Knitting in the Round

1 Circular Needle

Let’s talk about working a tubular piece of knitting on a single circular needle. You will often hear this technique referred to as knitting in the round. This is an alternative to using 2 straight needles and having to sew a seam, or to using double pointed needles. Some of the benefits of using a single circular needle for round knitting are that you do not have to worry about misplacing one of your needles, you have fewer needle tips to keep track of, no seam to sew, and it is easier to handle a larger tube of knitting such as a sleeve, hat or body of a garment. Always use a circular needle with a length less than the circumference of the item you are knitting. If your hat will be 18 inches around when finished, use a 16 inch long needle. The reason for this is that the stitches need to fit comfortably around the needle and meet at the tips without stretching. Using a needle that is too large can result in misshapen fabric.

Note: We have already cast on our stitches and are ready to knit. If you need instruction on how to cast on, please check out our Casting On category.

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Push the last of your cast on stitches to the tip of the needle so that the working yarn is close to the tip. Hold this needle tip in your right hand. Pick up the other needle tip with your left hand. Slide the stitches to the end of the needle tip now in your left hand. Before you knit your first stitch, ensure that there is no twist in the cast on stitches. The cast on edge should run along the bottom of the needle all the way around without looping over the cable.

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An unwanted twist would find the cast on edge wrapping all the way around the cable. This would cause your knitted piece of fabric to become somewhat of a figure eight. Twisting is a problem that cannot be corrected later — you would have to tear out all of your work and start over.

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Place a marker on the right needle tip before you begin knitting. This will allow you to keep track of the beginning of the round for counting purposes. Begin knitting by inserting the right needle tip into the first stitch on the left needle tip. Using the working yarn, knit the first stitch and pull tightly so that it comes together snugly with the stitches on the right needle tip. Take care not to knit with the cast-on tail! You always want to be knitting with the working yarn that comes from the skein.

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Keep knitting until you have come back around to the marker. Every time you reach the marker you have completed one round of knitting. Now you can just continue to knit and you will produce a beautiful tube of stockinette fabric without having to do a single purl stitch!

When knitting in the round, you are always working on the “right side” of the fabric. In the event that you are reading from a charted pattern, you will now read each and every row from right to left and all stitches will be knit as for the “right side” of the fabric. For instance: if a stitch says “knit on right side, purl on wrong side”, you will now be knitting that stitch every time you come to it. Please see the Chart Reading Tutorial for more information about charts. If you are converting a pattern from flat knitting to circular, you must be aware of the fact that the “wrong side” rows will all need to be changed. For instance: stockinette stitch fabric is created in flat knitting by alternating knit rows with purl rows. When knitting in the round, you must knit every round to create stockinette stitch since you are never turning your work.

2 Circular Needles

Learning to knit in the round with 2 circular needles is challenging, but well worth it in the end. Try this technique first with one sock, and as you become more comfortable you can perform the amazing feat of knitting 2 socks at the same time! This allows you to try on the socks as you progress in knitting them, and you avoid the dreaded “second sock syndrome”. (This happens when you finish knitting one sock and then don’ t have the heart or motivation to pick up and work the second sock.)

An important tip to make this method easier:

  • Create a distinguishing feature between the needles. This will make it easier to keep track of which needle is the back and which is the front. You don’t want to use anything that will obstruct your knitting. The best ideas are to use two different circulars or to make a small mark with a permanent pen on one cable.

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First, cast on the necessary number of stitches onto one of the circular needles.

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Slip half of the stitches purlwise onto the second circular needle. (The second circular needle has been rendered in green for clarity.)

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Holding the needles parallel to one another, slide the stitches from the needle tips they are on to the needle tips at the opposite ends of the cables. This will ensure that the working yarn is hanging to the right of the stitches, ready to begin knitting.

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Using the front circular only, pick up the free end and insert it into the first stitch on the front needle.

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Complete the first stitch, pulling snugly with the working yarn to join the stitches into a round.

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Work across the rest of the stitches on the front needle and allow the free end of the needle to drop.

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*Turn your work.

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Slide the stitches that are on what is now the front needle to the opposite needle tip.

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Picking up the free end of the front needle, work this row and let the newly emptied needle tip drop.

Repeat these steps from *.

Double Pointed Needles

You can use double pointed needles to knit tubes of fabric with small circumferences. Examples would be socks, hats and the sleeves of sweaters. Double pointed needles (commonly referred to as dpns) come in packages of 4, 5 or sometimes 6 needles. You can choose to knit around 3 or 4 needles, depending on the size of your project and your personal preference. Our example below will demonstrate knitting in the round over 3 needles, using a 4th needle to complete the knit stitches.

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First, begin by casting on the required number of stitches onto one of the double pointed needles.

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Slip one third of the stitches purlwise onto a second double pointed needle.

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Repeat for with the third double pointed needle, leaving you with your stitches divided amongst the three needles.

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Arrange your needles in an “H” shape with the working yarn hanging off of the righthand needle as pictured to the right. Make sure that the stitches do not twist around any of the needles. The cast on edge should face downward on all three needles.

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Slide the stitches on the lefthand needle down to the tip closest to you. These are the stitches you will be knitting first.

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Insert your fourth needle (the empty one) into the first stitch on the lefthand needle.

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Grasp the working yarn with your right hand and work the stitch you have just inserted your fourth needle into. You have just joined the stitches and are effectively working in the round!

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Work the rest of the stitches until you have freed up a needle. You will now use this free needle to work the next set of stitches on the needle to the left of the working yarn.

Remember, if you put down your work and can’t figure out where you left off, you should always be working the stitches on the needle that is to the left of the one with the working yarn hanging from it. It is very helpful to use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of the round. However, you may want to shift the stitches so that the marker does not fall between two sets of stitches as it can slip off of the end of a needle. Make sure the first stitch on each new needle is worked snugly, as this will prevent any looseness from appearing in your piece between needles.

Magic Loop

This fabulous technique (developed by Sarah Hauschka and Bev Galeskas in The Magic Loop) allows you to create a small tube such as the leg of a sock, on one circular needle! By taking advantage of the flexible cable on a circular needle, you have an alternative to knitting a sock or a sleeve on double point needles. It is a truly wonderful concept.

First, you’ll need a long circular needle. Since the cables on Knit Picks needles are so flexible, the Magic Loop technique can be performed on our 32″ cable or anything longer – we also carry cables in 40″, 47″, and 60″ lengths. Some customers claim they have even used our 24″ needles successfully!

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Cast on your require number of stitches and push them down to the middle of the cable.

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Divide the number of stitches in half. Fold the cable so that half of the stitches are on one side and half on the other.

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Pull on the bit of cable that appears between the two groups of stitches.

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Slide the two groups of stitches down their sides of the cable to their respective needle tips. You will now have half of your stitches on one needle tip and half on the other. With the needle tips parallel and pointing to the right, your working yarn will hang from the back stitches.

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*Pull on the needle tip that is holding the back stitches and draw up enough slack on the cable to allow you to use that needle tip to work the stitches on the front needle.

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Work all of the stitches on the front needle, being careful that you haven’t twisted the stitches around on either needle. (You’ll want to see the cast on edge all around the bottom.)

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Slide the two groups of stitches back down to their respective needle tips. Repeat from * as many times as needed.

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After several rounds you will begin to see your tube of knitting appear. Each time your yarn tail hangs at the right side of your stitches with the working yarn, you are beginning a new round.

As with all knitting skills, this one may take some time to get used to. Once you learn the proper tension for your style, you’ll be sure to appreciate the grace and simplicity of this method.