Hot Tip: Mismatch your needles

Hot Tip: Mismatch your needle tips

Hey look, here’s a new semi-regular series, Hot Tip, wherein I pass along nuggets of brilliance I’ve picked up from various knitting geniuses (or stunningly insightful observations of my own.) Here is a handy trick I learned from Josh Bennett once upon a time, or the ladies in the room who beat him to the punch—

When we knit back and forth, we use both needles, alternating between them as we work each row, right? But when knitting in the round, we only* knit with the right-hand needle. The left needle is really just holding stitches for us, so there’s no reason it needs to be the same size as the working needle. One major benefit of knitting with interchangeable needles is that you can attach a smaller needle tip to the left end of the cable, which makes it a little easier to keep your stitches sliding up onto that needle, especially if you’re a tight knitter. It also means those needles’ partners are free for other projects you might be knitting at the same time.


*Unless you’re working short rows, or for any other reason turning the work at some point, in which case you would be alternating which needle you’re knitting with.

(Lykke “Driftwood” interchangeable needles available at Fringe Supply Co. — photo updated April 2019)

47 thoughts on “Hot Tip: Mismatch your needles

  1. Reading the headline, my immediate reaction was “Ooo! I know this tip! Josh taught me!” Didn’t have to read very far before seeing his name there :). Mismatched needles are certainly a great tactic for knitting in the round… It’s good to know the word’s out and about!

  2. That makes me wonder. Can this trick be used in back and forth knitting for fine-tuning gauge – you know, when you just can’t get gauge?

      • This has saved me from the dreaded corrugated-look when knitting back and forth. Especially when I’ve been knitting a sweater in the round and I hit the separation for sleeves. I just twist on a smaller needle to the purl side, and no more ridges! If ridges in back and forth knitting are an issue for you, you should give this a whirl.

  3. Woah! Mind blown! :) That’s a great tip! It makes perfect sense. I’m looking forward to trying this out soon. Thanks for the tip! -KnittingDaddy Greg

  4. I often do this in the round, as the stitches slip more easily. When knitting back and forth, I put a smaller needle on for when purling to keep my gauge more consistent (like when knitting in the round). One more fabulous reason to use interchangeable needles!

  5. Yep. Depending on the yarn, sometimes I size down for my purls when knitting back and forth to prevent rowing out, eg. Size 6 for P and size 7 for K using Worsted wt cotton. Works great!

  6. I do this. I also often have different needles on when I’m working back and forth, because my purl rows are slightly looser than my knit rows. No matter how I’ve tried to tighten it, it won’t work. So I use one size smaller needle on my purl rows than my knit rows, and my problem is solved. So basically I’m always mismatched. Interchangable needles are a must. I just ordered a new set from They should be here in August, I hope. Supposedly they’re to die for.

    I may or may not becoming seriously addicted to your blog. Sorry about that.

  7. I was just wondering about this the other day, but convinced myself there must be a good reason for having the same size needle on both sides. Maybe something to do with the loops being too loose on the smaller needle and the stitches turning out more tightly or shaped differently.

    • I do wonder if it has any effect on row gauge, even though you’re not knitting with that needle.

      (Talking about working in the round with smaller needle as holder. As opposed to all of the people saying they deliberately purl with a smaller needle to deliberately affect row gauge.)

      • One of the reasons could be that, in Europe, round needles are regularly used for back-and-forth knitting, and not exclusively for knitting in the round. So you do need the same size needle on both sides.

        • Right — we use circulars for flat knitting here in the US, too. And typically with the same size needle tips on both ends for that. But what several commenters are saying is that they still put different sizes on their interchangeables when knitting flat (one size for right-side rows and a smaller size for wrong-side rows) in order to solve row gauge issues. Many knitters purl more loosely than they knit, which can throw off row gauge. So using a smaller needle tip for the purl rows would help with that situation.

  8. Great tip! I aill also sometimes mismatch needles if I find that I knit rows to tightly and purl rows too loosely. This trick keeps my stitches even on both sides of the fabric and keeps it from “rowing out.”

  9. Wow. I would never have thought of that. I don’t know why, because I always put a larger needle on the right side when I’m binding off, to make sure I don’t bind off too tightly. So this tip makes perfect sense. I also loved the suggestion from some of the commenters to use a smaller needle for purling. This is going to be such a great series. I can’t wait for the rest.

  10. I love this tip. Can anyone recommend a decent set of interchangeable needless that isn’t too pricey? I have been looking to get a set but there seem to be a lot of conflicting reviews!

    • It really depends on whether you’re a wood or metal needle lover. I love my Dreamz. Harder (smoother and more durable) than bamboo, and thus able to be pointier, but not off-putting like I personally find metal to be.

    • I have a “few” sets of interchangeables and fully love my Chiaogoo sets the best. I have the metal ones but there are bamboo as well. They have two subsets of either large or small needles as well as a complete set.

  11. Wow, that is a revelation for me. I do have a discrepancy between my knit and purl rows and was despairing as to how I could ever fix it. It seems you have just given me the answer! Now I might finally be able to get row gauge on my garments. I will swatch differently for evermore. Thank you.

  12. My purls are only looser when I knit continental. That is why I had to stick with English.

    • I have the opposite problem, I purl too loose in English; but My continental purl stitches are perfectly matched with my knit stitches.

  13. I’ve done this! I needed two circs for the crown of a hat (didn’t have dpns the right size, and only one set of interchangeables), so I thought about it and couldn’t think of any reason why I couldn’t use a size down on the left needle. So I tried it, and it worked!

    My choice in interchangeable needles are the ones from Knitter’s Pride (I prefer the wood or bamboo, but the metal ones are nice, too). I pulled a tiny muscle in the back of my hand in December and had to switch to square needles, and I really dislike the Kollage squares (the needles are fine, but the yarns I prefer to knit with don’t slide on the cables!).

      • When I knit in the round on two circs, I’m always knitting off of the same end, so I don’t see any reason why you can’t have a smaller tip on the needle in your left hand. Maybe I do it differently.

        • Oh, good point — you’re saying set up both needles this way and just always make sure you’re knitting with the correct end of each one as you alternate, right?

          (I’m baffled by that whole two-circs method, but I think I can envision what you’re saying!)

    • Exactly! Handy when the hat crown/sleeve gets too small for a single circ, you don’t have a cable long enough to do Magic Loop, and no DPNS in that size. You’re still knitting in a circle (spiral, technically) so you’re always knitting in the same direction. (FWIW, I was baffled by two circs in the round until I actually tried it, and it turns out that it’s one of those things that’s easy to figure out once you’ve got your hands on it, but just reading about it can scramble your brain.)

      • erm. I don’t know how that got attached to the wrong comment. It was supposed to go to Karen’s comment above.

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  15. you know what? I have actually been doing this for a year or so. I have a hard time knitting flat and keeping my purl stitches equal gauge to my knits, since I am an insanely tight knitter. I use smaller needles to purl with so that my knit and purl stitches turn out equal. I’ve also started learning how to knit left handed (English yes?) but that gives me entirely different gauge all together, although equal in regards to knitting and purling hahah

  16. in times of stress, I have had to use this tip in ‘regular’ knitting, to keep my gauge even, too.

  17. This is a great tip!! Last week I needed a needle size that I already had a project on. I had to put the project on holders so I could use the needles. Having interchangeables this is so doable. I never thought to do this! Over 50 years of knitting & I still learn new things thanks to the wonderful members of this forum. Thank you! I am going to be a new follower of this site, too.

  18. Knitters that have a mind for these good ideas must not be spending as much time frogging.

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