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
Cast on the required number of stitches onto one of the circular needles (here shown in metal) using your preferred method.
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.
* 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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
* 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).
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
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.
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.
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 janeknits.blogspot.com and www.janiecrow.co.uk