Knitting in the round: 2 ways to work with small diameters

There are two useful methods you can use when working with small diameters in the round, such as making socks, mittens and sleeves. In the first technique, Jane Crowfoot talks you through how to knit with two circular needles, then we'll show you the ropes of Magic Loop.

How to knit with circular needles tutorial
Main image: Wood Millet socks knitting pattern by Jane Burns, as featured in The Knitter issue 123.

Knitting With Circular Needles

How to knit with circular needles

Using circular needles can make knitting small pieces in the round a doddle – such as socks, mittens and sleeves. If you have a small number of stitches on a circular needle then, regardless of how long the cable is or how short the actual needle part is, it is the case that you’ll be working at a tighter angle when inserting into the stitches. At first, it is a good idea to use two differing sets of circular needles. They need to be the same diameter and it is logical (although not essential) to use needles with the same length wire, but it’s helpful to use needles either with different coloured points or points made from different materials, such as a metal pair and a wooden pair for example.

How to knit with circular needles, step-by-step

Step 1

Cast on the required number of stitches onto one of the circular needles (here shown in metal) using your preferred method.

How to knit with circular needles step 1

Step 2

Using the second set of circulars (shown here in wood), knit across half the number of stitches
How to knit with circular needles step 2

Step 3

Hold both sets of needles in your left hand with the stitches you have already knitted on the back needle and both needles with the tips facing to the right.

How to knit with circular needles step 3

Step 4

* Pull the back needle through the stitches so that the stitches sit on the wire. Pick up the other end of the circular needle that you are holding to the front (shown here in metal) and knit across the stitches on this needle.

How to knit with circular needles step 4B

Step 5

Transfer both needles to your left hand once again, this time with the wooden needles at the front. Slip the stitches just worked onto the cable and slide the stitches on the wooden needle onto the tip pointing right. Use the other end of the wooden needles to knit across these stitches.

Step 6

Continue to repeat, turning the work after each set of stitches and ensuring that you always work stitches onto the tip of the same needle. So if the stitches start on the wooden needles, you need to knit them onto the other end of the wooden needles

Now try using the Magic Loop method

n the first part of this Masterclass, above,  we explained how to use two circular needles when you’re knitting with small diameters in the round. Here we cover the alternative method, Magic Loop.

Knitting in the round sock knitting

The Magic Loop knitting technique was first devised by Sarah Hauschka, and involves using a singular circular needle to knit small-diameter projects in the round, such as socks and mittens. Some people advise that you should use a circular needle with a long cable such as an 80cm or even 100cm length, and no shorter.

However, all lengths of circular needle are suitable except for the very short, although around 100cm does work particularly well for socks. If you have an abundance of circular needles to choose from, then it is worth taking the time to sift through your collection for those that have relatively short needle tips and a smooth join between the wire and the needle tip. [Image:Nexus © Jon Dunn-Ballam]

Magic loop method: Step-by-step

Step 1

Cast on the required number of stitches onto the circular needle using your preferred method. (It is easier to work with an even number of stitches, although this is not essential).

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 1

Step 2

Count out half the stitches and place a marker between the two sets. Push the stitches down onto the wire and fold in half at the marked point.

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 2

Step 3

Pinch the cable and pull it through the stitches at this point so that half the stitches are on either side of the folded wire.

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 3

Step 4

Turn the work so that the tips of the needles are pointing to the right, and slide the stitches on the front half so that they are sitting on the tip of the needle, leaving the stitches behind on the cable. Make sure that the stitches are not twisted.

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 4

Step 5

* Pick up the other end of the circular needle and knit the across the stitches from the front needle tip. Transfer both needle tips to your left hand once again (the needle with the stitches on the wire will now be held in front of the stitches that you have just worked).

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 5

Step 6

Thread the stitches along the wire so that both sets of stitches are sitting on the needle ends, and pull the back tip through to put the back stitches on the wire. Repeat from *

Avoiding a ladder

How to knit in the round with magic loop step 6
Many knitters find that they achieve a looser tension on the final stitch knitted from one needle and the first stitch knitted from the second needle (or at the point where the cable is pulled through when using the ‘Magic Loop’ method). This uneven tension can create a ladder and is common when knitting on circular needles or sets of double-pointed needles. Many tutorials will advise that you make sure you work a really tight stitch when starting work on a new set of stitches. However, this can often over-compensate for the loose tension and cause an overly tight stitch, which in turn makes the stitch either side of it seem baggy.
How to knit in the round with magic loop step 7

With the ‘Magic Loop’ method you can create an even tension by slipping the last stitch worked from the back needle onto the new needle tip before you start working on the next set of stitches.

Inside Out?

You may find after a few rows that you have the wrong side of your work facing you. For example, when working stocking stitch you find that the purl side of the fabric is facing you and that the knit side is on the inside of your tubular piece of knitting. This is because – in your excitement at how great these techniques are – you have changed direction and knitted across the back set of stitches and left the front set on the wire rather than knitting the front set and leaving the back set of stitches on the wire, when holding them in the left hand. When working a tubular piece that has an open end, such as a mitten or a sock, you can correct this by simply turning your knitting ‘inside out’ so that the right side of the fabric is facing you. However, if you have done this when knitting a finger of a glove, for example, you will have no choice but to unpick.

TIP If you haven’t enjoyed using circular needles in the past, it is worth knowing that they have improved enormously over the last decade and many now exist with beautifully smooth cable-to-tip joins and flexible cables. Both ‘Magic Loop’ and using two circular needles are methods for knitting small numbers of stitches in the round. However, if you don’t enjoy either of these, then don’t forget that instead you can use double-pointed needles (DPNs) for small diameter knitting.

Dealing with wayward wires

If circular needles are stored curled in a loop for a while (especially those with a long connecting cable) you may find it hard to uncurl the wire. This can mean that you struggle to keep the wires under control and can lead to you mistakenly twisting your knitted stitches or looping the yarn around the needle wire whilst working your stitches. To prevent your wayward wires from making things tricky, simply submerge the cables in a bowl of very hot water for half an hour. Then leave to dry and cool off in a straight position (you may want to weigh them down so that they stay put).

Jane Crowfoot is one of the UK’s leading knitting experts and author of the book Finishing Techniques for Hand Knitters (Search Press, £9.99) Find out more about Jane at and