the 2nd half of your stitches to complete round 1
Continue repeating steps 4-7 to complete each round
Knit half a round and yank your cable each time. You should always have a loop of cable hanging out of both sides as you work. This reminds me of Dumbo the elephant’s ears!
The magic loop looks quite odd and feels strange at first too, but it soon becomes second nature. Once you learn magic loop, it’s a real game changer. Instead of needing lots of different length circular needles, you can use one long circular needle to knit socks, hats, sleeves & even parts of sweaters.
How to convert a Pattern written for DPNs to Circular Needles?
You can knit most patterns written for double pointed needles with a long circular needle instead.
If it is a complex pattern, a handy tip is to place a stitch marker at the point where each DPN would end. Place a marker at the 1/3 and 2/3 points if your pattern uses only 4 DPNs. If your pattern uses 5 DPNs, which divides your stitches in 4, just place a marker halfway along each half of your magic loop instead.
Ignore the DPN cast on and division instructions. Just cast on all your stitches on to your circular needle. Then split them in 2 ready to knit using the magic loop technique (explained above).
So your stitches are just divided in half rather than thirds or quarters as described in the DPNs pattern. Working in halves is usually more intuitive and makes it easier to judge size and shape too.
You can just follow along your pattern, taking care wherever it mentions needle 1 to 3 (or 4) so that you knit to the same point in your round. That’s why placing 3-4 markers where each DPN would end can help.
Tips for knitting Socks and Gloves with Magic Loop instead of DPNs
Sock patterns most commonly use 5 DPNs, where your stitches are divided evenly among 4 needles. It’s really simple to knit these patterns with a long circular needle instead. The stitches from needle 1 and 2 will just be the front half of your magic loop, with needles 3 and 4 replaced by the back half.
If you are making gloves, I still recommend switching to double pointed needles near the end of the pattern to knit the individual fingers and thumb. There are so few stitches involved here that they are much easier to make with DPNs.
I hope this post helps you understand when and how to use a circular needle instead of double pointed needles. I’m a big fan of magic loop knitting for small accessories, but DPNs are still part of my knitting toolkit. There is no right or wrong here of course. Whether you’re a die hard DPNs fan or swear by circulars, the main thing is to enjoy your knitting. 😊