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Circulars De-Mystified!

Circulars De-Mystified!

I’m so addicted to circular needles, for “flat” as well as “tubular” knitting, that I forget other knitters, either the beginner or the experienced, haven’t yet discovered the joys.

Circular needles are basically two needle tips joined together with a flexible cable – the cables can vary in length and the tips in diameter so pretty much any standard knitting pattern can be worked on a circular needle.

“Knitting-in-the-round” or “tubular knitting” can appear a bit daunting at first and, let’s be honest, the idea of trying to manage 4 or 5 DPNS (double pointed needles) to make that perfect sock is initially horrifying and needs a dash of perseverance to start with. But, like most things; riding a bike or making good short crust pastry, once learnt, the skill is not forgotten and the same goes for using circular needles.

The first tip – practice with a shortish circular needle; ideally 50-60cm cable length with a size 4mm-5mm tip and some basic double (light worsted) knitting yarn. Longer or shorter cable lengths are obviously suited to different projects – you won’t need a 100cm cable for a baby jacket but a lace shawl won’t fit on a 40cm cable. (I’ve found that most projects are suited to a 60cm or 80cm cable.) Decide whether you want to try knitting-in-the-round or working flat and cast on stitches in the usual way. If you use a 2 needle cast on bring, hold one needle tip in your left hand and bring the other tip round to the right so that the cable either hangs down or slightly away from you (reverse for left handed cast on). Obviously, the more stitches you cast on the more stitches will “sit” on the cable waiting to be worked. If you’re knitting in the round you’ll have to cast on a fair number to allow the knitting to join together in a circle.

Working-in-the round: Once you have cast on the chosen number, straighten the cable out and “read” your knitting. If necessary, distribute the stitches along the cable and tips. Check that the stitches are lying flat (knots facing down) and have not become twisted around the cable and then bring the tips of the needles together so the cable forms a circle. Again, I find it is more comfortable if the cable is hanging down or slightly away from you. Insert the tip of the right hand needle in to the first stitch on the left hand needle and knit in the normal way – you may have to pull the working yarn quite tightly at this point to avoid a loop or gap between these two stitches. Continue to knit the left the left hand stitches, easing the stitches along and around the cable as you work. You will know when you have completed your first round when you knit the stitch above the cast on tail, however, it is often easier to use a stitch marker to show where your rounds begin and end. Stitch markers are placed on the needle and simply slipped from one tip to the next when you reach them – it they are the decorative sort, just make sure you flip them to the right side of the work so you don’t knit them it accidently!

Flat Work: Once you have cast on the required stitches “read” your work and again distribute the stitches evenly along the length of the cable. It really doesn’t matter if you have an amount of cable “left” with no stitches! Turn the circular needle so the working yarn is at the beginning of the next row and with your free hand bring the remaining needle tip and insert into and knit the first stitch. Trust me, you will not have joined the work together. Continue knitting along the row and complete the final stitch. Withdraw the needle and turn the knitting so that the working yarn is again at the beginning of the next row – ease the stitches along the cable and needle tip if necessary. Continue working backwards and forwards in the usual way. As long as you remember to turn the needle at the end of each row you won’t go wrong.

Advantages of using a circular needle are many and varied – here’s a few.

  • Excellent for posture, especially if you are knitting with a heavy weight wool or working on a large project. You inevitably hold your shoulders and arms differently not putting such a strain on shoulder, wrist or elbow joints and your work “sits” on your lap rather than being held on two straight needles.


  • Very portable: Circular needles don’t snap or bend as easily as conventional straights if you’re carrying you work around with you. Great for journeys as you’re not as likely to elbow your neighbour on the bus or train!


  • Working stocking stitch in the round?  Just keep knitting – no purling necessary!


  • Circular knitting is brilliant if you hate sewing up seams. Most garments will have some “tubular” element; sleeves, body, neck – and there are a variety of patterns available for tubular construction, or when confident enough you can adapt your own! Once you’ve mastered the concept of tubular knitting you may never have to sew another seam again (admittedly you may have to get to grips with DPNS, magic loops and steeking – but that’s a whole new chapter!)