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Knitting in the Round - Thyme to Circle Your Fears

Updated on January 26, 2015
thyme2Bcreative profile image

Lori has more than thirty years of crafting practice! She enjoys a variety of arts and crafts; decorative painting being her first love.

Fair Isle Knitting


Knitting? Really?

Yes really! My mom taught me to knit when I was young, I'm thinking around eight years old. She taught me on straight knitting needles because that's what she used. I remember being very clumsy, having a difficult time getting my "grip" just right. And to this day I think gripping or holding the knitting needles is one of the most difficult tasks to master when learning to knit. You know what they say, "practice makes perfect," how true.

About eight years ago I was reunited with a dear friend when we became co-workers. Every day during our lunch hour she would knit. That is when I became re-introduced to my childhood hobby, which I must say has turned into somewhat of a passion - okay obsession!

I've been asked on several occasion, "Isn't knitting for . . . old ladies?" Well I am an old lady, but the answer is a definite NO! Over the last few years I have attended several knitting conventions, yes, a convention, an entire weekend dedicated to the art of knitting. A knitting convention is a wonderful and amazing experience - hundreds of vendors with every yarn imaginable, every color and texture. Tools of the hobby, i.e. needles, scissors, stitch holders, cable needles, measuring tape, stitch counters, etc., etc. Not to mention patterns, samples of finished pieces and of course class instructions from learning how to knit to Fair Isle. And in addition to all these wonderful things to see you also see old ladies, middle aged ladies, young ladies, and men!

I have also been asked if knitting is dying art. Oh, I think not. I believe it is growing in popularity and maybe even more popular now than ever before; check out This site is a community of knitters (crocheters too) and boast of four million plus members from all over the world, sharing patterns, tips, ideas, pictures of finished projects and even swapping materials.

Knitting is not a dying art, not just for old ladies, and not just a hobby to just pass the time. Knitting speaks to your soul, it is very calming and allows you to use your imagination in so many different ways. And you may be shocked to learn you can knit so many things - not just scarves:)

Knitting? Really? Yes really!

Gansey Jumper


A Little Knitting History

It seems the first "knitted" garment were socks found in Egyptian tombs. The socks were knotted pieces of cotton or silk material, which closely resembles a knitted piece of fabric as we know it today. In fact the word knit, which entered the English language in the 1400's, can be traced back to the word cnyttan, which means knot.

In 11th century Egypt the cotton and silk socks were intricate patterns shared by word of mouth, they were not written down or preserved in any way. When knitting began to spread, wool was not yet being used and the cost of imported cotton and silk were quite expensive. It is said that the King of Sweden owned 27 pairs of knitted silk socks, purchased from Spain in the 1500's. Each pair cost as much as his valet's annual salary.

Knitting needles at this time were double pointed (a point on each end) and usually made from walrus tusks or ivory (I'd love to find a pair of those). It wasn't until the 16th century that the "purl" stitch was invented. Up until that time every project was done in the garter stitch (all knit) and the stockinette (row of knit, row of purl on straight needles) stitch was created by working in the round, or on several double pointed needles. Double pointed needles are still used today to knit in the round, but some of us prefer circular knitting needles which are two short knitting needles connected by a cable or cord.

Gradually ordinary people began to knit, even men. Sailors would knit on long voyages and shepherds while tending their flocks. In fact only men were allowed to join knitting craft guilds. But it was the women in the fishing villages who were famous for knitting ganseys' (sweater) for the men in their families. The patterns were handed down by word of mouth, generation to generation, family to family, village to village.

It took about six weeks for the women to complete a gansey. These sweaters were made without seams on four or five small needles using four or five ply wool. The stitches were tight, the tighter the stitch the more waterproof the sweater became. The stitch patterns used were things from their every day life in the fishing village, i.e. anchors, ladders, ropes, cables, etc. The women would also knit a number of mistakes into the garment in order to personalize each sweater for each family member. When accidents on the sea occurred and bodies were washed ashore they were identified by the pattern of their gansey. The body was then returned to the family for burial.

The women not only knitted sweaters they would also knit lace shawls for babies and intricate undergarments for wedding trousseaux. However, during the 1st and 2nd World Wars knitting for soldiers became every British civilian's duty from jumpers and socks to shooting gloves and from balaclavas to sleeping bags. Even Queen Elizabeth contributed by knitting for the military.

Metric Sizing (mm)
US Sizing
Sample knitting needle sizing chart.
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Straight knitting needles.Circular knitting needles.Double pointed needles; knitting in the round.
Straight knitting needles.
Straight knitting needles. | Source
Circular knitting needles.
Circular knitting needles. | Source
Double pointed needles; knitting in the round.
Double pointed needles; knitting in the round. | Source

Circular Knitting Needles vs Straight Knitting Needles

I've been knitting a long time - it has been an on and off addiction over the past . . . well let's just say, for many years now. And I'm still learning. There is so much to this hobby even though it all begins with only two stitches - the knit stitch and the purl stitch - the variation of these two stitches produce countless stitch patterns that keep me coming back for more.

