What length of circular knitting needles should you use?

Are you confused about the length of your circular knitting needles and which one is better for which project?  Should you just buy the longest circular needle, and will it work for every knitting project?  And how do you measure a 16” fixed circular needle?  With the tips or without?

In this blog post I will try and answer these questions.   

For fixed circular needles you are always going to measure from tip to tip, and so the length of the needle includes both needle tips and the connecting cable.  For example, when you buy a 60 cm. (24”) 2.5 mm. Circular needle.  It is going to measure 60 cm. (24”) from one needle tip to the other needle tip.  

For interchangeable needles, it’s slightly different because they usually come in sets of needle tips such as 4 or 5 inch set of tips and are generally sold with multiple cable lengths such as a 16”, 24” or 32” cables.  I know !! What?

Ok, stay with me now!  To measure the length when using interchangeable circular needles, all you need to do is add the two tips and cable lengths together.   For example, if you have two 5-inch tips with a 16-inch cable you will get a 26” length from tip to tip but if you use the 24” cable with your 5” tips then you will have a 34” length from tip to tip.  With interchangeable needles, you need to add the length of the pieces together, and the total length will vary depending on the length of cable you use.  The beauty of owning a set of interchangeable circular needles is all you need to buy is the cables to lengthen or shorten the tips for each different projects you work on. The deluxe interchangeable sets usually come with 3 different lengths of cable such as 16", 32" and 24".  

And to make things even more confusing, some brands call them cords and others call them cables. For simplicity, they are in fact the same thing, a cord or cable that connects two interchangeable tips together to make a circular knitting needle.

How to measure circular knitting needles

 Why is the needle length so important you ask?  When knitting in the round, the general rule is that your needle length should be slightly smaller than the circumference of your project.  If you use a longer length needle, then you will be struggling to knit in the round.  You also don’t want one that is too short to accommodate the number of stitches you have.  However, if you are knitting a large project that you are knitting flat, then a longer circular needle would be better to hold the large number of stitches and this rule would not apply. 

There is another exception to this rule if you are knitting in the round using the magic loop technique, but that is for another blog post.

Here are some general rules of thumb to follow:

22 or 30 cm. (8 ½ or 12”) needles are best for socks, mittens or cuffs. If you find it difficult to use such small circular needles, then using a set of double pointed needles might be a better option.

40 cm. (16”) needles are useful for sleeves, hats and children’s sweaters.

60 or 80 cm. (24 or 32”) needles works well for the main body of adult sweaters.

100, 120, 140 or 150 cm. (40, 47, 55 or 60”) needles are usually used for large projects like baby blankets and knitting flat.

Let me know if this was helpful, and feel free to leave me your comments or suggestions. 

Happy Knitting !  Yvonne


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  • Of course, you can always double up. Whenever I buy a new size I usually get a 24" , and add a 32" or a 40". That way I can stretch my 24" with a second needle for a sweater or an afghan, and use two needles on smaller projects with having to use Magic Loop. which I dislike. I also dislike the shorter tips of circulars less than 24" long. So I double up.

    Kristen Gunn
  • This was very helpful!

  • Thank you for this advice. I hope I ordered the right size for a large shawl from you.
    100 cm? Would they be the longest you can buy?

    Have a great day!


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