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Sunday, 5 July 2020

Let's talk about ... short circular needles

It seems like a very long time ago now that I picked up my first set of short circular needles, the promise of my sock knitting being "revolution-ised" ringing in my ears and proving to be absolutely true - for me, at least!  

When I bought my 30cm (12'") short circular needle, that was pretty much the sum total of what was on offer.  I wasn't presented with a range of other choices as easily as you might be today, and when my needle first arrived through the post, it looked so unbelievably tiny that I had no idea how it was going to replace my DPNs.  I just knew, though, that this was the needle for me and I was determined to get to grips with it.  There was a slight flaw in this plan as I couldn't work out how to cast on and make it join (this might sound familiar to you!) until I realised that casting on with straight needles not only solved that problem but also stopped the stitches twisting.  I put my DPNs to one side and the short circular became my needle of choice.

I used this short circular needle as one of the three methods shown in my Sockalong tutorials.  The plan with the tutorials was always just to get people started knitting socks and I showed the needles that I used and how I knit my socks, always intending that the tutorials would be a springboard to discovering more.  It has both surprised and delighted me that for many people, the basic 4ply Sockalong sock pattern along with the tutorials has been enough.  There are so many fabulous self-striping yarns around these days that you often don't need any more, and instead of delving further into more complicated patterns, people have stuck with what works for them, and that's just lovely!

What I have noticed, though, is that people are investigating their needle choices more.  That will be because, since I wrote the Sockalong tutorials, there really is more choice, and also because the way we get our information through the internet has improved too.  It's second nature to many of us now to simply put our questions into a search bar and hey presto, we have a hundred answers to scroll through!  It's enlightening - and sometimes overwhelming - so I thought that this morning, I'd add my own thoughts to one of the questions that I see most often: what's the best size of short circular to buy?

Close up of three short circular knitting needles.  They are arranged in side, largest to the outside and smallest on the inside.  They have different tips (outside and inside are metal whilst the one between is coloured wood) and different coloured cables; gold on the outside, purple in the middle and green in the very centre).
Needle brands: Outside - Addi, Centre - KnitPro Symphonie, Inside - HiyaHiya

Now there's a question!  The three needles that you can see in the photo above are the ones that tend to be referred to most often.  From the outside in, the lengths are 30cm (12"), 25cm (9.8") and 23cm (9") - there's quite a difference, isn't there?  (There's an even smaller one which I don't have in my collection - 20cm (7.8") - if you want to get really tiny!)  I think it can be hard to imagine that there is a whole 7cm (2.75") difference in length between the longest and the shortest, but they are all suitable for knitting socks; which one is suitable for you is the next thing to consider.

I think the question of "which needle" is the one that is asked most often in my Facebook group and I think it's interesting that the overwhelming majority of answers point people in the direction of the 23cm or 9" circular - the smallest one of the three in the photo!  Yes, you can sometimes get right to the end of the toes using that needle, but there are other factors to consider before making a purchase, the main one of which is how you actually knit.  

If you're an English knitter, holding your yarn in your right hand and flicking or throwing it to make the stitch, the tiniest tips don't give you much to grip onto whilst you're doing that.  If you're a Continental knitter, holding your yarn in your left hand whilst you scoop it to make the stitch, the longest tips can get in the way as they don't bend enough (my very first 30cm needle had bent tips as you'll see in the Sockalong tutorials; Addi no longer make them but they are still available in the ChiaoGoo red range).  At the end of the day, though, whichever way you knit, the chances are that there is a size of short circular needle that will suit you.

This photo gives a better indication of how your knitting style will identify which short circular needle will suit you:

Close up of three different short circular needle tips.  They are stacked on top of each other, largest to smallest two.  The top and bottom needle tips are metal and the middle one is coloured wood.
Needle brands: Top - Addi, Centre - KnitPro Symphonie, Bottom - HiyaHiya


You can really see the difference in the tips in this photo, and this is why I always wince at the generic "you need a 9" circular" answer.  The top tip is 7cm long (30cm/12" circular), the middle tip is 6cm long (25cm/9.8" circular) and the bottom tip is 5cm long (23cm/9" circular) and that's a whole 2cm (3/4") difference between the smallest and the largest!  That might not sound like much but can make a huge difference to how you hold your needles and your posture in general.

For me, the 9" circular is actually too small.  It makes my hands cramp up and I find myself hunched over in a most uncomfortable way.  As an English knitter, it's just not the one for me.  If I use the Continental method, I get along better but it's still a bit too short and the pleasure of knitting my socks reduces considerably.  I find it much easier to hold the bigger 7cm tips, my stitches are spaced out more on my cable and I relax my shoulders BUT this is the thing that I always talk to people about - it's personal preference.  Plenty of English knitters love the 9" circular and I think that's brilliant.  Now that there is so much choice, you can do a bit of research and not be saddled with anyone's choice but your own!  

