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Published on December 15th, 2013 | by Serena

3 comments

The tangled web: circular knitting?

Dear Loveknitting,

I learned to knit very recently and I still feel as if I don’t understand the language knitters speak. I heard a lot about ‘knitting in the round’ and how it’s supposed to be much easier than knitting on straight needles. So I bought myself a circular needle and happily began knitting on it, the same way that I had been on my straight needles.

I couldn’t really see the big difference, and when I brought my knitting along to a local group and announced that I am now ‘knitting in the round’ everybody laughed at me! They say I’m not knitting in the round, just using a circular needle. What’s the difference and do knitting needles matter?

Love, Steve

Dear Steve,

Knitting in the round is a technique used when you are making a tube. For instance, socks, hats and even jumpers may be knitted using this technique. Circular needles are very often used, but knitting in the round can be done without circular needles (using double-pointed needles instead), and circular needles can also be used to knit flat – as you are doing.

When knitting flat: you knit one row, turn your knitting around and begin from the last cast-on stitch, working your way back to the first one. You work in a sort of zig-zag, knitting all the odd rows in one direction and all the even rows in the opposite direction. If you are knitting something that will form a tube, you have to stitch the two sides together once you’ve finished.

You can use a circular needle to knit flat, just by turning it around at the end of each row (as if it was a straight needle). In fact, many knitters do all their knitting this way: if you’re knitting something enormous like a blanket or shawl, you will need to use a very long circular needle to hold all the stitches; if you’re knitting something quite heavy, it’s useful to have a circular needle because the weight of the garment sits on the cord rather than on the needle tips.

Knitting in the round is quite different. Using a circular needle, at the end of the row do NOT turn your knitting around. Instead: bring the first cast-on stitch round to the left-hand needle tip, and knit it as if it was just another stitch on your row. Continue all the way around, continually just knitting the next stitch, until your tube is as long as needed. Instead of the zig-zag of flat knitting, you are knitting a continuous spiral, as if it was all one long spiral row. Instead of ‘rows’, round-knitting patterns describe ’rounds’: knitting from the first stitch to the last, stopping just before you knit the first stitch again, is one round. Your circular needle must be no longer than the circumference of your knitted tube – ideally a little shorter – for this to work.

This picture from the Snips and Spice blog shows knitting in the round, and one of the most common mistakes: letting the stitches get twisted around the needles before beginning the next round. It’s a good idea to put a stitch marker before the first stitch of your round, so you can see where the next round begins.

round knitting

There are two big advantages to knitting in the round: the first is you don’t have to make a seam afterwards! The second: you are never knitting a ‘Wrong Side’ row. Because you knit one continuous spiral, you are always knitting the right side of your garment. This makes stocking stitch much easier: no purl stitches! There are more techniques to make the join less visible in round knitting; but it’s best to get comfortable with the basics first.

Now, as for the behaviour of your knitting group: I sincerely hope they are laughing with you, not at you! Any group with a common learned skill and exclusive jargon can become a little exclusive to outsiders. I confess, your problem did raise a fond smile with me – but it is entirely to be expected for a new knitter to make a mistake like yours, and I hope your knitting group is supporting and teaching you, not just laughing at your mistakes! If not, I suggest you look for a new one…

Having a knitting conundrum? Send it in to agony@loveknitting.com


About the Author

Serena loves sunshine, strawberries and Great Danes. She has gone from non-knitter to yarn obsessive in under two years, and is determined to drag the rest of the world along with her.


Last updated: August 8th, 2017.

3 Responses to The tangled web: circular knitting?

  1. Margaret says:

    Thank you for the above explanation. Does anyone make a cable for circular needles which is small enough for socks and legwarmers? 40 cm is a bit too long!

  2. Loretta says:

    I am knitting a cowl on a circular needle, my knitting is all twisted around the needle and I don’t know how to un tangle it

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