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How To Knit In The Round: Using Circular and Double Pointed Needles

Updated on June 5, 2012

Circular Knitting: No seams 'round here!

Knitting in the round can be scary to the new knitter, but never fear! If you start with baby steps, pretty soon you'll be churning out seam-free hats like a pro. (Not to mention: mittens, shawls, baby blankets, and my fave...socks.)

There are two different styles of needles that let knitters work in the round - double pointed and circular. We'll take a look-see at both here, and talk about their pros and cons.

Photo by Emma Jane Hogbin.

Berets knit in the round
Berets knit in the round

Circular Knitting 101

Intro to working in the round

If you've never worked in the round, here are some of the differences from flat kniting that you'll need to know before you get started.

Rounds, not rows. In regular flat knitting the stitches on your needles are referred to as rows. When working in a circle, they are referred to as rounds. It's just a matter of symantics, though. If you happen to slip up and say row (as I often do) the knitting police won't cart you away.

You only knit on one side of the work. In regular knitting you work across the needle on one side, then turn your project around to work across the stitches with the opposite side facing you. In circular knitting, the same side of the work will always face you. Why is this muy importante to know? It all has to do with knits and purls. When you make a knit stitch, you create a flat surface facing you and a bump on the back. When you purl, you make the bump on the front and the flat surface on the back. So, to create stockinette stitch in flat knitting you knit a row, turn your needle around and then purl a row. This makes sure that all the flats end up on one side, and all the bumps end up on the other. When knitting in the round, all you need to do to create stockinette is to knit every stitch of every round until your brains fall out. Because you never turn your work around to the back side, all of your flats will always face the outside of the project.

Twisted stitches...not a rock band from the 80's. Many patterns written to be worked in the round, start with something like, "Cast on a million stitches and join, being careful not to twist your stitches." Let's dissect that sentence, shall we? First, when they say to join, they mean to start knitting your stitches in such a way as to create a complete circle. No turning your needle(s) around and going back across the stitches you just cast on. Instead, you butt the last stitch you just cast on (which should have your working yarn attached to it) up against the first stitch you cast on. Then, instert your needle into the fist stitch and knit it with the working yarn. This will connect your cast on stitches into a circle...more on this later. The second part of the sentence is crucial: "being careful not to twist your stitches" If your stitches have twirled themselves around your needle(s), then when you join your work into a circle, you'll have a mess. You won't be creating a perfect tube, you'll be creating a twisted mobius*-looking weirdness. The preventative? Lay your needle(s) on the table and take a gander at your stitches before joining. All of them sould be facing the same way, with the edge-bit created by casting on, facing the inside of the circle. This way you'll be much happier than the preson who got ten rounds into the project only to discover that (s)he's got to rip it all out and start over. And maybe cry a little bit, too.

*What's a mobius? It's a twisted circular strip with no inside or outside. Cat Borhdi is the queen of mobius knitting. We'll talk about her books later.

The Origins of Circular Knitting

A little divine inspiration

Behold, the knitting Madonna. Painted by Bertram c1390, this is the oldest known record of circular knitting. In it, Mary is almost finished with a seamless, bottom-up sweater on double pointed needles. She happily knits away while her little tyke chats with some passing angels.

Up until the invention of the circular needle (we'll talk more about these later), this was the only way to knit a tubular object without a seam. Double pointed needles (or DPN's as they are often called) allow the knitter to knit in a continuous spiral. Think of it as a Slinky made out of interlocking loops of yarn.

Knitting with Double Points - Commonly known as "trying to knit with an octopus."

Knitting with double points allows for great flexibility. You can knit a tube of any size, with any number of stitches. Need a hat? You got it. Need a sock? Easy-peasy. Need some random finger puppets? Erm... sure! Why not?

DPN's are sold in sets of four or five. This allows the knitter to distribute stitches over several needles, then join them into a continuous round in the shape of either a triangle or a square. The needles with the stitches on them are referred to as "full needles."

The extra, "empty" needle is held in the right hand. The first full needle is held in the left. These are the only two needles you need to worry about when you are actually knitting. The other full needles just hang out in the back, holding stitches for future knitting. Ignore them for now.

As you work across the first needle of the round you empty it, and fill the needle in the right hand. The now-empty needle in the left hand is moved to the right hand and the project is rotated counter-clockwise so that you are ready to knit the second full needle.

