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Published on March 6th, 2014 | by Anjuli

18 comments

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.

As you can see my knitting is on the left hadn needle, ready to be knitted onto the empty right hand needle

As you can see my knitting is on the left hand needle, ready to be knitted onto the empty right hand needle (and in case you were wondering the yarn is the stunning Debbie Bliss Paloma, my favourite scarf yarn)

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. 🙁

Stitch from the left needle is now on the right and the right hand stitch is slipped over onto the left hand needle

Stitch from the left needle is now on the right and the right hand stitch is slipped over onto the left hand needle

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.

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Cast on stitches as normal onto one needle

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Slip half the stitches onto the second set of needles and join the round as instructed previously. You can see half my stitches are on the Cubic (wooden) set of needles, and half are on the Karbonz (metal) set.

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You can see here one set of KnitPro Cubis hold half the back stitches, while the Karbonz hold the others ready for knitting

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.

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Knit the first set, like the other needles don’t exist. When you get to the end, drop these ones and pick up the other set and continue knitting.

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 info@loveknitting.com.)

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.

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Here I have pulled the cable through the stitches at the halfway mark creating a loop

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.

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Having pulled the right hand needle through, leaving the back stitches on the cord I am able to knit the stitches off of the left hand needle as normal

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!

First Timers should try chunky socks in Sirdar Click Chunky or Chunky Faroe.

As you gain more confidence try a new hat in Sirdar Indie or Country Style.

Happy knitting!


About the Author

Anjuli is an overly excitable knitter and crocheter who likes to experiment with colour. Kaffe Fassett is her dream knitting guru. She loves brightly coloured hair, tattoos and Poodles!


Last updated: August 4th, 2017.

18 Responses to Do Not Fear The Circular Needles!

  1. Charmian Putnam says:

    I have just read yur instructions regarding circular needles. I also have a set of KnitPro needles but am battling with them. I purchased them at the Knitting 7 Stitching Show at Olympia last year and am going again this next week to find the lady I purchased them from to get her to show me what to do as I have been battling with them but I think your instructions are G R E A T – thank you – I hope I can print them off and have another go at circular knitting.

  2. Karen says:

    I am a new convert to the KnitPro way of knitting and I have to say I love them! I always avoid knitting in the round as it seems way too complicated, but the ease of knitting with a cable and not straight needles is brilliant. I knit a lot in bed so the needles don’t get caught up in my jim-jams and all the knitting sits neatly in my lap. I would strongly recommend them.

  3. A Seymour says:

    I have tried and failed to use circular needles. My problem is in how to hold them. When I learned to knit 60 years ago I had trouble holding the needle my stitches were moving onto. I solved this by standing the needle on its end on a table to keep it steady. When I progressed from short children’s needles onto adult ones I anchored the right hand needle under my arm.
    I have never found a way I can comfortably hold the needle without putting it under my arm. Any attempts I have made have resulted in very slow knitting and dropped stitches. I would love to use circular needles. Any suggestions?

    • Dawn says:

      Are you one of those clever people who don’t need to let go of the needle when winding the yarn around on each stitch? if you are this probably won’t work, but if you aren’t i would suggest you give continental/european knitting a try. the yarn is held in the left hand so your right barely moves, you could find a comfortable position and away you go. i tend to support it at the base of my thumb and my thumb is covered my the knitting which is slightly gathered up. you won’t have the weight to worry about either with circular needles, it won’t need to be supported along the length of the straight needle which can be unbalancing. hope you get on well with them

    • di beth says:

      I have the same problem only in the opposite- I can’t seem to hold my left needle so I always rest it on my belly! Circular needles are definitely a struggle -due to their short length I actually have to hold both. I don’t have a clever suggestion except what I’m hoping: just keep at it & you’ll find a way to make it comfortable eventually. Happy knitting!

    • Alison Burns says:

      I have exactly the same problem. I knit with the right needle anchored under my arm and it never moves.
      I find the circular needles impossibly slow and fiddly to use. I wondered if it was my technique as I’m left handed and was taught by a left handed aunt, I know my style of knitting is a bit odd.
      Any other lefties out there struggling with circulars?

