A detailed and in-depth review of the circular ChiaoGoo interchangeable needles – from red lace to the shorties.
Whenever I see someone asking for the best knitting needles online, there is one name that constantly pops up: ChiaoGoo. The Chinese brand has been producing knitting needles since the 1980ies. They first started with simple bamboo needles, but soon branched out to add interchangeable knitting needles to their portfolio.
Because there has been a lot of interest in these knitting tools, I decided to take a close-up look at all of their needles and choices. What are the pros and what are cons? In which areas do these knitting needles excel, and where will you find better needles?
This is going to be a long review because there are a lot of choices and things to consider. But I guess that’s why you came here, eh? The sets are not cheap and I feel it’s important to present you with a full list of features and my personal experiences before you commit.
I bought a big and brand new interchangeable knitting needle set specifically for this review and tons of accessories. I’ve got mine on Amazon but you can buy it on Etsy as well. Here are the links to the ones I bought:
- ChiaoGoo TWIST Red Lace Interchangeables 5″ (Same product on Etsy)
- ChiaoGoo TWIST Red Lace Interchangeables 4″ (Same product on Etsy)
Important: ChiaoGoo is far from the only company to offer interchangeable needles. Below, I will also talk about a couple of negative aspects. I’m doing so to give you all the information you need before you buy it. I explicitly want to stress that none of the other sets on the market is 100% perfect.
They all excel in different areas and this ChiaoGoo review is meant to help you decide if these are the perfect needles for you and your knitting style (but make sure to also check out my AddiClick review and my Knitter’s Pride Mindful Collection review). And if you were looking for dpns, I also have a review of the best double-pointed knitting needles.
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
The ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needle set
So, let’s do some virtual unboxing for you. I’ll take a look at the big 5″ inch lace set with 13 needles here, which is the most expensive and most complete of the lot. There are smaller and cheaper sets as well (like this small red lace” set), so, definitely consider these as well, if you are still unsure after reading this review.
All sets come in a big cotton bag with a little compartment for accessories in the front. Once you open the zipper, you’ll find slots for the big needles to the right and slots for the smaller needles to the left.
The bag is sturdy enough and I really like the fact that the needle sizes are printed on the different slots. Experienced knitters will know how easy you mix things up and how annoying it can be to find the right size if everything is in chaos.
The big set comes with 13 needles in sizes: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10.5, 11, 13, and 15 (that’s 2.75 mm up to 10 mm).
In addition, you get small red twist cables in the sizes 14″/35cm, 22″/55cm, 30″/75cm, and another 3 cables in the same sizes for the big needles (so, that’s 6 cables in total).
Then you’ll get cable stoppers. Two each for the big and small needles, and a cable extender on top of that (you can use that to connect two cables for an even longer cable).
There are only 2 keys to screw the needles tight and you get a somewhat flimsy needle-size reference card, and some very simple round stitch markers.
So, much for the content of the sets. I feel you get everything you need, though it has to be said that ChiaoGoo offers one of the priciest interchangeable knitting needle set – often costing around 150-160 USD (so it pays off the wait for a bargain).
Except for the keys, the stitch markers, and the needle size card, everything is of good quality and still within the price expectations. I wish they would put one longer cable into their sets, though. Also, the presentation falls maybe a bit short given the high price point. I mean, it’s not like you’d expect golden door handles, but a simple cotton bag is taxing the premium tool spirit a tiny bit in my opinion.
Then again, quality over nice wrapping, and I’ll talk about that in the next section. You’ll also find tons of additional accessories online, and I’ll talk you through your options a little further down as well.
The General System
Let’s take a look at the more general ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needle system first. Like all other brands, you basically get a set of needle tips you can attach to the same set of cables offering you virtually unlimited possibilities.
There are little screws at the end of each needle tip and you can screw them into the cables. There is a little hole in the hull of the cable ends where you can insert a key/pin for some additional leverage to really screw the joins tight.
The join is incredibly smooth. There’s virtually no transition or noticeable kink. I own fixed circular knitting needles that are worse in that department. ChiaoGoo has the most flawless join of all interchangeable knitting needles on the market. Period.
The connection itself is sturdy enough, though it does sometimes happen that these screws become partially (or fully) undone while knitting. You can buy little rubber grippers online to screw them even tighter. Other brands (like addi or HiyaHiya) already put these grippers into their sets, and don’t charge 5 USD + shipping for a 2-cent item, though (*rant*).
On top of that, the join is, compared to its competitors, a little less tight. Though, none of them are without issues. I guess it boils down to the nature of all of these systems – you can’t create a permanent join out of two parts without some minor flaws.
One major disadvantage of the ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needle sets is the size diversity. There are two sizes of tip screws and cables in every big set. So, the basic idea, that you have one big cable and can connect any tip to it at will, is kind of spoiled by that. You cannot simply connect a size 10 needle to one of the small cables.
