The first time I saw circular needles I was perplexed. Why are those needles joined together? They are my favorite type of needle to knit with and even now when people see me using them they ask “What’s that thing in the middle of your needles”? A lot of beginners are intimidated and don’t want to use them, but I say try it, you’ll like it! Circular needles are the most versatile of all the needles and with just one circular needle you can make anything. Give yourself two, and you’ve made it a little easier on yourself and can now make an even wider blanket. If you get past the intimidation and look at a circular needle you’ll realize that circulars are really two needles (a little shorter than you’re used to seeing) joined by a length of nylon. So how do we get started with the whole circular needle thing anyway? Simple, let’s cast on a few stitches and see what’s actually happening.
We’ll start by casting on about 80 stitches (we’ll make a hat) of a worsted weight yarn on 4.5mm circular needles that are 80cm in length. I actually prefer to cast the stitches on a straight needle first then slide them onto the circular needle, but this is not necessary. Once the stitches are on the needle you need to join your first round. You need to be very careful when doing this as if you accidentally twist the stitches, you’ll be knitting your first round into the bottom of the stitches and creating a Moebius strip. I’ll do a post on that in the future, but right now that’s not what we want so make sure that the cast on edge of all your stitches are on the bottom part of the needle. Now go ahead and slip the first stitch over beside the last stitch you cast on. We’re going to reinforce the join to reduce the gap that is usually formed when joining the first round. Wrap the yarn counterclockwise around this first stitch and slip it back onto the left tip of the needle. Now bring your yarn between the tips of the needles to the back in order to knit your first stitch. Place a stitch marker on the right tip of your needle and start knitting! It’s that simple. You’ll know when you’ve completed your first round as you’ll reach the stitch marker you just placed there.
The main difference with knitting in the round is that you’re always looking at the right side of the work. When knitting was first invented, the knit stitch was the only one used and knitting in the round was used to make stockings. This is where we get the name stocking stitch from as it is used to describe a piece of fabric where the right side of the work shows the knits stitches, with the back (or inside) showing purl. What this means is that if you want to create a garter stitch texture in the round you need to knit one round, then purl the next and continue in this manner as needed. For reverse stocking stitch you need to purl all your stitches. Remembering this is vital when creating different textures when knitting in the round. A lot of people knit in the round for color work as they find carrying a second color much easier on the knit side of the work. By incorporating steeks into your work, you can create a multi-color garment entirely in the round, never having to carry colors along the purl side of the work. I’ll delve into that in a future post. Another advantage is that you can create a single row of a certain color without having to break and rejoin your yarn! Again, more on that later.
Since circular needles come in varying lengths, you can use shorter ones for smaller projects and longer ones for larger projects. With the introduction of interchangeable circular needles with extension capabilities, you can “make” a circular needle of almost any length to make a truly gigantic project. A lot of people like to use a 16″ (40cm) circular for doing seamless necks on sweaters. I use a 32″ (84cm) for sweaters. The great thing about circulars is that if you don’t join the first round you can knit back and forth with them. You can come up with some very creative designs by varying joining and not joining and the number of stitches in the same piece of work – say a fashionable sleeve on a sweater. I like using circulars because they also take up less space which can be at a premium when you’re knitting in public or on an airplane where the seats always seem to be too small and too close together. A little tip, when you first buy your circulars the nylon can tend to be a little kinky. If this is the case simply pass the nylon slowly through some steam to straighten it! I recently did a post on doing two sleeves at the same time. You can take this one step further and do these on circular needles – the extra length will come in handy. I will warn you though, don’t do this the first time you do two sleeves at a time as it is very easy to lose track of which sleeve you are working on.
One last thing about circulars – they’re really all you ever need. If you were on a limited budget, you would only have to buy 2 circular needles in a 40″ length in each size and you would be able to make virtually any project you could think of. We already know that double pointed needles are capable of making very small projects in the round. If you think of it, 2 circular needles are really the same as 4 double pointed needles. This gives you the option of knitting small objects in the round using both circulars or with the Magic Loop technique – whichever is your preference. Since you can knit back and forth with circulars, a single 40″ circular will make pretty much any sweater in pieces and most in the round. If you’re making a large blanket, you can use both circulars together and knit back and forth with each. You would need to use 2 end stoppers in the middle to prevent the stitches from slipping off, but together you would have a needle that’s 80″ in length. This would be able to hold quite a few more stitches that 80!
Now everybody that knows me knows that I have a thing for needles, so I am definitely not saying to get rid of your other needles. In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite. If you’ve never used circulars before, go out and give them a try. You might find you’re adding to the collection and it will give you another technique to add to your repertoire.