FAQ: Why use circular needles to knit a cardigan?


I’m combining two questions into one for this edition of FAQ. On my patterns I generally specify circular needles. That has raised the questions, “Is this cardigan knit in the round?” and “Can I use straight needles instead?” The answers to both questions are both yes and no. The body of a seamless cardigan is knit flat (unless there are steeks, but none of my patterns feature those), but the sleeves are knit in the round. You can knit the body on straights, but you’ll need different needles for the sleeves.

Why use circulars for the body? When you’re working seamlessly, you end up with a lot of stitches on your needles, and it can be hard to accommodate all of those stitches on straight needles so circular needles are recommended even though you’re not knitting in the round and could technically knit the body on straights. It’s just harder to see your work when the stitches are bunched together like that, and when you can’t see your work, mistakes are more likely to happen. Plus, for some knitters, the uneven distribution of weight that happens with straight needles becomes an issue for their wrists.

When you get to the sleeves, you won’t be able to use straights anymore. You could switch to DPNs or a small circular needle here, but you will need a different set of needles. If you use a longer circular for the body, you can actually use the exact same pair of needles to knit the entire sweater. You simply use the magic loop technique to work the sleeves.

But what’s important is what you’re doing, not the tools you use to do it. To knit a sweater, you can use any style of needles that will accomplish the task. You just might need more sets and styles of needles if you’re not a fan of using circulars.






9 responses to “FAQ: Why use circular needles to knit a cardigan?”

  1. I tried using a set of long DPNs to knit a cardigan but I ended up going to buy circulars! I now have circulars in almost every size now.

  2. I agree about circular needles being easier on the wrists than the longer straight needles. I also find them useful for when I’m traveling on public transit since they take up less space and I don’t have to worry about poking someone next to me! Thanks for this post – I had been wondering if straights could be used, and your reasoning makes sense.

  3. I can’t imagine knitting without circulars! Once I got comfortable, I gave most of my straight needles away and rarely touch my DPNs.

  4. Deborah

    I don’t own straight needles! Circulars are the way to go. It is much easy to distribute the weight of the knitting which in turn puts less pressure on the wrists.

  5. I have always knitted with circulars. They are what I learned on. The magic loop method is totally magic when it comes to working on sleeves.

  6. This confused me so much during my first knitting project (Miette) – but then, pretty much everything confused me then. 🙂 I only have circular knitting needles now. They’re much kinder on my dodgy wrists!

  7. Ever since I started knitting I have only used circular needles. In addition to being kinder for your wrists, I also find them much easier to store when – like me – you have a tendency to take your knitting with you almost everywhere! If I were using straight needles I’d always be afraid of breaking or bending them!

  8. Beth Aalberts

    I never use straight needles for knitting. I use circulars for everything except socks, I use DPNs for those.

    1. Hilary

      Yes, I’m the same Beth. Couldn’t imagine ever using straights again and I love using DPNs for socks. It always seems kind of clever just knitting in the round like that. Happiness is Addi Turbo circulars – the creme de la creme!

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