Do Not Fear The Circular Needles!
For some of you out there circular needles are scary and strange. You’ll stick with straight pins because they are familiar and safe, never knowing the ease and joy of the circular needle. Today I am going to attempt to help you understand circulars a little better, and maybe you’ll take the plunge!
The knitting needles I have used in this blog post are by KnitPro and are from their Symphonie, Cubic or Karbonz interchangeable ranges. I am a die hard fan of KnitPro and will recommend them to everyone, whether they asked me or not! They are strong, sturdy and beautiful to look at.
There are many ways in which you can use circular needles. The first is using them just as you would straight needles.
On the Straight & Narrow
By using them in this way you’ll save your wrists and hands from having to hold up all your knitting as you’ll find that it sits nicely in you lap on the cord. This is especially good if you are knitting a huge blanket or throw in a chunky heavy yarn (I’m day dreaming of Loopy Mango now, are you?). If you’re a commuter knitter like me you’ll also find you take up less space on the train, and won’t have to keep apologising to grumpy bankers when you accidentally stab them with the end of your knitting pin.
To use your circulars as straights simply cast on and knit just as you normally would. At the end of each row, just switch the needles around as you would with normal straight needles- it’s that simple.
The next way you can use your circulars is “in the round”.
Round and Round we go:
Circulars are used in the round when you need to make a garment or accessory without a pesky seam to stitch up. This technique is most commonly used when knitting hats or socks, but it can be used for jumpers and sleeves too.
To get started with circulars you need to choose a size that is closest to the finished size of your garment. For a hat you would probably need about 40cm, this measurement is from tip to tip and not the length of the cord itself. Once you have got the right length needles casting on is the same as when knitting on straights, cast on your desired amount of stitches, now to join the stitches “in the round”.
Before I learned to do it the way I do it now, I would always just cast on an extra stitch, slip that stitch onto the left-hand needle, and then knit the first stitch and the last stitch together before starting the pattern. That’s a fine way to do it, so if you want to practice by doing it that way go ahead!
The way I do it now is to slip the last stitch (that is the first one I cast on) from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle, and then lift the now second stitch on the right needle (the last one cast on) over the first stitch and onto the left needle. Then pull them nice and tight and start knitting with the stitches that are on the left-hand part of the needle. Always be careful not to twist those stitches or you’ll get a twisted garment. 🙁
Just make sure that all the stitches are facing the same direction before you make your join. That means all the little loopy bits from casting on the stitches should be on the inside of the circle made by the circular needle, without twisting the edge. Then you can make the join and knit as your pattern lays out. If you get a twist the only way to fix it is to frog it all (rip it, rip it) and start again.
Most people will now add a stitch marker to show the beginning of the round. Because I cast on with the cable knit method my tail will always indicate to me where the first stitch is, and thus, the beginning of my row.
When knitting in the round, you are always knitting on the right side of the garment as you never swap needles, or run out of stitches. This means you’ll need to alter your basic pattern stitches to get them to come out right. A lot of circular knitting is done in Stocking Stitch (stst), which means all you have to do is knit every row now! To make Garter Stitch, instead of knitting every row you’ll need to knit one row, purl one row. For Reverse Stocking Stitch, you purl every row. Your pattern should instruct you on what stitch to use.
The only down side to using a set of circulars like this is when it comes to decreasing. Because your cord is at the exact size you needed to make sure your hat fits your head, you’ll find that as you decrease you no longer have the movement you need to continue in the round this way. At this point most patterns will tell you to switch to double pointed needles (DPNs) which are a bit of a pain, and not very practical for the commuter knitter!
Luckily there are two rather genius ways to get around this without the need for the dreaded DPNs. One is knitting with 2 circulars at a time and the other is known as The Magic Loop… (ooohhhhhh…).
2 at a Time:
Using two circulars at once might sound terribly daunting and more than a little confusing but once you get the hang of it you’ll wonder why you didn’t just do this to begin with.
First you’ll need two circular needles of the same size (the cord doesn’t need to be the same size for each but needs to be 60cm or more to work). For the purpose of illustration I am going to use two different sets of needles from KnitPro, but of the same size. You need to cast on as above, just like you would on straights. Divide the stitches in half and slip half onto the other set of needles. You can then join the round as we discussed above. Move all the stitches onto the cords in the middle of the needles.
Now it gets a little more complicated as although the stitches are in the round, we will be working each needle separately. So, taking the needles that are closest to you push the stitches down onto the left hand needle. Using the right hand needles, that’s connected to the left one (be careful not to get this wrong!) start knitting as if the back stitches and hanging needles didn’t exist.
When you get to the end of the row, turn the project around and push the needles up on to the left hand needles as before, knit the first stitch, and pull it tight to avoid laddering your work, then push the worked stitches from the other needle back down onto the cord. Now work the rest of your stitches as before, ignoring the stitches on the other needles behind it.
Continue with this all the way around, again and again. You’ll find that when you need to decrease you can do so with ease, because you’re not depending on the length of the cord. It’s a great technique for sock knitting once you get the hang of it. When it comes to the pesky heel turn you can hold you other stitches on the one needle and just focus on the one set for the heel, you can spread them out again afterwards. Simple!
Knitting in the round with two circular needles feels a little strange at first, but after a few rows you should begin to see your project taking shape (with no twists!) and will quickly gain confidence. Now you have the hang of that let’s move on…
The Magic Loop:
If you are a crocheter, this is not the same as that magic loop. This is far more magical. The magic loop allows you the freedom of the technique outline above in 2 at a time, but with only ONE set of circulars! Again you need a set of 60cm or more, personally I think 80cm is best, but it depends on your project. (If you need advice on this just ask our Smiles Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Again as above you need to just cast on the desired stitches and then you need to work out your halfway mark. When you have it, pull the cord of your circulars in between these stitches, so you have a loop that separates one half of stitches from the other. Now join the stitches in the round as before.
I will sometimes to hook a little stitch marker onto the cord, so if the loop disappears (don’t panic if it does!) I know where to pull it out from again. Locking pin style markers are best for this.
To knit on this one magically loopy set of circulars hold one needle in your left hand, and push all the stitches on this onto the needle, then slide all the stitches at the back onto the cord, so the right hand needle is free to do it’s job. Start knitting the stitches from the left to the right, until you get to the end. Clip your stitch marker between the just knitted, and cast on stitches, give the cord a pull to form a loop, and swap the needles around. Now push the cast on stitches from this side up the needle, leaving the just knitted stitches on the cord at the back and knit these using your once again free right hand needle.
Continue to do this round and round as your pattern instructs until you have a lovely garment to wear. 🙂 The greatest benefit to the magic loop method is that you can knit many different circumferences with one long needle, eliminating the need to buy needles in different lengths.
This technique, and all the “in the round” techniques described above can be used anywhere that a pattern asks for DPNs as well. Instead of dividing the stitches over 3 or 4 needles, you just need to divide it in half.
All of my needles are interchangeable rather than fixed. The choice is yours, but when you have interchangeable needles all you need to buy are the different lengths of cords rather than a new set of needles. It also allows you to easily swap needle sizes in a pattern, and you can also quickly go up or down a cord size if you need to. I can use any of the KnitPro tips with any of the KnitPro cords easily, meaning I can swap and change the style of needle with minimum fuss.
If you’re fired up and ready to take on the challenge take a look at some of our in the round patterns and try your hand at socks or hats!
Last updated: August 4th, 2017.