(Important point: knitting is for pleasure so whatever your needles, if you do find your shoulders pulling in and your hands cramping, make sure you that you take plenty of breaks and try out some knitters' exercises (YouTube is your friend here).  If you're using a short circular, try angling your wrists out slightly, especially if you are an English-style knitter, as that helps.)

I also need to add here that many people find the 30cm (12") needle too big and their stitches stretched.  I have to say that this doesn't happen to me.  This will, of course, be down to knitting tension (and there's a whole other tutorial on that here!) and I will say that if the first few (maybe more) of the rib section are stretched on a particular sock, that soon loosens off once I get into the leg of the sock.  However, the fewest number of stitches that I can knit with on that size needle is 60 - any less and they really are stretched too tight so I drop down to a 25cm (9.8") needle for those socks.

You'll also see if you look in the photo above that the needle tips are made of different materials.  Addi needles come as metal tips which suit me fine, but many people prefer wooden ones.  The KnitPro Symphonie tip in the centre is wooden, but it is also available as a Nova metal tip.  You might prefer bamboo needles; HiyaHiya and ChiaoGoo both offer bamboo versions of their needles, and you'll find other brands which also make short circular needles but do be very careful of the quality of the joins.  More than any other size of needle, if your short circular join isn't beautifully smooth, it will drive you mad very quickly!

Recognising the need for yet more choice in needle style, Addi developed the Sock Wonder (SockWunder) needle which is 25cm long (better for smaller socks than the 30cm (12") but not as small as the 23cm (9") and that needle has one 7cm tip and one 5cm tip.  You can choose which way around you want the tips; I found that it was most comfortable with the longer tip in my right hand but again, that's down to my knitting style.  There are bamboo versions of this needle available in other brands.  

Close up of an Addi Sock Wonder short circular needle
Needle brand: Addi Sock Wonder

If you think that a 25cm (9.8") needle might be a good compromise,  you'd be right and I don't find that it feels a great deal different in my hands to the 30cm (12") needle.  If you don't fancy the 7cm/5cm tips, you can buy them with two 6cm tips instead.

There's one more thing about knitting style that is crucial for your choice of short circular needle, and that's how you hold your needles in your hand.

If you are someone who rests your needle across your thumb, as in the picture below, then a short circular may not be for you at all. 

Close up of a hand holding a short circular needle resting across the thumb

If you imagine that your sock is growing longer and longer, it's bunching up around your thumb and whilst I have seen people who knit like that use short circulars very successfully, it's definitely something to consider.  Whenever I have been out and out with my needles for people to try, the ones who knit in that style often find that magic loop is more comfortable for them so if that's you and you've not considered magic loop, that's something else to add to your research list!

I've given some suggestions on the Sockalong Shop page but do remember that these are just a starting point.  If you can try the needles out in your hands before you buy them (and support your local yarn shop), that's always going to be the best thing, or given the nature of the world at the moment, if you are able to buy and return them if they didn't suit you, then that would be the next best option.

I really hope this has been helpful!  This post has been all about knitting with one short circular needle so I haven't mentioned DPNs, knitting with two short circulars, magic loop or Crasy Trio (FlexiFlips) which are all available as methods to create your socks - the best part about sock knitting is that there are so many choices!  There are choices of needles, choices of sizes, of fits, of heels, of toes ... there's no reason at all why you can't mix and match any of the styles to get your perfect fit and wear the best socks that you've ever had on your feet.


Do let me know if the comments if you've got any thoughts to add!


35 comments:

  1. I have the one with bent ends and while others watch and ask how hard they are I adore them, makes the whole project so portable and easy. Thank you.

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    1. I wore mine out and when I bought a new one, they had straight tips! I keep meaning to try out the ChiaoGoo one with the bent tips but haven't got round to it yet :) xx

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  2. Thanks for the info. So much choice! I use DPN's, but today, whilst knitting in the car (as a passenger, I hasten to add) I accidentally pulled out all 4 needles and had to faff about picking up and distributing stitches. I think that might be less likely with a circular. I've used a longer circular to knit 2 at a time, but found that a bit fiddly. I'll have to have a proper look at short circulars. xx

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    1. Ah, I stopped using DPNs in the car when I managed to lose one of them down the dashboard, never to be seen again. I sold that car with an DPN in the dashboard somewhere ... 🤣 xx

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  3. I love my ChiaoGoo 9" needle x

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    1. I'm glad you've found the one for you! 😀 xx

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  4. Denise Fordyce5 July 2020 at 22:53

    I have tried both circulars and DPNs...I'm sticking with DPNs for socks! I find them less tiring on my hands and I think my tension is a lot better. Still use circulars for other things, though.

