by Laura Chau November 25, 2021 4 min read

Learning to knit on circular needles opens a world of possibilities in knitting! Circular knitting eliminates the need to sew seams to create a continuous fabric.

Rather than turning your work after each row as you would with knitting flat, you keep knitting around and around in the same direction, creating a seamless tube of knitting. When knitting in the round, the outside of the tube always faces you as you - this makes it easy to maintain stitch patterns or work colour patterns.

Once you learn how to knit in the round, you can create all sorts of seamless projects, like cowls, hats, mitts, and seamless sweaters. Plus, you can never drop and lose one needle! This tutorial covers the basics of knitting in the round with one circular needle, appropriate for hats, cowls, and sweaters.

For simple knitting in the round, the circumference of your project needs to be large enough for the stitches to fit around the needle. For smaller cicumferences, like socks and sleeves, you'll need to use a different technique. Check out our tutorials on Knitting with Double Pointed Needlesand Magic Loop for more on knitting small projects in the round.

a variety of circular needles in bamboo, wood and metal on a white wooden background

What are circular needles?

Circular needles are a pair of knitting needle tips that are connected with a flexible cable. Circular needles come in all the same sizes as straight needles, and in different lengths. The needle tips can be made of wood, bamboo, plastic, or metal. The cables used in circular needles vary greatly depending on the brand of needle, so try a few until you find one you like!

The length you’ll need depends on the circumference of your project, as you need a circular needle that is a bit shorter than the finished circumference of the stitches. Here are some common lengths and the types of projects you can use them for:

a grey and gold hat work in progress on a 16" circular needle
  • 16" / 40cm and 20" / 40cm: Cowls, hats, baby sweaters
  • 24" / 60cm: Cowls, baby and child sweaters, adult sleeves, adult sweaters (depending on size)
  • 32" / 80cm and 40" / 100cm: Adult sweaters, shawls, blankets. Longer lengths are also available in some needle brands for particularly large projects. These lengths can also be used with the Magic Looptechnique for projects with smaller circumferences such as mitts, socks, and sleeves. 
a small circular swatch being worked using magic loop on a long circular needle

Circular needles can hold many stitches on the cable, since they can bunch together. Generally, a circular needle can hold at least twice as many stitches as its length - so a 24” needle could hold 48” worth of stitches. Some knitters prefer to have more stitches bunched up on a shorter needle, while others like to have more room between the stitches on a longer circular. It can be frustrating to use a circular needle that is much shorter or longer than needed, so check your pattern requirements.

a brown sweater and a blue hat in progress pictured on a white wooden background

How to knit in the round on one circular needle

a circular needle with stitches cast on in blue yarn

Cast on all the stitches

You can use any type of cast on that you prefer. If you use a two-needle cast on like the cable cast on, you will use one needle in each hand as for straight needles - except that the needles are connected to each other. Once you’ve cast on all your stitches, they should fill the length of the circular needle.

the same cast on as the previous image with a twist in the centre

Be careful not to twist

As you cast on, the stitches have a tendency to spiral around the needle. This is completely normal, but you’ll need to make sure you don’t have any twists before you start knitting in the round. To do this, work your way across the circular needle making sure that the bottom of the cast-on edge is facing the same way all the way across.

white hands holding each tip of the circular needle with the points towards the top and the stitches arranged all the way around the needle

Join to work in the round 

close up of the needle tips with a stitch marker on the right needle tip

Distribute your stitches so they reach all the way to both needle tips. The working yarn should be attached to the right needle so that you’re ready to knit.

the right needle tip inserted into the first stitch on the left needle

Place a stitch marker on the right needle to indicate the beginning of the round. Then insert your right needle tip into the first cast on stitch on the left needle and knit or purl it in pattern. Your work is now joined! 

after the first few stitches have been knit, it's clearly visible that the stitches are connected in a circle

Knit in the round 

Continue knitting across your stitches.

half of the first round has been worked

As you work from right to left, your completed stitches will gather on the right needle and move down onto the cable.

the stitches on the left needle are spread further apart

Slide the unworked stitches up to the left needle tip to work them. As you knit, you’ll develop your own way of knitting and sliding the stitches around the circular needle.

at the end of the round with the marker on the left needle tip

When you reach the beginning of round marker, you’ve completed one round.

after a few stitches of the 2nd round have been worked

Slip the marker from the left needle to the right needle and continue knitting.

 

someone knitting a dark green project in the round on a circular needle

Tips and Tricks

  • The cast-on edge can appear tight when you first cast on, but it will relax once you’ve knit a few rounds.
  • You can join a new strand or ball of yarn anywhere in the round, or just at the beginning of the round if you prefer.
  • When putting your work down for a break, ensure that you’ve worked at least one stitch past the beginning of round marker - otherwise it might fall off!
  • Knitting on a circular needle is a spiral - the first stitch of the round is slightly lower than the last stitch of the round. Keep this in mind while working stripes or other patterns, as they will not line up perfectly across the beginning of the round.
  • Your gauge might be different when knitting in the round vs flat. Check out our tutorial on swatching in the round for tips on how to swatch for projects knit in the round.
a swatch on a circular needle with strands of loose yarn visible at the back

Whether you knit in the round on one circular, double pointed needles, or Magic Loop, circular knitting is an easy and fun way to create seamless knits! Practice what you've learned with our free beginner hat pattern. 

 

Laura Chau
Laura Chau



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