During cast on, and during the first couple of rounds, knitting with DPN's can feel a bit like knitting with an octopus. Just remember to make sure you stitches are not twisted before joining (see more about that in the ramblings above called "Circular Knitting 101"). Have a little patience, and keep breathing. Fainting while holding a bunch of pointy objects could be hazardous to your health.

Photo by Jay Gooby.

A Point in History

Check out this article from knitty.com for a glimpse of one of America's most prominent First Ladies and avid knitter: Elenor Roosevelt. This interesting interview with an employee of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site is followed by a pattern for beautifully simple mittens - knit on double pointed needles, of course.

Circular Needles - Versatile is their middle name

Hello, meet Circular V. Needles. (See, versatile really is their middle name.) Circ's, as they're also known, are a relatively recent addition to the knitting scene. First popular in the 1970s, circ's opened up the world of knitting in the round and made it appealing to knitters of all skill levels.

There are several techniques for knitting in the round on circular needles. The most basic is to use them just like double points: throw some stitches on the needles and knit 'round and 'round till you can't stand it no more. This is a great way to start a hat or knit the body of a sweater. It also makes a yummily warm tube scarf.

*TIP*

To keep track of the beginning of your rounds when using the basic method on circular needles, place a stitch marker on your needle before joining. The marker will float around the needle as you knit, keeping track of the beginnning, so you don't have to!

A Beginner Hat - An awesome video on how to knit a seamless hat

This video gives you the skills you need to knit a hat with your choice of yarn. It covers gauge, that mysterious thing that allows you to make knitted objects that actually fit!

Caution: If you're new to knitting in the round and are not comfortable with the technique this video suggests for completing the crown, try transferring the stitches to double points instead. Just drop the right hand side of the circular needle and slip 1/3 of your stitches onto a double pointed needle (be sure to insert the dpn into the stitch as if you were purling to prevent twisting the stitches.) When you have 1/3 of the stitches on that needle, pick up another empty dpn and slip another 1/3 onto it. Repeat with a third empty needle, then continue knitting and decreasing as normal with a fourth double point.

In the Beginning... - there was Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Knitting Without Tears: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes
Knitting Without Tears: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes

Knitting Without Tears was a revolutionary book when it was first released in 1971. The much-loved, self proclaimed "opinionated knitter," Elizabeth Zimmerman changed the way we thought about knitting. Her warm, delightful writing style revealed a new world, one in which a knitter needed no pattern or difficult techniques to create beautiful garments. This book launched the popularity of working in the round, and the knitting community has never looked back. Today her daughter, Meg Swansen, carries on EZ's legacy as a master knitter and teacher, keeping the business of Schoolhouse Press, with its famous Knitting Camp, alive and thriving.

 

Round 'n Round She Knits - Where she stops? Um, where she runs out of yarn.

Other Ways to Use Circ's - Here's where the versatility kicks in.

You are not restricted to knitting tubes the size of your circular needle. There are a couple of ways of getting around it: knitting on two (yep, I typed two) circulars and the magic loop, which involvles knitting a small tube on one single long circular. They both involve leaving bits of the circular needle cable sticking out of your work, so that your knitted tube floats in the middle and can grow bigger or smaller as needed.

Normally, I would give a written description of how they work. But, in my experience as a knitting instructor they are very nearly impossible to communicate through just words. So, I'm going to let the videos do all the teaching on these.

DPN's v/s Circ's

What do you think? Double points are the way to go? Or have they been left in the dust by circulars?

Which do you prefer?

See results

A Treasury of Magical Knitting - The book that launched a thousand beautifully draped scarves.

A Treasury of Magical Knitting
A Treasury of Magical Knitting

Like Elizabeth Zimmerman, Cat Bordhi is a knitting innovator. Her book, A Treasury of Magical Knitting, blew the world of circular knitting wide open with her amazing mobius patterns. The mobius strip is a twisted tube, that has no inside or outside. Cat must have been a physicist in a past life, because she some how figured out how to knit this magical shape. Her line of books offer easily adaptable patterns for hats, scarves, baskets, cat beds, even socks!

 

Further Reading - More books on how to knit seamlessly

Accessories - Other things you might need to knit in the round

Come 'round agin real soon, ya hear?

