I was quite a late-comer to knitting-in-the-round. For the first few years of my knitting life I knit everything in pieces to be seamed together at the end. My Nan (who taught me to knit) knit everything this way except if she was knitting a polo-neck sweater so I guess that as she knit everything in pieces so did I. Then when I re-discovered my knitting passion in my early 20s, thanks to blogs, forums and Ravelry I learnt about this wonderful technique “Knitting in the Round” and now I am hooked.
I guess most of us learn to knit back and forth in separate pieces and as with most things, once you’re used to it why change techniques? well, dear knitting friends, if you haven’t tried it yet then you simply must. There are 2 main reasons why so many people love knitting in the round. Firstly, there’s no seaming to do at the end – you can pretty much bind off and wear your garment! Secondly, for stocking-stitch knitting, there are no purl rows – every round is knit, which most of us find quicker and easier.
If you think you’re ready to give it a whirl, I’d recommend knitting a cowl on circular needles first before trying to tackle a garment with shaping. I’m not going to confuse this post by talking about Double Pointed Needles (DPNs) – another, more complicated way to knit in the round, I’ll save this for another day. First, let’s get used to the concept of knitting in the round on circular needles.
If you are not familiar with circular needles, they can seem complicated and daunting. Let me de-mystify them for you. You can buy circular needles in 2 different ways. I’d recommend that a newbie buys themselves a fixed set to begin with – that is a cable that is glued to two needles. You can buy these in all sizes and lengths and in a material to suit you – aluminium, bamboo, wood etc etc. Personally, I started out on some cheap bamboo fixed circulars with a plastic cable that I bought on Ebay from China – I bought a whole set of different sized needles for a few pounds – they were not great quality but they were fine for starting out on.
What length of circular needle should I buy?
you want a smaller length than the circumference of the garment you are knitting. You do not want to have to stretch the stitches around the needles. You want to have some “bunching” of stitches to give you some slack in your knitting so that you don’t stretch it out. 60cm length is good for most cowls, adult tops and kids dresses.
How do I begin?
It’s easy as pie. Cast on the number of stitches called for in your pattern. Whereas with flat knitting you would then turn your work so the wrong side was facing you and begin the row with the last stitch you cast on, with knitting in the round you carry on knitting with the right side facing you starting back with the first stitch you cast on – joining your knitting in a ring on the circular needles. Before you knit this stitch it is of paramount importance that you make sure your row of stitches is not twisted around at any point – this will result in a twisted row which will not be obvious to you until you have knitted a few rows of your garment and will drive you NUTS as there’s no easy fix to this – you would just have to rip back and start again (and yes, I am talking from experience!) so when designers write “join to work in the round making sure your stitches are not twisted” they are trying to save you from tears. The picture on the left shows a twisted cast on row – see how easy it would be to miss? The picture on the right shows the untwisted “correct” cast on row.
So you have the right side of the work facing, you’ve made sure you have no twists in your cast-on row, it’s now time to make that all-important joining. All you have to do is knit the first stitch you cast on thus joining the end of your cast on row to the beginning of it – simples! This first joining stitch can be tricky so make sure you pull the stitch tight when you move on to the second stitch along, you don’t want a sloppy loose joining stitch.
And believe me – that is the hard work done – it’s plain sailing from here on in. All you have to do know is knit knit knit all the way around and carry on doing so! You will find it useful to have a stitch marker at the beginning of the round. Unless they are called for in the pattern as a decorative feature, purl stitches are a thing of history to you now, as is seaming.
If you enjoy knitting in the round, then you might want to think eventually of upgrading your circular needles. Once I knew it was a technique I was going to stick with (sorry for the pun!) I invested in a set of Knit-Pro Interchangeable needles. They are a bit of an expense but boy are they the bees knees! You don’t have to invest in a whole set at once, you can buy the size of needles and length of cables you need for each project as you go to spread the cost out. After a few projects you will notice that you have all the sizes you need and you’ll never have to buy any again. I buy the symphonie wooden needles (pictured). The cables come with cable end caps – the black disk things, these screw on to the end of the cables and are very handy for storing your knitting or keeping your stitches in place when you are changing the needle size. The little silver thing that comes with them is for tightening the cable to the needle – simply push it through the hole in the base of the needle and use it as leverage for securing the screw nice and tight.
I’ll let you into a little known secret here too – if you snap a needle you can exchange it for free with knit-pro via the shop you purchased them from – this policy does not apply to the very thin needles (3.25mm and below) but I got a 3.5mm needle stuck on my cable once and the only way to unscrew it was with brut force which snapped it – I contacted Knit-Pro as I was a bit miffed at this and they told me to go to the shop I bought the needle from and simply swap it with them – the shop can claim back via knit-pro for any damages so the shop doesn’t lose out either.
Before I invested in my Knit-Pro interchangeable set I had loads of crappy Chinese low quality bamboo needles, some of which had kinks in the cables or gaps between the cable and the needle where my stitches would annoyingly get stuck, but these problems don’t plague me any more. For those of you who travel – a set of interchangeable needles is the ideal travelling companion. You no longer have to anticipate what projects you’ll want to knit while you’re away – pretty much all eventualities can be catered for with a small pouch of interchangeable needles. I actually made my storage pouch myself (show off!) with a little pocket at the front for my notions. There are some gorgeous storage options available on Etsy to store your sets of interchangeable needles or those of you who sew might like to make your own.