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6 Helpful Tips For Knitting in the Round

June 2nd, 2014

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This column by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, originally appeared in The Weekly Stitch newsletter.

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Knitting in the round can seem daunting, but with a bit of practice, it’s no more difficult than knitting on straight needles. Here are some tips that I hope will make it a bit easier!

1. Circulars and Length

The appropriate circular needle length is the same size or slightly shorter than the circumference of the piece you are knitting. If it’s too short you’ll have trouble keeping all the stitches on the needle; if it’s too long, the fabric will be stretched too taut (this is why you need to switch to double points when decreasing the crown of a hat).

2. A Neater Join

For some people, the usual way of knitting the first stitch of the round can be loose and therefore sloppy. You can tighten it up with the tail when weaving in the end later.

A better way to join it the round can be to cast on one extra stitch. Slip this stitch to the left (the first needle if casting on to double points); this is the beginning of the round and next to the first stitch you cast on. Then knit the two stitches together.

Still better, slip the first stitch you cast on to the right, next to the last cast on stitch. Pass the last cast on stitch (which is now the second stitch on the right) over the slipped stitch, give the yarn a tug and begin your round.

3. Which Double-Pointed Needles to Buy

Aluminum needles can be slippery and your stitches will always want to slide off. Try bamboo or plastic.

Double points come in different lengths. Longer ones can be a bit more awkward but for larger number of stitches, you’ll need them so your stitches don’t fall off.

They come in sets of 4 or 5. If you have the option, always buy 5; then you’ll have it if you need it (and if one disappears you’ll have a spare!).

4. Ladders

“Ladders” are the visible loose “rungs” or “bars” between knit and crochet stitches, which run up the piece where the needles join. sometimes they become exaggerated when knitting in the round; sometimes you see them when knitting on circular needles but they are much more common while knitting with double points. Take special care to knit the first and last stitch of each needle tightly. If you still have trouble with ladders, knit all the stitches from one needle plus one from the next needle on the spare needle. This way, the spot where the needles join will not be consistent.

5. Change from Circulars to Double Points

Sometimes you decrease, as with the crown of a hat, and need to change from circulars to double points because the number of stitches will no longer fit on circulars without stretching. You could just knit the entire hat on double points but most people find circulars a bit easier since you aren’t juggling multiple needles.

To switch, just work the next round with your double points. You can either determine before hand how many stitches should be on each needle by dividing the number of stitches worked by 3 or 4 (number of needles) or just knit and adjust afterward by slipping stitches to various needles.

6. The Beginning of the Round on Double Points

Although some people can tell which which needle is the beginning of the round because it’s the point where the length is even or because of the yarn tail at the beginning of the piece, it’s easier to mark the beginning or end of the round for quick reference. Place your marker one stitch in on the last needle (the end of round) or the first needle (the beginning of the round) so it won’t fall off. It doesn’t matter which as long as you know if it’s the first or last needle.

If you are decreasing, you may need to move the marker depending upon where your decreases fall. You can place it anywhere along the needle so as you continue to decrease, you won’t need to move it every time.

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  • Alice Wright

    Great tips – especially #2 as I sometimes have a problem with a very loose join when I’m joining the knitting to knit in the round. I usually just knit the tail in so have a stronger join but am definitely going to try the extra stitch method, that looks great! I’m intrigued that you don’t mention the Magic Loop Method – I never bother with using double pointed needles or working out the right length of circular needles, I just use the magic loop method – it’s so much easier! I have to say too that I’ve started using circs for straight knitting now too as am making so quite big pieces and they are lighter and give you more space! Plus it saves money, instead of having every size of straight needles and circulars, I’m now only buying circs!

    • kknitting

      So in love with my circular needles all of my other needles are gathering dust. They are lighter and always together and compared to double.pointed needles i have half as may ladders to deal with. Personally my knitting world opened up wheni learned how to knit two socks at a time on 1circular needle. They are perfect for socks and i find myself using the method everywhere i can ie 2 at a time sleeves, and mittens.

    • Janine Melnitz

      Absolutely; I think using the magic loop method solves most of the problems mentioned up there. No ladders, no finding the right length circular, no finding the right length DP needles, no switching from DP needles to circular for a hat… I have honestly found no downside to using the magic loop and I love it, but some people seem hesitant to try or recommend it!

  • tali

    Another tip for double-pointed needles: I take some corks (we save them from wine bottles) and cut them into slices, about 3/8 of an inch thick . I stick the ends ot the needles that I’m not working with into the cork pieces so that the eyes don’t slip off. Especially important for tiny bits (such as the thumb of a glove), with very few eyes and a greater danger of slipping.

  • Pat Wilson

    I think like Alice. I do not purchase double points or long straight needles any more. I am getting a large selction of 40″ round and use the magic loop. I was doing a loose weave sweater for daughter and had to go to bamboo because I was having a problem with it slipping off, as was mentioned. But did go with 40 Inch. Was taought magic loop 2 years ago. Once you get it down that is the way to go. Friends of mine are even doing socks that way.

  • Rosemary

    What’s a magic loop? I never heard of it.

    • Mary

      Google “magic loop”…..there will be very detailed instructions shown.

  • Thirdwarning

    Another idea I find helpful for avoiding a problem with the join is to move the beginning of the round to the middle of a needle. It takes a little finagling at the beginning to shift the stitches, but since the stitches have to be divided onto three needles anyway, it’s not really a big deal. That way I don’t have to worry about losing the marker and the joining point is more even because it’s not between needles.

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  • Nancy

    Will definitely try #2 next time I start a project, I just started my second sock of a pair. I love doing socks, and tried working them on circs, but I prefer the dps, find it more relaxing.

  • GJ

    Never mastered double pointed needles, no matter what I did, I always got ladders. Magic loop too was difficult. Using 2 circular needles was the answer. put half your stitches on each needle then knit the stitches with the same needle they are on and work around the circle.

  • Mona

    Good information. I like both circular and dpns. When doing socks I usually work with 5 needles and haven’t had an issue. I am going to give magic loop a try and doing 2 socks at one time. It’s always good to hear how others are knitting and getting new tips. Thanks

  • Judy Roe

    I use 2 24inch circular needles for anything in the round. Works great. In fact, I have gotten rid of all my straight (mostly inherited) needles and use only circs and, occasionally, double points. Saves money and they are MUCH easier to use. The best investment I ever made for knitting was to buy interchangeable points. You can have as many sets of 24inch circs as you need that way.

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