Understanding circular knitting needles

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Circular needles are made up of two components:
  1.  The knitting needle tips; and
  2. The flexible cable joining the tips.
They can be used to knit flat (back and forth as you would on straight needles) or in the round. Commonly they are used for flat knitting where the garment/item has a large number of stitches ie more than might comfortably fit on a traditional straight needle such as a shawl or afghan.

The tips may be permanently joined to the cable, fixed circulars, or may be detachable, interchangeable. Both systems use the same basis for measurement.

When purchasing Circulars you will need to be aware of two measurements, this will be specified in the pattern. The first is the tip diameter and the second is the length of the Circular needle.

1. Tip diameter, this is usually represented as a thickness in millimeters (mm) unless you are using an international pattern. Metric needles sizes range most commonly from around 2mm up to 12-15mm.

2. Circular length, this is represented as a length in centimeters or inches. Common sizes include 40cm, 60cm, 80cm, up to 150cm.

The important thing to know about the Circular length measurement is that it is a total length. The total length is measured from the tip of one needle, along the needle, along the cable, along the needle, to the tip of the second needle.

When you purchase a fixed circular needle the packaging will include both measurements ie 4.00mm and 60cm or 4.50mm and 120cm.

When you purchase interchangeable circular needle tips and cables you will often buy the components individually unless you purchase a set.

This is where it can sometimes be a little confusing.

When you buy an interchangeable cable it will be SHORTER than the total length but is most commonly sold/labelled as the total length.

So if your pattern states you will need a 60cm circular needle and you are purchasing an interchangeable cable it is assumed, correctly so, that you will be attaching needle tips to the cable for the purpose of knitting. Thus, the cable will not be 60cm long. The cable PLUS the two needle tips will make the total length of 60cm.

Brands vary slightly in the length of their interchangeable needle tips but as a rule they are generally around 10cm’s.

So the actual cable length will be the total length minus the needle tips length.

Interchangeable cable length = Total circular length – needle tips

Let’s assume you have 10cm needle tips and need a 60cm circular needle:

Interchangeable cable length = 60cm – (2 x 10cm)

Two needle tips is 20cm therefore the interchangeable cable is only going to be 40cm.

So don’t be alarmed when you get your interchangeable cable and it measures less than the total desired length – just attach the needle tips and get knitting!

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