How To... Demystify DPNs: learn to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

Published on June 13th, 2016 | by Amy Kaspar


Demystifying double pointed needles

If you’ve always been just a little bit scared of double pointed needles, don’t worry! Amy is here to reassure and teach you the basics. 

I hear it all the time:  “I could never use double pointed needles.” I understand – but I believe in you! You just have to know the tips and tricks behind using double pointed needles, so you don’t end up snapping them one by one in frustration.

Double pointed needles are used for knitting in the round. They are often used for socks, sleeves of jumpers and sweaters, and hats. Before circular needles were invented, double pointed needles were the only way to go: knitted doilies could only be made by using eight double pointed needles in a circle, with a ninth working needle, and the old-school double points (or DPNs, for short) were upwards of twelve inches long!

Now, socks can be made on six-inch (15cm) DPNs, and once you can figure out the join and the fiddly first row, you will be knitting on double pointed needles left and right. However, I freely admit that there are some challenges to overcome.

Demystifying DPNs: learn how to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

Cast on

First, it’s best if you can cast on using one knitting needle if possible. If not, use a flat surface to help your needles behave the first few rounds. You know that part of a knitting pattern that says, “Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist”? That will happen in one of two places: when you cast on using more than one needle, or when you join the first and last cast-on stitch to knit in the round.

Demystifying DPNs: learn how to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

Arrange the stitches

When arranging the stitches, slip the stitches purlwise from one needle to the next, and try to keep an equal number of stitches on each needle. When adding a new needle, be careful that the needle you just finished arranging does not dangle down and twist on you –  this is why it is beneficial to use a table or other flat surface when casting on and arranging stitches.

Demystify DPNs: learn how to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

Join to knit in the round

Before you join to knit in the round, make sure that all of the stitches are facing the same way, so as not to twist when you join it. In the picture below, you’ll notice that all the bumps are facing in towards the center of the square: that’s what you want it to look like before you join on double pointed needles.

Demystifying DPNs: learn to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

There are several ways to join. One way is to just start knitting, beginning with the first cast-on stitch. Another way is to cast one one extra stitch, and then knit the first and last cast-on stitches together on your first knit stitch.

Start knitting

Then, as crazy as this may sound, just start knitting. Hold your first staging needle (the one with the stitches you are getting ready to knit) parallel to the ground, and just let the other three needles hang there. Seriously. As long as your cast-on stitches are not so loosey-goosey that the needles slip out, they will be fine. I promise.

Demystify DPNs: learn to knit with double pointed needles at LoveKnitting


Then, just knit. The first couple of rows with DPNs are a bit of a challenge, no matter how experienced of a knitter you are. Your cast-on stitches have zero stability, so the needles will all flop around a bit. Do your best to ignore the other three needles, and just concentrate on knitting with your immediate staging needle and your working needle. This will take a bit of practice because you will have to figure out where your hands want to be.

When you finish knitting the stitches on that first staging needle, your empty needle is ready to move onto the second staging needle. To prevent ladders in between the end stitches on each staging needle, knit the first stitch, and then give the yarn a bit of a tug when you insert the needle to knit the second stitch. You will find the yarn will snuggle right up, and the ladder will disappear.

Demystify DPNs: learn to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

Every time you finish knitting on a staging needle, slide the just-knitted stitches to the center, to minimize their chances of slipping off the end. If you need to pack up your knitting for the day, wrap a rubber band to secure the needles on one end, so your project bag does not accidentally help you to pull a needle out of your stitches.

You do not ever have to become a double pointed needles expert, but it is valuable to be able to know how to use them. Sometimes, the magic loop technique is inconvenient. Other times, teeny circular needles are just too difficult to use. The more you use DPNs, the easier they get. Just keep at it and always remember to double-check for twisting. After the first few rounds, the needles will naturally start to fall into places and the world will make sense again.

Demystify DPNs: learn to use double pointed needles at LoveKnitting

And do not snap your double points out of frustration! You may hurt your hands in the process, and then how will you knit at all?