      I have tried to persevere as I want to do a big baby blanket and there seem to be no straight needles longer than 40cm out there, but I’m on the point of giving up. At the speed I’m going the baby (due in several months) will be in school before I can complete the blanket.

  4. Ros says:

    I changed over to circulars when I restarted knitting for grandchildren and just love them. I know your preference for Knit Pros but I adore the Addi Lace (thanks for supplying so quickly!).
    I just can’t get my head round Magic Loop. I understand what is required but just keep messing up! Maybe, although I knit ‘right handed’ my brain is wired differently as I am a leftie?!!! How about doing a video?
    Your tutorials are a great idea. Thanks.

    • Anjuli says:

      Hi Ros,

      I think a video tutorial is a great idea, and I have suggested that we get one done. Sometimes it is easier to see the magic loop in action! I am so glad you liked my tutorial, it’s my first one =)

      Best wishes,

      Anjuli & the LoveKnitting team

  5. Gillian says:

    I cMe back to knitting after 30 years having started when I was 8 and because of shoulder and neck problems now use circular needles and the magic loop for socks I find them wonderful and they can be slipped into a small bag etc.

  6. Jackie Charlton says:

    I have been using circular needles for about a year and love them. Just done my first ever in the round knit with Fairilse and it’s fantastic. It makes life so much easier and as someone else has said you can knit in bed without poking out someone’s eye!! I would use them every time now. Only problem I have is with the 40 cm? Don’t know why they produce it and tried a small round with them only to find that you just can’t reach the other needle.

    • Anjuli says:

      Hi Jackie,

      Yes the 40cm cord is a mystery to me too! It’s so tiny, which is why I moved over to the magic loop method. No need for a small cord anymore, I knit most things, large or small, on a 80cm cord, and there’s plenty of room for moving the needles around.

      Best wishes,

      Anjuli & the LoveKnitting team

  7. Dawn says:

    I’m a recent convert and look on my straight needles (some of which are beautiful) as museaum pieces. i had started to knit small projects that can be done on 7-8inch needles as longer needles were starting to effect my thumb and wrist joints. i bought the Addi starter set and i’m thrilled, i’ve got 2 shrugs and a shawl on the go at the moment. the wires don’t seem to be as unrelenting as older type fixed circular needles; the pins themselves are a delight to knit with. if anybody still has any doubts just throw caution to the wind and try them. Great descriptions, thank you.

  8. Stela Day says:

    I like the sound of it but don’t feel confident that I have understood the bit where I would have to decrease and use a 2nd circular needle.

    • Anjuli says:

      Hi Stela,

      If you were making a hat in the round on circulars your cord would need to be the bottom of the hat, so it went on your head, eventually the hat would need to be made smaller and so you would need to decrease. If you are not doing the round on 2 circulars, or in the magic loop you would need to switch to double pointed needles, but if you started the whole thing with 2 circulars from the beginning then you would just decrease as normal and carry on, because you are treating each circular set as separate to the other, despite them being joined =)

      I hope that makes a little more sense now, but if you are still confused email me at info@loveknitting and I’ll see what I can do.

      Best Wishes,

      Anjuli & the LoveKnitting team

  9. Kay Mackey says:

    I just love my Knitpro set of of circular needles and rarely use anything else

  10. Kay Mackey says:

    I just love my Knitpro set of of circular needles and rarely use anything else, even for straight knitting.
    They are so comfortable to hold and my knitting is always smooth and even.

  11. Barbara Harpwood says:

    I love the knit pro .i have shoulder problems so using them makes it so much easier .i have used circular needles for a long time as it makes what your knitting lighter as it just drops on to your lap.i don’t use straight needles anymore .Knit pro are fantastic to use .

  12. caro kelly says:

    I love the Knit pro needles too. My only problem is that the join sometimes loosens. Any suggestions for dealing with this problem/

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