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    1. Isn't it great that we have so much choice? When I first started knitting socks, the assumption was always that you would use DPNs but it's not at all like that now xx

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  5. I've tried a few options, but my favourite is the Sock Wonder, with the longer tip in my right hand. I want to try the magic loop so I can do two at a time next - does anyone else have several single socks because they want to go onto something new rather than knitting the second sock?!!

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    1. Actually, I think your question should be "Doesn't EVERYONE else have several single socks ...?" 🤣 xx

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  6. Hi there. I found this an interesting read. I've not knitted socks even though I've bought a small circular needle to do so. The reason behind this is because I panic at the thought of having to change to DPNs at the smaller parts, and I don't like DPNs.

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    1. Don't panic, Lynda! When you change to DPNs for the heel then you're only knitting on two needles so you'll manage that no problem, and if you'd rather use magic loop for the toes then do that instead. I switch between the two depending on which needles I have free and it works very well. You can use the magic loop section of the tutorial for that - but you're not there yet so there's no point in using up energy in worrying that you could be using to cast on! One round at a time ... 😀 xx

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  7. I would love to try knitting socks but I've never knit on the round. I currently use extra long straight needles as I'm a tuck my needle under my arm knitted. Have you any advice on how I can change a lifetime knitting style (50+years) so I can progress to socks?

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    1. What I usually suggest to people who tuck their needles is that they still tuck a needle under their arm whilst knitting in the round, even though they're not using it. Your brain is comforted by the feeling of the needle and stops worrying about what is going on with your hands leaving you free to get on with it - and after a while, you won't need the needle under your arm. It doesn't work for everybody but most people that I've spoken to that have tried it have had a good result so it's definitely worth a go! xx

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  8. Well, I’m a sock maker wannabe! I’ve been knitting for more years than I care to say. I once almost completed a cuff-down sock for my young granddaughter and while attempting to Kitchener the toe, everything seemed to explode, all my stitches fell off the needles and that finished me! I’ve been too afraid to go at it again. Because of COVID here in the Pacific Northwest in the US we are confined to place. I’ve been poring over sock books believing this is the time to sit quietly and knit a pair of socks successfully! Wish me well, ladies! I have yarn weighed out in matching 50 gr. balls, ready to swatch! I’ll keep you posted! Yours in stitches, Betsy

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    1. Oh no - you were so close in reaching the toes with your sock! I'd recommend that you use lifelines (there's a video on them on my YouTube channel) and I am sure that this time, you'll have those socks on your feet! xx

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    2. i can't do the kitchener stitch to save myself either, all lumpy, dropped stitches, etc but i love making my socks (& i don't have a problem starting the 2nd one), learning new patterns & Winwick Mum's tutorials are a blessing in disguise for new sock knitters, I cinch my toes just like you do for a beanie :)) there are several toe finishes out there besides the kitchener stitch; or you could simply learn to start from the toes up (which i haven't learnt yet)
      i use the smaller circulars wooden tips, (as the metal needles make my hands ache) & cast on using the Norwegian long tail method onto the circulars no DPNs til i get to the toes.
      wonderful informative post
      thanx for sharing

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  9. Magic loop for me. I found the small circulars slowed me down and myself fighting with them as I knit English style. I have one set of addi needles that I bought with hopes it would work for me but in my case it didn’t.

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  10. Doing my first socks using a small circular. I'm using KnitPro Nova and there's enough flexibility in the points to do very small circumferences in comfort.

    I have to admit to finding DPNs a little bit easier to use and because you still need them for the heel flaps, gussets and toes, I'm still a fan. But certainly the lack of ugly tramlines in a sock is something that will definitely make me use small circs on my next pair of socks or gloves!!

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  11. I have problems with DPNs due to my coordination problems and lazy left hand (cerebral palsy). I avoided knitting in the round for years, I am 66, but then learnt Magic Loop. I cannot manage the short circular needles because I hold the needle as explained. I have found that Crasy Trio needles work best as there isn't the shuffling and pulling of Magic Loop and the flexible centre means that the stitches don't fall off, great when I am interrupted or drop my knitting. The choice of using a blunt or pointed tip is also useful. Your tutorial was my encouragement to knit my first pair of socks, thank you so much

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  12. Ah this post is so useful, I also am a wannabe sock maker, I bought some gorgeous West Yorkshire Spinners wool about 8 months ago from a 'Wool Boat' on the canal!!!! (I know)!!
    I started to make a sock then got confused with the needles so undid it and all I do now is stroke the yarn! I really need to have another try 😊

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  13. Thank you so much for your information but more importantly thank you for your tutorials! I had attempted sock knitting three different times before finding your lessons and all were failures. I followed your directions step by step and voila a "wearable" sock emerged.