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About the Author

Amy lives in Chicago and can either be found knitting, writing about knitting, designing knitted things, or watching professional hockey while knitting. There is also a necessary cup of coffee nearby at all times, Follow her on Twitter @thefiberfriend for more yarny bits.

Last updated: August 4th, 2017.

14 Responses to Demystifying double pointed needles

  1. harriet says:

    I am comfortable with DPN but can not get rid of the ladder between needles. I do the tug on the second stitch, try to keep other stitches consistent tension not too tight, doesn’t seem to help.
    On socks or detailed cowls it really won’t show but if I should do a sweater sleeve it will.

    • Amy Kaspar says:

      Miss Harriet…Amy here…Make sure you are inserting your needle below the two working needles. Ladders occur wherever your tension constantly changes, so making sure your needle is entering the stitch properly is key. Also, make sure you are using five needles instead of four…less tension on the stitches will help. Jocelyne’s fabulous suggestion (below) is another great way to go! Happy knitting. 😉

  2. Jocelyne Denault says:

    If you are comfortable with the DPNs, to avoid the ladder, move a few stitches from one DPN to the previous one and do it to all your DPNs whilst knitting your third row. Do this every other row and I can guarantee there will be no ladder!

  3. harriet says:

    I hadn’t thought that 5 needles would help, most of my sets are, will try that.
    I had wondered about shifting stitches but had never come across someone suggesting this that knows more than I do.
    Thanks to you both, I have a bit of a tube sock left, can try the suggestions. I want to do some more socks, no texture stitch detail so I will be able to work on losing my ladders.
    Many thanks to you both, DPNs are so handy in size to travel with and I do like using them.

  4. Margaret Ann says:

    Many thanks Amy for this and other “tutorials”. So helpful, friendly, funny and just plain interesting even if I know some of what you are explaining. Great stuff and much appreciated!!!

  5. Sue says:

    Many Thanks for the hints.
    I have used the old longer sets of four dpns. for many years but I do like using my new 15mm (kabonz) dpns.
    From the photos it looks as if you are knitting from the inside of the square which I find unusual as I was taught to knit on the outside of the (triangle) square. Working needles nearest ones body, holding needles away.. Always ready to try something different but a 60 year habit might be too much in this case 🙂

    • Amy Kaspar says:

      Sue…Amy here…I do knit on the outside, just like you! It may be difficult to tell from the photos, however…plus, those first couple of rows are a bit odd. And I’m glad to hear you like the Karbonz…they are nice and smooth and warm up to the hands quite beautifully! Thanks for the kind words.

  6. John says:

    You use such long needles, I tried with 6″ needles but I soon enough cut them down to 4”. The long ends get in to road and stretch the first and last stich on every needle.

    • Amy Kaspar says:

      John…Amy here…I tried the four-inch needles and disaster ensued. I think my stitches weren’t grippy enough for that lengh for me to be comfortable. But that’s the beauty of knitting…thank goodness both sizes are offered so each of us can find what we like…ha ha!

  7. I have tried everything to avoid the “Ladder” I am working with a very fine kid mohair and so the slightest change in tension is visible – it looks a mess at the moment and I am close to abandoning the project all together – PLEASE can someone help??? I have tried to understand the way Jocelyne recommends to work but can’t figure it out!!! Am I being really stupid? I have been knitting for a life-time but this has got me beat ;o(

  8. Jenny Heys says:

    I have worked using only four needles all my knitting years. I was taught how to do it at the same time as usual two needle knitting, thanks Gran. I have found making sleeves saves a load of time sewing the seam and matching the patterns so easily.
    Since then I have also taugh myself how to use a circular needle and have made jumpers, cardigans etc using a combination of all three. Anything to save joining up sleeves with a bodkin.

  9. Anne says:

    I have just started dpn knitting after many years and have forgotten how to do it!
    I have read all your tips but this may seem silly, but how do I do garter stitch when I am knitting the same way round all the time?

    • Wendy says:

      I’m a new knitter myself, but from what I’ve read, garter stitch in the round is done like stockinette stitch flat – knit one round, purl the next. I don’t understand why it works that way, but it does. Hope that helps.

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