Getting Circular Needles Right

Dot and Dash Cowl

Last spring, I fell in love with the Dot and Dash Cowl by Hilary Grant. I love the way the colors work together; I had to knit it. I know that it is crazy for some, but I am already thinking about Christmas gift projects, and this cowl looks like it will be fun to knit and would be the perfect gift for a friend. Only a little more than 3 inches wide and 24.5 inches long, it's just the right size project that is interesting and relatively quick to knit.

A look at the pattern indicated that I needed six different colors of fingering yarn and US 3 circular needles with an 11-inch cable. Before heading to The Stitchin' Den, I decided to check my needle supply. You would think I would know if I had a size US 3 needle, but I don't knit with that size needle very often. I have several US sizes 6 and 7, but US 3? Better safe than sorry, I pulled out my various needles and started to measure. I prefer to use Knitter's Pride interchangeable needles. The sets come in a range of needle and cable sizes. I have three interchangeable sets (Karbonz Deluxe Interchangeable Set 2.5- 10, the Dreamz Symfonie Wood Interchangeable Chucky Set, and Dreamz Special Interchangeable Set), extra needle tips, and cables. Each set includes interchangeable cables of various lengths. I can use needles from any of the sets with any of the cables, so I have a lot of flexibility. Since I keep the needles that I use most often in a case with the cables stuffed in the back pocket, I had to measure.

Cable Needle Set

One question that I often have often gotten from knitters is how to measure the needle size and length of the circular needle. Straight needles have the size clearly printed on the ends and sides;: however, circular needles can be harder to identify. Often the printing on the needles wears off or is so small it is difficult to read. My cables do not have the length printed on them, so I must guess or measure the length. Patterns that require circular needles will recommend the length of the circular needles. So, how do you measure a circular needle length? It can be more confusing if you are using interchangeable needles where the cables are separate from the tips. Interchangeable needles also can have different length tips. I have some with 4-inch tips and some with 5-inch tips. If your project calls for a US 7, 24-inch needle, do you measure the cable before adding the tips, or do you include them in the measurement? The answer is that you include the tips in the measurement. Before is a video, by Noble Knits, illustrating how to measure cable needles.

The recommended length of a cable needle is designed to allow the stitches to sit closely together on the needles and cable. You do not want to stretch out your knitting stitches once joined in the round. It’s not only awkward and difficult to knit, but it also can distort the tension and finished fabric. An exception is if you use the Magic look method. In this case, the cable length should be quite a bit longer than the suggested needle length. This will allow the knitter to pull a nice long loop midway through the round without stretching the stitches. I have had to change to longer cables when I attempted to use the Magic Loop Method on a cable that was too short. Now I lean toward using a 40-inch cable to make sure that I have plenty of length for a nice loop. Below is a tutorial by Very Pink KNITS, on the Magic Loop method.

Whether you choose a traditional or Magic Loop method for your next in-the-round project, it’s important to begin with the correct needle size and length. I keep my tape measure and Knit Chek in my knitting bag and take the time to measure before each project. In the long run, it saves time. Happy Stitchin’.