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A Beginner’s Guide to Circular Knitting Needle Sizes (Head and Cord Lengths)

You may have thought all along that bigger circular needles produce better stitches but you are wrong! Every circular needle size and cord length has its own purpose. Each needle size is numbered and the smaller this number is, the smaller the circular needle will be and you will also have to use a thinner yarn.

To help you choose the appropriate circular knitting needle for your project, we will be discussing the different circular needle sizes and cord lengths along with the usage of each in this guide. So keep on reading to know more!

When you have a pattern you are working on, you will probably find the recommended circular knitting needle size you should be using in the pattern’s description. A 9 24-inch size needle, for instance, refers to a circular knitting needle with a size 9 needle head and a 24-inch length measured from tip to tip.

The needle head sizes often come in either metric sizes or US sizes. So you have to make sure that you know which sizing convention is used by your needle because a 10mm and a US 10 size needle are not similar.

You will also find needles in UK sizes whose sizing convention is opposite of that of the US sizing convention – the smaller the number, the bigger the needle is. But for our discussion on the circular needle head sizes, we will be using the US sizing convention. Here’s a knitting needle size conversion chart for your reference if you are using needles in UK sizes.

Let us start with a brief definition of what circular knitting needles are in the next section.

What Are Circular Knitting Needles?

You may not know but circular knitting needles are actually the handiest needles that you should have inside your knitting bags. These are two straight knitting needles joined together by a flexible cord with different lengths and are used mostly for knitting in the round. They are more workable compared to straight needles and double-point ones because you can use circular knitting needles in the same applications where you would use these two. Read this article link for a brief description on what straight needles and double-point needles are.

Circular Knitting Needle Head Sizes

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 1 and Below

These are typically used for lace projects and those that require intense patience. Small needles like these are hard to find and are mostly specialized. Newbie knitters can ignore these needle sizes.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 1 to 3

If you are addicted to knitting cozy socks, this size range would be ideal. Many socks are knit with size 1 and size 2 needles using sock yarn but you will also encounter patterns designed to use non-sock yarns but are heavier. Aside from socks, you can also knit shawls with these needles using sock yarns.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 3 to 5

For sport-weight yarns which are a bit thicker than sock yarns, size 3-5 needles are used. You can knit up socks, sweaters, baby blankets, and others with sport-weight yarns using these needles.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 5 to 7

These needle sizes are perfect matches for DK-weight yarns which are slightly lighter compared to worsted-weight yarns. They are common in knitting anything from gloves to scarves to sweaters.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 7 to 9

Size 7-9 circular knitting needles are possibly the most popular ones and are usually used to knit worsted-weight yarns. These are recommended for newbie knitters.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 9 to 11

As the circular needle knitting head size grows larger, you will also create faster knits. For quick knits, chunky-weight or bulky yarns are the most famous ones. You can practically use any type of knitting needle for bulky yarns but circular knitting needles are the best ones for knitting large projects. Do note that the sizes in this range are 9, 10, 10.5, and 11 US sizes.

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes 11 to 17

If you are into bigger projects using bulky yarns, choose this size range. But do not be surprised if you will not find 12, 14, and 16 US needle sizes because these are only available in odd sizes (11,13,15 and 17).

Circular Knitting Needle Sizes Larger than 17

Needle heads larger than US size 17 are for jumbo weight yarns for creating really thick knits. Wood and metal circular knitting needles are not ideal materials for thick knits because they add to the heaviness of the yarns. It is recommended to use plastic needles.

Circular Knitting Needle Cord Lengths

9-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

These are good for socks, narrow sleeves, baby hats, and other projects with very small circumferences. They are the shortest needles you’ll find in the market. Since the cord is short, the needles also need to be very short. For projects requiring much smaller circumferences, double point needles would be ideal because it is very uncomfortable to knit using circular needles for these projects due to the needle head sizes.

16-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

For projects that are a little large for double-pointed needles, 16-inch cords are ideal especially for in the round knitting. Sample projects you can do with this cord length are the following:

  • Hats for kids or grown-ups
  • Booties and sweaters for babies
  • Sleeves and Collars of adult sweaters
  • Brims of hats

24-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

You can use 24-inch circular needles in almost all projects especially sweaters. If you want more space on the needles when knitting, you should stick to shawlettes (smaller shawls), flat knit sweaters in pieces, smaller cardigans, smaller adult pullovers that are knit in the round, and children’s cardigans and pullovers.

29 to 32-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

29-inch cord lengths are perfect for knitting medium-sized projects in flat or in the round knits. When you are following a pattern starting with 340 cast on stitches, these lengths would be the best option to start with. They are good fits for the body of sweaters, shawls, baby cardigans or blankets, and pullovers that are knit in the round.

36 to 40-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

This range of cord lengths are ideal for large or heavy projects knitted flat and projects with small circumferences knit using the magic loop. You will be more comfortable when knitting heavy projects using these cord lengths because all of the weight will be put onto the needle cord which allows for faster knitting. They are also suitable for larger circular shawls, cardigans, and pullovers (like men’s pullovers) that are knit in the round.

Over 40-Inch Circular Knitting Needle Cords

Unless your projects are particularly large (such as bed-size blankets), you won’t be needing long needles with these sizes that much. You can use them when knitting smaller projects knit in flat but you will have to deal with the extra cord length which can be very inconvenient.

Interchangeable Kits

When you are doing a lot of different projects requiring varying needle head sizes and cord lengths, having multiple needles can be very inefficient. The solution is to get interchangeable kits which contain needle tips in a wide range of sizes that you can attach to various cord lengths. They are very handy and gives you a lot of options for your knitting projects.

By the way, if you already have your own circular needles and are not sure what their cord lengths are, you can read this article on how to measure length of circular knitting needles. And if you’re still a beginner in circular knitting machine, check out this video on how to knit in the round for beginners.

Conclusion

In choosing a circular needle size and cord length, the application is not only the influencing factor but also your personal preferences. You can experiment using each needle size and cord length to discover your own tastes.

But do remember that the circular needle size and cord length you will be using will still depend on the project you are intending to create as we have discussed in this article. It will be easier to figure out which needle would be appropriate for your project if you already know the weight of the yarn you will be using. In fact, most yarn labels display the recommended needle size for the yarn.

As for the circular needle cord length, you just have to know the size of the project you want to do. Shorter cord lengths are ideal for small-sized projects and longer ones are for big chunky projects. Feel free to check out our blog for more articles about circular knitting and circular knitting machines.

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