When I first started knitting, I had never seen circular needles. Now, I KNEW that socks didn’t have seams, so I knew some how these straight needles that I had been gifted could make a circle, but how exactly to do that was beyond my comprehension. So I knitted nothing but scarves and blankets for several years.
It wasn’t until I was working at a medical clinic and one of the doctors I worked for mentioned that he would really like a pair of lavender socks (at the time it wasn’t common for men to wear “feminine” colors like lavender or pink) that I got my interest up in trying to figure this silliness out. So, I bought a “I can’t believe I’m…” book all about knitting socks.
I learned precisely two things from that book:
- If I knit socks one at a time, you will get precisely ONE sock.
- Hand knit socks are NOT meant to be knit on straight needles.
So, since you’re learning after me, you gain the benefit of my experience. At least that’s the goal here.
No, we won’t be tackling socks today. We’re going to start by getting acquainted with a new style of needle and working in the round. We WILL get to socks SOON. Knitting 101 and Crochet 101 will be working along with our designers on our Ugly Christmas Stockings over the summer and you’ll need a stocking (sock) to do that. Today, we’ll be looking at different types of needles used for making rounds.Some of this will be review, but bear with me, we’ll get to the good stuff soon.
We already learned about circular needles last lesson. Remember, two points and a wire.
Circular needles are good for really two things, larger round works (the baby sweaters) and longer straight works (like blankets). Circular needles come in a variety of lengths and all the same sizes as straight needles. Make sure to check your pattern for what length circular needle you will need. Working a pattern that calls for 36″ needles with 9″needles does not end well (I tried).
The other way (and my preferred method usually) for working in the round is Double Pointed Needles (DPNs). These are straight needles with two points and usually come in sets of 4.
DPNs are my favorite for working any small round (sleeves, stockings, etc.) but NOT for socks (when we get to socks, I’ll show you why). They are a little more complicated to work with, but once you’re comfortable with them it’s not so bad. There isn’t much variation in length with these and they come in the same sizes as straight needles (although you may have to go online to find some of the larger sizes). Most of the patterns I have found call for sets of 5, but a lot of retailers sell these in sets of 4, so keep an eye on what you need for your pattern. Much like hotdogs and buns, someday they’ll figure this out, but not everyone is there yet.
There is ONE other fun tool that we’ll talk about here and that is needle point protectors. These have the dual effect of keeping your work from sliding around and keeping you from stabbing yourself in the hand (not that needles are THAT sharp, but it can be annoying). Mine happen to look like little Christmas socks (they were a Christmas present ^_^) but most look like little cones. Keep an eye on the sizing too. These are usually made of a rubber of flexible plastic, but they have their limits. Small protectors don’t fit well on larger needles and large protectors will fall off smaller needles.
Now that we know all the tools, grab your circular needles and we’ll be working in the round with them. I’m working with a pair of size US 13, 24 inch bamboo needles and some worsted weight scrap yarn today. If you don’t know what size your needles are, take a measure tape or yard stick and lay them out flat. Measure from one tip to the other and that is how long they are.
Cast on just like you would for straight needles. I did about 100, but for this project, do as many as you need for your needles to be loosely covered from end to end. something like this:
Once you’re satisfied with your cast on, lay out your needles like we have above and make sure that ridge is all laying toward the inside of the loop, like this:
Last time we used circular needles it didn’t matter as much, because we were working straight across. You can fix stitches as you go across that first row when you’re working straight, but this time we’re going around, so we need to make sure the base of the round is straight before we move on.
Now, before we knit our first stitch, we’re going to link the first and last part of the circle. This step isn’t strictly necessary, but it WILL help as you work round 1. Especially as a beginner, I found this helpful. To link the round, take your working needle (the one that’s got the skein yarn attached) and slid the first cast on to it knitwise. Notice you are not knitting this stitch, just slipping it over.
Take your working yarn and lay it over the space between the slipped stitch and the next stitch on the other needle.
Slip the first cast on back over to the other needle.
This forces the two to stay together and now we’re ready to knit! Just knit around and around until you’re comfortable with the process. As you work, you’ll need to slide your stitches (probably by hand) around the circle. You may notice the stitches getting squirrely, but if you laid them out neat to start with, you can just adjust them back to the right position as you go. You’ll notice when knitting in the round that you get a very nice stockinette stitch without having to purl! This is because you’re working in circles and not back and forth like with straight needles.
Now we’re ready to try out DPNs. The very first rule is DON’T GET FRUSTRATED. These really aren’t the easiest thing to work with and you feel like you have about a thousand needles hanging around, but I promise, this is a skill WORTH learning!! You’ll need it for our stockings at the very least.
When casting on for DPNs, most patterns will tell you to cast on x and distribute the stitches evenly across the needles. To do that, cast on all your stitches on one needle, then slip the appropriate amount to the other needles knitwise. I have ALSO found that you can cast on the appropriate amount of stitches to EACH needle and skip the silps if you are careful. I will show you THAT method here.
I’ll be using four size US 8 DPNs for this and the same scrap worsted weight yarn. I’m casting on 30 stitches to make it a nice round number. The first needle is easy. Cast on 10 like you would a straight needle.
Once you have those on, grab your second needle and hold it out farther than your first needle.
Then cast the next 10 onto the empty needle.
Repeat that for needle 3.
Now that we have all our stitches on, we’ll bring the circle together just like before. This time, we don’t have the wire to help out though, so instead we’ll make a triangle (or a square if you’re using 4 needles). Again, make sure that the ridge is facing the inside of your shape. And remember, your needles WILL pile on top of each other. That’s ok.
As you can see in my picture, things don’t line up perfectly, but that’s largely because this is a triangle. with a square it should be a little easier.
Now, before you grab that extra needle, pick up the set you have already. Just like before, use the working needle to slip the first cast on over and lay the working yarn between the first two stitches. Then slip that first cast on back over.
Make sure that your stitches are centered on your needles as best as possible and then you’re ready to work!
NOW you can pick up that extra needle. Find the place where you just linked your round together and begin working your first needle (the one that has the first cast on) with the spare needle. I’m just knitting every stitch again, but often times you’ll be doing ribbing here.
When you get to the end of that first needle, the spare needle will become needle 1 and what WAS needle 1 will become your working needle. Take your new working needle and work needle 2 the same way we did with needle 1. Then do the same with needle 3. Keep working in this way around and around until you’re comfortable with the DPNs.
Just like the circular needles, if you’re knitting around, you get a beautiful stockinette stitch with no need to purl.
Now you know how to knit in the round two ways! Get practicing because we’re going to pick this back up again when we start our stockings this summer!