Musings on Interchangeable versus Fixed Circular Needles

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I recently went through all my interchangeable and fixed circular needles to list and organize what I had (I feel like I’m always buying more US 4 fixed circular needles).  Doing so got me thinking about under what circumstances I reach for fixed circular needles rather than my case of interchangeable needles.  Here’s the quick version: when I’m knitting lace, cables and/or knitting with thinner yarn, I reach for my circular needles.  Most other times I reach for my set of interchangeables.

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I started knitting in July of 2010 and during that year all the yarn I used was DK weight or heavier and I didn’t knit any lace or cables (thank you Ravelry for the trip down memory lane).  At that time I was using a few fixed circular needles (mostly for hats), some straights and some DPNs.  In October I ordered a try it set of interchangeable needles from Knit Picks (where you’d get 3 sets of tips and 1 cord) and in January of the following year I ordered my first set of interchangeable needles.  During that year I was mostly using my set of interchangeables for lace knitting.  From 2012 through 2015 though I gradually transitioned from using my interchangeables for lace and cables (and anything fingering weight or thinner) to using fixed circulars.

Note: If you’re looking into which brand of fixed circular needles is right for you, check out my comparison review here.

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Retrospectively, I’ve done this for a few reasons:

  • Having had a set of interchangeable Knit Picks needles come apart at the join, I am somewhat fearful of this happening with lace or cables.  While I know how to fix dropped stitches in lace and cables it is still a major pain and time suck.  If it happens on garter stitch or with thicker yarn, it’s not that big of a deal but with lace it is.  And by far I mostly knit lace.  I do use the little key to tighten my cords to the tips but I still sometimes find the cables start to come loose.  I sold most of my Knit Picks interchangeable needles in favor of my Chiagoo sets but even those require tightening.
  • I mainly knit lace shawls and cowls out of fingering weight yarn which means I tend to need to the same size needles in the same lengths for many projects.  So, I’m not having to buy a ton of fixed circular needles for my knitting (although in the interest of full disclosure I have a fair amount of fixed circular needles).
  • I find less snags at the join on my fixed circular needles than my interchangeables (because on the interchangeables it can snag at the cord to tip join and at the tip base to stalk screw together join.
  • I like being able to grab the one or two needles I need, toss it in the project bag and go.  I don’t need to carry around my interchangeble set on a regular basis.
  • On a per basis, the fixed circulars are usually cheaper than buying an interchangeable cord and tip (at least for Chiaogoos).

So, it appears that for my primary knitting, I’ve just found fixed circulars to be the best fit.  I DO use my interchangeable needles for more simple (no lace, no cables) projects, especially those that have a thicker weight yarn.

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I think interchangeable sets are great when you start knitting because it allows you to buy the least amount of needles until you settle into your “normal” knitting.  That comes with the caveat though to ALWAYS tighten your tip to your cord (assuming the brand you use joins in that manner).  As you progress as a knitter (especially if you have problems with joins and/or needles separating), it’s not a bad idea to try some fixed circular needles in the size(s) you use most often.

What types of needles do you reach for? Does it depend on the project or yarn? I would love to hear what your experience has been.

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