When it comes to circular needles, length does matter. On Kitterly we've taken care of figuring out the best needles for each project so that you don't have to do any work.
On the other hand, we know that you might already have some circular needles sitting at home that you want to use. In this post I’ll go over which length needles go best with which projects.
First off, if you are knitting in the round you can’t use a needle longer than your project is around. So, for example, if you need to knit a pullover with a 34” bust you can do that on a 29” or 24” inch needle, but you aren’t going to be able to join it in the round if you try to cast onto a 40” needle.
The only way around that is using magic loop or knitting with two circulars at once, but those techniques are subjects for another blog post.
If you aren’t working in the round then there is far more flexibility, and it depends more on how many stitches you are comfortable cramming onto your needles.
Now I’ll go over the various lengths.
Needles shorter than 16”:
These needles are for very small circumference knitting. In order to accommodate the short length of the cord the needles must also be very short. Because of the way I hold my needles I find them uncomfortable to hold and don’t like using them. I much prefer to use double points.
That said, some people would rather rub scratchy wool on their necks than use double points or fuss with magic loop. Those people might want to give these shorter needles a try when making socks, little baby hats or narrow seamless sleeves.
The 16” circular needle is perfectly suited for hats for children through adults. So, if you’re knitting a hat in the round this is going to be your go-to length. They are also often used with baby pullovers or cardigans, because of their small size. You will also see them used on adult sweaters for collars or sleeves.
I’m a great believer in 24” needles. You can fit just about anything larger than a hat onto them if you're willing to crowd the stitches onto the needles.
If you prefer having a little more space on your needles (not too much, you don’t want to stretch your stitches out) then you might want to stick to children's pullovers and cardigans, smaller sized adult pullovers in the round, smaller cardigans, sweaters knit flat in pieces, and smaller shawls or shawlettes.
These are great sizes for shawls. When you hit that project that starts with “cast on 340 stitches” these lengths are a great place to start. If you want to do medium sized pullovers in the round, cardigans or baby blankets this is a good length to give you some room on the needles without having too much.
While you can fit a big chunky blanket on shorter needles, it’s not necessarily comfortable to have that kind of weight and bulk crowded in that way. These needles are also good for larger pullovers or men's pullovers in the round, larger cardigans, or circular shawls that get especially large. If you want to try magic loop, which involves folding a longer needle in half, this is a good length.
Unless you are doing a particularly large project, doing magic loop or something with an unusual construction that requires large needles you won’t often needles so long. Using them with smaller flat projects will allow you to lay them out but will leave you with a lot of extra needle length that can be cumbersome to deal with.
Personal preference is always a factor too. We've kitted our projects based on our experiences working with customers at a yarn store, but I always encourage people to experiment and try different needles to discover their own tastes.