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  14. I knitted my first ever pair of socks on a ChiaoGoo shorty interchangeable circular total needle length 23cm (9"). I used your sockalong blog posts to help me picture the words from the basic ribbed sock pattern I was using, but I got stuck at the toe, trying to get down to just 8 stitches on my needles, I couldn't figure out how to get there and ended up slipping stitches around hopping between needles and bodging it to the end. They came out just fine but the last 30 minutes of each sock was very frustrating!

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  15. I love them. Use 9 inch, 4.5 mm. for making comfort dolls that go to our hospital. Have 80 made here now. Waiting for COVID 19 to get under control. Also, for hats.

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  16. I use the ChiaoGoo 9" for my socks and knit the entire sock on them. I don't switch over even when picking up stitches or kitchnering the toes. I saw it on You Tube once and with the help of your book, I get a sock done rather quickly. I really appreciate all of your help in getting me started on my sock journey.

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  17. I’m a magic loop person too. Though I haven’t tried all of the really small needles. I do worry that the 3 year old in my life who wants to knit will pull the needle out trying to “help”.

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  18. I am 1/2" away from doing the toe on my first sock. Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I settled on the 9" circular fairly quickly for the main knitting with DPNs for the heel and probably some portion of the toes. I did buy several brands as I found the decider for me was the tips - I like a fairly sharp one (as the little divot in my finger will attest). I am finishing up this sock on a pair of ChiaGoo, but will switch to a pair of Hiya Hiya Sharps for the next one and I have a Knitter's Pride to try out also.

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  19. I call myself a Born Again Knitter, inspired by my sister, who is a prolific knitter (mostly socks in the last decade or so). Although I learned to knit when young (20's) I had problems maintaining tension and wound up dropping stitches and getting cramped hands, and was impatient with slow results, so I just gave up until I saw an older woman on the bus, knitting in a method I'd never seen before, at GREAT speed, without disturbing the person sitting close beside her. Enter Google and I looked up "speed knitting", found a wonderful video of Andrea Wong demonstrating Portuguese style, which became a game changer for me. Fewer, smaller motions, with better tension control by simply flicking the yarn with the thumb over the needle. Might have been easier for me to learn because I hadn't knit in my old way for so long, so I wasn't Un-learning anything. Worth a try!

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  20. Having gotten used to using four 2.25mm bamboo dpns for socks, that worked a treat, except that socks are my go-to Travel Projects (back in the days when we could) and occasionally one needle would try going walkabout.

    So I tried a short circular, just the two ends, joined. Except it wasn't good for me - knitting English style, or Continental.

    Having a particularly short time span for one pair of socks I got a long, bamboo-tipped circular and knitted both at the same time, magic loop. It required a bit of fiddling to get the toes started and heels had to be knitted individually, but it works for me. If I have a ball of yarn for each sock I can put them in the ongoing socks and the ends very rarely get tangled. If I'm knitting from both ends of the same ball I just have to be more careful. It's quicker than one at a time, and only the one needle. Even travelling.

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    1. That's fab - and very definitely your very own style of knitting! :) xx

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  21. Tried the Adida sockwonder 2.5mm 9 inch just could not master it. Back to 5 DPNS as I love to knit in a box or square. Also enjoy magic loop. Have been knitting socks for many years but I just love the multi coloured yarns and have so many skeins to knit up now, keep me going forever. Beth s.

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  22. I just had the knitpro zing set for my birthday after reading your article. I can't describe how wonderful they are.

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  23. Learned socks 10+ years ago on bamboo DPNs & still do them that way..BUT would love to be able to use the shortie circs I bought recently Only problem is my fingers cramping up before even getting first round done.I knit continental & the needle in my left hand rests back toward my palm .. guessing I just need to practice. Came across your youtube videos when I wanted to knit contrasting cuff, heel & toe and was thrilled with how you join the new yarn so that there are no ends to weave in! Love it and that is now my method for ANY yarn joins! Also, Really love reading your blog!

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  24. Hey, where can i buy those needles?

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    1. You should be able to buy them at local yarn shops, although not all of them stock them. Other than that, you'll get them quite easily online. There's a link through my shop page (scroll up, sidebar on the right) for Amazon so that you can see what you're looking for, but if that's not for you then a search for the size you want should bring up plenty of stockists. Hope that helps!

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