There is even yet another size available for the super small needle sizes (down to 1.75 mm).
So, essentially, you have to deal with 3 different sets and it’s not really one for all. On a more positive note, ChiaoGoo is the only system that really offers these extra small needles. But with addi or Knitter’s Pride, you can use the same cables from size 3 to 15. That’s both easier and cheaper to handle. Plus, I don’t see any advantage (actually quite the contrary) of having a thinner cable.
The ChiaoGoo Needles
Let’s take a look at the actual knitting needles next. I personally feel that is the most important aspect. As a knitter, that’s the part you constantly have in your hands and it’s one of the most deciding factors when it comes to tension and stitch definition in your final project.
The ChiaoGoo needles are lace needles and have really sharp tips. Not a stiletto kind of sharp, but very close to it. They are thus probably not the best beginner needle or the fasted needle for big stockinette stitch projects, but perfect for any project with difficult increases like p2tog tbls, or triple decreases.
The taper is very long (again, perfect for stitches and repeats that require you to knit right on the tip) and the transition to the body of the needle is reasonably smooth.
I really like the fact that the needle sizes are laser cut into the needles and not just printed on (because that rubs off just so quickly).
The taper at the other end of the needles towards the cables, is somewhat abrupt, though. Really tight knitters will sometimes notice it when they push stitches from the cable to the needle, but it’s not the biggest issue. Just something you to take note of.
Needle Sizes: From 5″ to the shorties
The big advantage of the ChiaoGoo interchangeable needle system is, in my opinion, the incredible amount of different possibilities you have got in terms of needle sizes.
Needle sizes range from 1.50 mm (US size 000) up till 10 mm (US size 15). That’s already incredible because none of the other companies offer this kind of range.
On top of that, those needle sizes are available as 4″ or 5″ tips. I personally prefer the larger option because, as a man, my hands are a bit bigger and it does feel more comfortable. But the important message is: you get to choose.
And the most amazing part are the Chiaogoo shorties. They probably deserve their own review. So, I’ll keep things brief here for now. These are 2-inch and 3-inch tips for sizes between 1.50 mm and 5 mm (US 000 – 8). The shorties are perfect for small-diameter projects (like socks, etc) when you don’t want to do magic loop or knit in the round on double-pointed needles.
I want to be honest, however. I personally can’t really knit with these ultra-short needles. My hands are too big and the way I knit requires me to hold the needles with the ring and pinky finger – and that doesn’t work with these ChiaoGoo shorties. But, I know a lot of knitters who swear by them.
They are available as a combo pack (here is a link to the size 3 shorties as an example) so you could give them a try before you commit to a full set. This could be also a nice gift idea for a knitter who loves the brand.
As far as the ChiaoGoo Mini are concerned (that’s needles between 1.50 and 2.50 mm), these are sort of nice as well. I mean, the fact that there are interchangeable knitting needles for these small sizes is incredible enough.
Are they the most durable small size knitting needles? No! Do I think interchangeable knitting needles make sense for such small needles? Maybe not. It’s all a bit too flimsy and fiddly in my opinion. Do I like the fact that they require mini cables? No.
On the plus size, anyone who does knit with such small needles will know that needles size 0 and below are basically a disposable product. They end up crooked and broken just so fast and I guess it would be easier to exchange just the tips instead of the full needle. Though, don’t expect to save a lot of money.
ChiaoGoo produces in surgical stainless steel with no coating. The finish is thus very smooth but still offers quite a bit of grip. They are not the best knitting needle for speed knitting but they are extremely durable, despite being hollow and very light (note: the very small sizes are solid).
If you drop them or step on them, you can bend them or create kinks. But generally speaking, they are as durable as it gets and there really is nothing to complain about.
I will have to say that the finish is not ideal for hypersensitive persons. There’s a distinct and noticeable grinding noise whenever two needles touch. It’s not chalkboard scratching kind of hair-raising but definitely something that irritates me personally.
The needles produce the typical click-clack knitting sound, but it’s not disturbingly loud and nothing that bothers me (despite being so sensitive).
They also have a bamboo version available. This can be a very good alternative for people who like even more grip and don’t like slick metal needles.
The ChiaoGoo interchangeable bamboo needles are even lighter than their metal sisters, but, for more or less apparent reasons, not as durable. Sit on them or drop them, and the risk is high that they break or you’ll get splinters at the tip.
That being said, as far as Bamboo needles are concerned, these are excellent. Very smooth finish, very high-quality woodcutting and I found them to be reliably durable with good tips (often a problem with bamboo).
Do the ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needles contain nickel?
Yes, they definitely do. Surgical stainless steel is an alloy that contains, among other things, nickel. Not in large quantities, but it’s there. And I have it on good authority that people who have a severe nickel allergy will get a reaction within hours.
See, it’s not like you touch them once and you’ll get a rash. But do consider that you sometimes hold these needles in your hands for hours at a time – all the while “sweating” ever so little.
Also, the joins of the older needles had a nickel-plated copper join (in case you are looking for buying a vintage set) but not anymore.
One of the biggest highlights of the ChiaoGoo interchangeable needle sets are the cables. They are the only commercially available company to offer coated steel wire cables. Why does that matter? Well, they are not only very durable but also have zero memory effect.
What does that mean? If you ever knitted with a circular needle, then you know that the cable can get in the way of your knitting, like constantly. You can fix some of it by pouring boiling water over these cables, but not all of it. And the ChiaoGoo red twist lace cables will remain straight no matter what you do. No curling, no memory effect.
This makes the cables ideal for knitting shawls and other big projects. I am personally not convinced these cables are the best solution for magic loop projects, but I know a lot of knitters who make it work nevertheless. Still, it can be somewhat troublesome to bend them through those stitches.
In terms of durability, it has to be said that the weak point of any cable needle is the point where the cable is glued/clamped into the hull/screw at the end. I can’t remember a single time in my 30 years of knitting that a cable snapped in the middle. It was always there at the end. And here, the ChiaoGoo is neither better or worse than the competition. This is not to say you really need to be afraid of it, the joins are as nice as it gets.
ChiaoGoo really doesn’t have a lot of cable choices, but there is one other product available: The ChiaoGoo spin cables for their bamboo interchangeable (though they work with any other needle as well). These are cables that allow for swivel action. This means the cables can rotate freely in their sockets. This prevents the cable from getting twisted as you knit but also makes the join less durable.
It’s more of a product geared toward beginners, I guess. I personally don’t see how they add value, because you can easily fix any twist by rotating the needle as well, but I can see why some people will find it interesting. Despite being plastic, they have got very little memory effect, so they are definitely not a bad choice.
And last, but not least, they only recently released the ChiaoGoo Blue Twist cables (often sold together with the shorties). It’s a coated wire cable as well, but quite a bit more flexible, making it ideal for small circumference projects. As of now, they are not available in a lot of sizes, but I actually like these much more than the red twist lace cables.
Cable extenders and adapters
There are also a couple of cable extenders and adapters available and part of most sets. Of all the brands on the market, I feel ChiaoGoo has the smartest extenders available. Each has a little keyhole to screw things tight, and they are just as big as they need to be so you don’t have a huge rigid bridge in the middle of your cable (I’m talking to you, addi!).
There are also adapters available, so you can connect smaller cables to bigger needles. There is small to large and mini to small. For obvious reason, it doesn’t work the other way around because the end of your cables would end up too big for your stitches.
Do I like these? Well, I think it is a good attempt to make up for the cable size dilemma. But on the negative side, you are adding even further instability to your knitting needles and yet another join and I’m not a big fan of that. You can, however, use these adapters to eke out another half-inch of length and turn a 4″ needle into a 4.5″ needle with a smaller cable. That can be smart.
So, let’s connect the dots. For your convenience, I put together some links to the most important sets currently available. I bought mine all on Amazon, but sometimes there can be a nice bargain on Etsy as well.
- ChiaoGoo TWIST Red Lace Interchangeables 5″ (Same product on Etsy)
- ChiaoGoo TWIST Red Lace Interchangeables 4″ (Same product on Etsy)
- ChiaoGoo 5 Red Twist Mini Set US 000-1.5
- ChiaoGoo Twist Shorties (US-4 Thru US-8)
- ChiaoGoo Knitting Needles Interchangeable Spin Bamboo Complete 4-Inch Needle Set
I think you can’t do wrong with buying any of these sets. ChiaoGoo is a true household name in the knitting needle market and all of their products are of very high quality. Because they offer so many different options in terms of sizes and needle lengths, I believe this is truly a product where you can start small and expand your collection as you proceed along your knitting journey.
They are not the fasted option on the market, but they have the perfect tips for intermediate lace knitting where you really need a sharper tip. The memory-free cables and the seamless joins are the icing on the cake in that regard because there’s virtually nothing to disturb even the most delicate yarn on your needles.
There is no denying, however, that ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needles are very expensive – especially as you might need to buy a couple of rather expensive accessories as well. The needles are somewhat noisy and that tiny bit of nickel in the alloy (10-12 percent) doesn’t make them the ideal needle for super-senitive knitters (addi is much better in that regard).
All in all, I don’t think they are the best beginner needle and rather a set an advanced knitter might buy to treat themselves or as a special birthday/Christmas present (just in case: here’s my list with the best gifts for knitters).
Those knitters who are knitting with them for a long time will be able to attest that they are a true workhorse and will be able to accompany you for years and years to come. The reviews on Amazon are also extremely positive so that is definitely another indicator that lots of knitters made positive experiences with the ChiaoGoo needles.