About six years ago I made my first infinity scarf; a scarf that has no beginning or end. You can make this type of scarf on a pair of straight knitting needles, but the pattern I was looking at recommended "circular needles" to accommodate the number of stitches needed for the scarf. I had no clue as to what a circular needle was or the fact that it would change my knitting life from that point forward.

Of course I had plenty of yarn, if you are a knitter I'm sure you can relate, so I headed to the craft store to purchase a circular needle. I was in for a surprise.

Knitting needles, both straight and circular, come in a variety of sizes. All knitting needles have one thing in common, the diameter sizing of the needle. I've added a sample chart of the sizing. Both straight and circular needles come in a variety of lengths. I read somewhere that extra long knitting needles are held under the arms - I think that's a topic for another article. Just keep in mind a longer needle can accommodate more stitches, that's why cable needles are often recommended for larger projects like a sweater with no seams, an afghan, or an infinity scarf. Using the appropriate size needle for a project eliminates a lot of frustration.

My Two Cents- I have come to love circular knitting needles. I use them almost exclusively now. I like them because they are so comfortable - the cable just lays in your lap, they accommodate a few stitches or a lot of stitches, you can knit regular or in the round. You don't have the ends of your needles sticking you in the arm and if you drop a needle it's always connected to the other end. Circular needles are a win/win in my book.

Knitter's Tip

Save the packaging of your knitting needles - if you are not happy with the way they preform - return them.

If you like them storing your needles in the original packaging helps you to easily identify the size of your needles for your next project. This may not seem like a helpful tip, but trust me when you have 20 plus pairs of knitting needles you will wish you had the original packaging!

Things to Consider Before Buying Knitting Needles

As with anything, we all have preferences and often find a product or tool we favor more than its counterpart. It's the same with knitting tools, in particular knitting needles. For instance, my mother can't seem to get used to the feel of the circular knitting needles, and that's okay. Use what your comfortable with and what works for you - it's your hobby, your project; enjoy the ride, you don't want to fight with every stitch because some lady wrote an article and said circular needles are the bomb!

If you follow the suggestions below I think you will be happy with your purchase.

-Make sure you purchase the correct size needle for your project. The experts that write the knitting patterns know what they are doing so take their advice. If you are a knitter and you know you knit tight vs loose, you may want to size up - however, you should always check the gauge for any given project.

-If you are using a textured yarn you may want to consider a metal/smooth pair of knitting needles. This will help you to knit with ease. If however your yarn is very soft/silky you may want to consider a bamboo knitting needle, you will have more control and your stitches will be less likely to slip off your needles.

-If your project requires you to knit in the round and you need to cast on only 50 stitches you do not want to purchase a circular needle measuring 24" or more - that will make to large of a circle, you will need to use a smaller cable needle, i.e. 16" or use double pointed needles.

-Some circular needles have a stiff plastic cable, some have a more pliable cable. I prefer the more pliable. My Two Cents- I think the stiff cable needle tends to have a mind of it's own and always seems to be going in the opposite direction I want it to, just sayin'.

Knitting in the Round

Thyme to Circle Your Fears - Let's Knit in the Round

Watch my video and I'll show you what can happen when knitting in the round, a "trick" I use to be more successful when joining my work when knitting in the round. Remember, 'practice makes perfect' so if this is your first attempt at knitting in the round don't give up; there is definitely a learning curve. You will get the hang of it and you will be so glad when you do - I love knitting a hat and not having a seam up the back, it's just brilliant.

Thank you for reading this Hub - if you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear from you. Happy knitting!


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    • thyme2Bcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Delp 

      3 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi Alison - glad you are back to knitting again. There are so many variables with knitting a prayer shawl - size of needle, weight of your yarn, the size of the person you are knitting it for -- have you every visited You can set up an account for free and they have thousands upon thousands of free patterns. If you enter prayer shawl in the search bar I'm sure you will find something you like, let me know if this suggestion works for you.

      To me the double pointed needles are a bit tricky - it can be a bit fiddly to handle so many needles at once, but basically if your pattern calls for 20 stitches you would cast on 5 stitches on each of the four needles (if you are using 5 needles) arranging the needles so they resemble a hash-tag symbol. You would then place your marker and begin knitting with the fifth needle to join your work; then just start knitting, round in a circle from one needle to the next. Not sure my words will be too helpful, but on YouTube check out How to Knit in the Round by New Stitch a Day - I think it will help immensely if you can watch someone do it. Let me know how you make out.

      I'm curious where you are in Pennsylvania - I grew up in PA right outside of Philly - love Pennsylvania!

    • Alison Dittmar profile image

      Alison Dittmar 

      3 years ago from PA

      Thanks, I also learned to knit as a child by my 6th grade teacher. Then I got back into it with babies and stopped for a long time-I was a busy young mom! Now, I knit a bit but rarely knit in the round and have never used double pointed needles! I'd love to make an easy but nice prayer shawl, do you have any suggestions for me like cast on amount, etc. Also how do you use the dbl pointed needles? Thanks!


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