How to Knit in the Round
The lovely and talented Mary Beth Temple is back! This week, she's going to teach you all about knitting in the round! Enjoy...
When our friends at Deramores asked me to write about knitting in the round for this week’s blog post I agreed immediately – what a great idea to have all sorts of information related to the topic in one place!
And then I started to plan it out and apparently what I really want to do is write a book : )
So here is some basic information about knitting in the round including working with circular needles, DPNS and the Magic Loop technique. I used a hat for my sample because while a lot of us are avid (I almost put rabid!) sock knitters, which is the quintessential use for seamless knitting, there are plenty of other uses for these techniques, and it’s easier to see what I am talking about on a larger project in thicker yarn. While I do have more tricks up my sleeve, I will just have to save some for another day!
I am going to use three different tools in my demonstration photos, all the same size. I have a circular needle with a short cable, a circular needle with a long cable, and a set of four DPNS.
Circular needles come in a variety of cable lengths, and while the exact measurement varies a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer, the usual measurements are in the neighborhoods of 23 cm (9”), 41 cm (16”), 74 cm – 81 cm (29” – 32”), and 122 cm (48”) and up. It’s important to select the size needle tip you want to knit with, but you also want to choose a cable length that is slightly smaller than the circumference of the knitted piece you are working on. The stitches need to fit easily around the needle when it’s in use because if you have too few stitches the work can stretch out, and while you can have more stitches on there than absolutely necessary to fit
Everything is cruising right along, I am knitting away, slipping the stitch marker from the left needle to the right needle whenever I come to it, and soon enough it’s time for the crown decreases. After a couple of decrease rows, I see that the stitches don’t go comfortably around my 41 cm (16”) circular needle, and I need to switch to a technique that will accommodate the smaller circumference of the work. I have two choices – Magic Loop, or using Double Pointed Needles (DPNs)
Magic Loop has its devotees – you can Magic Loop any circular project of any size, from a baby sock to a large sweater, but it is most often used on small projects. Choose a circular needle that is much larger than your project – the one in the photos is 142 cm (56”) but anything over twice the width of your project will do. Some manufacturers offer a choice between a soft cable or a firm one – the firm style works best for this technique to re-orient the tips, turn the work, and knit off the other half of the stitches. You can decrease with this technique if you like – no matter how small the circumference of the work gets, the needle tips can accommodate it.
Do be careful to make sure you tension stays even when switching from one needle tip to the other. If you make the transition too loose you can see it in the final project – it’s called “laddering” because the loose bars between the stitches look like rungs on a ladder. Oftentimes you can block that out, but it’s better not to leave a ladder in the first place!
While there are those knitters that will Magic Loop any project, any time, I am not one of them! I learned to knit in the round on DPNs and am a die-hard user of that technique instead.
To be clear, one does not need to Magic Loop AND use DPNs, one can Magic Loop OR use DPNs – knitters’ choice. Some knitters dislike manipulating 4 or 5 DPNS and prefer the Magic Loop. Some, like me, can’t seem to get a reliable rhythm going with Magic Loop and prefer the DPNs. You will find which one works best for you.
For this hat it was an easy switch from the circular to the DPNs – when I got to the row with 24 stitches, I just set up three DPNS to have 8 stitches on each. For this technique as well, I would have marked the last stitch of the round. While you can use a stitch marker on a DPN like you can on a circular needle, it’s much more likely to fall off when you put the work down, so I prefer to mark an actual stitch.
DPNs come in sets of 4 or 5, but usually I use 4 – 3 to hold stitches, and one to knit with. As you knit, the needle you are knitting from becomes empty, and is then the needle you knit with when you get to the next section around, you don’t want to cram so many on that they want to pop off every time you put your work down. Since my hat sample was to finish at 51 cm (20”) I used a 41 cm (16”) needle. Circular needle measurements are measured from tip to tip.
First, cast on the number of stitches you need for your project. Most patterns will then say “join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist”. Because you are essentially knitting in a spiral from here on out, it is important to mark the beginning of the round. There are all sorts of commercial stitch markers available, from little plastic rings to hand-made beauties with sterling silver findings, but it’s also fair play to tie off a short length of yarn in a contrasting color as I did here.
The reason you don’t want a twist when you join is that a twist doesn’t look like much trouble when you’re starting, but as the work progresses you will find you have a moebius whether you wanted one or not! I find the easiest way to make sure I am not twisting is to arrange all the stitches toward the center of the ring I am making with the needle tips when I begin to knit.
One of the things that surprises many knitters is the fact that, because you don’t turn the work, when you knit round after round of the knit stitch, you get a stockinette stitch fabric instead of the garter stitch fabric you get when you knit row after row of the knit stitch. Because it has a rolled brim, I knit this whole hat without ever having to purl!
I have moved the marker from sitting on the needle to marking a specific stitch. I marked the last stitch of the round. If you aren’t using yarn like I am, you can use a locking stitch marker, or one with a lobster claw finding.
Orient the work as shown in the photo below, with half the stitches on each needle tip, both tips pointing to the right (if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed), and the cord off to one side.
Pull on the rear needle tip so those stitches slip onto the cord, and you have enough play to knit with that tip. Knit across the stitches on the front needle. Tug the cord from the right hand side (left if you are left-handed) so the tip of the needle you just knit off now holds the rear stitches, and the tip is pointing to the left (right if you are left-handed).
Turn the work, and repeat the process. The marker stitch will tell you where the beginning/end of the round is. You essentially knit off one half of the stitches (one needle tip’s worth), tug the cord With DPNs too, you can decrease as much as you like, and the needles will accommodate the change in circumference
I hope you enjoyed learning about knitting in the round! Next week look out for knitting in the round with stripes!