Circular knitting is used for a variety of knits. Most people think of hats, mittens, and socks first, but it’s also a growing popular technique in garment design. For working smaller circumferences, like mittens, double points have been the traditional standard. In more recent years, innovative methods have emerged such as knitting with two circular needles and the magic loop technique.
Double point needles come in different lengths. The most common lengths are around 5 inches and 7.5 inches, although they can be found as long as 10 inches and as short as 4 inches. Which length you choose is usually dependent on your comfort level and the number of stitches you need per needle. They come in sets of 4 or 5 needles. Most often, today, they are sold in sets of 5. Some patterns will call for 4 to be used and some for all 5. The advantage to using all 5 is that the stitches can be more evenly divided in half.
Double points are the most common technique. Stitches are cast on to one or more needles and then divided evenly across three or four needles and joined. I find it easier to cast on to one needle, then divide, to avoid stitches- or needles- twisting. Your knitting pattern should indicate how many needles to use. It may even state how many stitches to put on each needle. The spare needle is then used to knit across the stitches on the next adjacent needle, emptying that needle. With this needle empty, it is then used to knit along the next needle, again, emptying the one with the stitches. This is continued along all the needles.
- Only one set of needles is required.
- Double points are generally more economical.
- All those needles can be tricky to manipulate.
- Ladders are more likely to form in more places since there are more needles.
Knitting with Two Circular Needles
For me, knitting with two circular needles makes a lot of sense because it divides the stitches in half, making it easier for a visual learner, but not every one is a visual learner! Needle lengths of 24″ work well for this technique, although I have used as short as 16 inch. I wouldn’t recommend longer than 24″ for small circumferences such as mittens and socks, though. It also helps to use two different brands or tip colors. An example might be addi turbo lace tip and regular tip or lantern moon rosewood and ebony. This will help prevent grabbing the wrong needle when switching needles.
Like double points, stitches are first cast on to one needle. Then half are transferred to the other needle. Being careful to use the correct tip, the stitches are then knit, the work is turned to the other side, and the other needle is used to knit across the second half of the stitches.
- Stitches are automatically separated (especially helpful with socks – instep and heel are on two different needles from the beginning).
- Less needle tips to keep track of.
- Requires two sets of needles, so double the amount of materials.
- Since double points were the standard for many years, patterns written specifically for 2 circulars will be harder to find.
The magic loop technique
The magic loop technique has gained a lot of popularity over the years. One very long circular needle is necessary. At least a 40 to 47 inch length needle is recommended. Another huge consideration should be the cable flexibility. If it is stiff or likely to coil, it will be frustrating to work with.
Like the methods listed above, initial stitches are cast on. Then the stitches are slid to the middle and the cable is pulled through to form a loop between half the stitches. The points are then brought together and stitches are slid to each prospective point. The back needle is then pulled through the stitches to knit across the front needle. Once the front stitches are knit, the work is turned, the stitches on the front needle are slid up ready to be knit off. The back needle is pulled to form a loop and used to knit the front stitches. This action of turning and pulling of the needles is repeated for each half round.
- Only need one needle.
- Less tips to keep track of.
- Needle needs to have a very flexible cable to work well.
- Lots of pulling and sliding of stitches and cables.
- Like knitting with two circulars, ince double points were the standard for many years, patterns written specifically for magic loop will be not be as common.
Because both magic loop and the two circular method are worked with circular needles, there is also a risk of having tighter stitches in places where the stitch has tensioned itself around the cable instead of the point.
A few concerns for all methods
“Join round being careful not to twist stitches.” You see it in every circular knitting pattern. What does it mean? It means you want to make sure that the cast on edge is all in a line along the needles and not twisted over the needle. To do this, straighten out your edge and make sure the cast on is all to the inside- or on the bottom of the needle.
The initial join can sometimes be a little wonky. There are different techniques you can try if you are routinely getting an unsightly gap between the first and last stitch of a round. I usually don’t place a lot of concern over this since the tail has to be sewn in and can be used to close up the gap and align your knitting. However, here are a couple of the more common techniques you might want to try.
- Cast on one extra stitch. When you join the round, slip the first stitch cast on to the needle with the last cast on stitch and knit these two stitches together.
- If you’ve used a cast on that leaves both the tail and the working yarn at the same end, you can knit the first stitch of the round with both, then drop the yarn tail for the remainder.
“Ladders” refer to the spaces between needles that can occur when knitting in the round. If you find you are having a problem with ladders, here are a few tips that might help:
- Be sure to pull the first AND second stitch a little tighter.
- Make sure the new needle being worked is going over, not under, the previous worked needle. This nudges the stitches a little closer together, giving less room to stretch.
Placing markers might also be recommended on your knitting pattern to mark the beginning of the round. If so, you will want to position the marker one stitch in from the first stitch. Otherwise, you run the risk of your marker continually slipping off. Markers are fine, and by all means, use them if they will help. For a simpler solution, use the tail of the cast on to mark the beginning of rounds. It’s there naturally and very easy to see!