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    • MerryChicky profile image
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      MerryChicky 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Sure! Hats, socks, gloves, sweaters, business card holders, toy fish. The sky's the limit once you learn how to knit in the round! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Like it. Can you do something else with it than making blankets?

    • MerryChicky profile image
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      MerryChicky 5 years ago

      @earthybirthymum: Me, too! I love how they allow me to hold the bulk of the blanket in my lap, rather than having it hanging unevenly off a long straight needle.

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love knitting on the round. Circular needles are great for blankets.

    • MerryChicky profile image
      Author

      MerryChicky 5 years ago

      @narika1: PS. The purple one was a Noro yarn, probably Silk Garden.

    • MerryChicky profile image
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      MerryChicky 5 years ago

      @narika1: Hey Nari, I'm so sorry I didn't realize what berets you were talking about on the other comment! I feel silly, as the are something that I actually designed and knit myself. They are knit from the top down, just like in this pattern: http://throughtheloops.typepad.com/through_the_loo...

      There's a little math involved, but don't be afraid. Math is a knitter's friend! (Trust me.)

    • narika1 profile image

      narika1 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for such wonderful tutorials! I wouldn't be able to do it without you!

      and... I am completely in love with your berets in the picture! - may I ask what yarn you used for the purple one? Do you have a pattern? Please do tell...

    • Katemcm profile image

      Katemcm 5 years ago

      Another great lens by you! I have four more weeks on bed rest and always wanted to knit!

    • franstan lm profile image

      franstan lm 5 years ago

      An exceptional lens for those who need instructions in knitting on circular or double pointed needles. Blessed

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      I think someone could learn to knit in the round from your LENS, well done. I need to review my techniques - that's what brought me here in the first place....thanks.

    • jennabee25 profile image

      Jenn Dixon 6 years ago from PA

      DPNs absolutely terrify me, but I want to learn how to use them. Thank you for making this lens. My fears have abated a tad.

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed the Cat Bordhi videos. I really have limited experience with circular needles. But this makes me think I could master them. Loved your lens. blessed by this squid angel.

    • MerryChicky profile image
      Author

      MerryChicky 6 years ago

      @Lemming13: Eh, just sound like your a natural hat knitter to me. ;) Glad you liked the lens.

    • Lemming13 profile image

      Lemming13 6 years ago

      You know something really weird? While most knitters I know struggled with circular knitting and found straight knitting easy, I found circular knitting easy but struggled with straight rows. Maybe because I'm a crochet kitty, I don't know. Great lens, very informative.

    • MerryChicky profile image
      Author

      MerryChicky 6 years ago

      @ChemKnitsBlog2: Thanks! Ya, DPN's are great. I'm always telling new knitters not to be scared, they are a cinch once you get the hang of them.

    • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image

      ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

      What a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to begin knitting in the round! I use DPN's for almost everything these days. It is my pleasure to bless this lens, and Congrats on being #1 in "Other Knitting Topics"

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: OK, I figured out what I was doing wrong. I was knitting along the INSIDE rim of my bolster instead of the outside rim. finished it last night, the right way, and it looks great!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      thank you for your thorough information, it was easier than I thought handling all those needles. But, for some reason although I knit( not purled) round the circle of needles my stockinette was on the inside of the tube instead of the outside!? I am making a bolster, so knit a rectangle, rolled it up, picked up stitches on the edge of the rectangle and started with the DPNs. The pattern says to decrease until 6 stitches remain and close. The stockinette is supposed to be visible. Any suggestions as to what I am doing wrong? thank you!

    • MerryChicky profile image
      Author

      MerryChicky 7 years ago

      @anonymous: You're welcome! Glad I could help.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      THE INSTRUCTIONS ARE SO EASY TO UNDERSTAND. I WISH I HAD DISCOVERED THIS INFORMATION YEARS AGO! THANKS.

    • MerryChicky profile image
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      MerryChicky 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks! I love crochet, too. I tend to use it for things like stuffed animals and flowers. It's a lovely craft. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Oh how I wish I could knit. I do well with crochet, but have not been able to master knitting. This is a great knitting tutorial. 5*

    • MerryChicky profile image
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      MerryChicky 7 years ago

      @poptastic: Thanks! Glad you like it.

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

      This is a wonderful tutorial lens! (: