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A to Z: Beyond the Basics

Circular Needles


When knitting on circular needles, you can join the work to make tubular pieces or work back and forth as with straight needles. Actually, many knitters prefer circular needles when knitting flat pieces, especially with a large number of stitches, since the stitches and the weight of the knitting are evenly distributed.

Circular needles are available in several lengths. The length that you use will depend on the number of stitches you will be working with and the stitch gauge. The needle should be short enough so that the stitches are not stretched when joined. The needle can accommodate up to four times the original number of stitches, so you may not have to change needle length when you increase stitches above the rib.

Circular needles are available with plastic, aluminum or Teflon-coated tips, but all have plastic joining wires. If the plastic wire portion of the needle curls, immerse it in hot water to straighten it before you begin to knit.

When you join your work, make sure that the stitches are not twisted around the needle. A twisted cast-on can’t be rectified once you have worked a round. To help you keep the stitches untwisted, keep the cast-on edge facing the center, or work one row before joining the stitches, then sew the gap closed later.

To identify the beginning of each new round, place a marker between the first and last cast-on stitches before joining. Slip the marker to the right-hand needle before each subsequent round.

casting on and knitting
circular knitting circular knitting  
Cast on as you would for straight knitting. Distribute the stitches evenly around the needle, being sure not to twist them. The last cast-on stitch is the last stitch of the round. Place a marker here to indicate the end of the round. If the cast-on stitches are twisted, as shown, you will find that after you knit a few inches, the fabric will be twisted. You will have to rip out your work to the cast-on row and straighten the stitches.  
circular knitting circular knitting  
1. Hold the needle tip with the last cast-on stitch in your right hand and the tip with the first cast-on stitch in your left hand. Knit the first cast-on stitch, pulling the yarn tight to avoid a gap. 2. Work until you reach the marker. This completes the first round. Slip the marker to the right needle and work the next round.  


adapting stitch patterns

Most patterns are written for straight, single-pointed needles. However, you can often adapt them to circular knitting by making a few adjustments to the pattern.

The most important point to remember is that the right side of the work is always facing you. This means that if you knit every row, you get stockinette stitch. To work garter stitch, you must alternate one knit row with one purl row.

If the existing pattern has stitches outside of the pattern repeat, you will have to add or subtract from the total number of stitches to come up with a multiple of the stitch repeat.

If the pattern is charted, read all the rows from right to left. If the pattern is written out, work the right-side rows as written, but reverse the wrong-side rows by reading them from right to left and working the opposite stitches. For example, for straight knitting the pattern reads: Row 2 (WS) K2, sl 1 wyib, k2, p3. For circular knitting the row should read: K3, p2, sl 1 wyif, p2. It is helpful to write out all the wrong-side rows before you begin.