If it's only 26" wide, you can use the 24" just fine. The needle can be quite a lot less than the width of the item even working flat because the sts will just fill in the center, you don't need a lot of extra length. That could be why you're having a problem with the needle, it's too long. For the curling cord, hold the cord only in boiling water for a minute or so, then hold it straight as it cools.
sue- knitting heretic