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.
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:
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.
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.
How to knit in the round on one circular needle
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.
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.
Join to work in the round
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.
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!
Knit in the round
Continue knitting across your stitches.
As you work from right to left, your completed stitches will gather on the right needle and move down onto the cable.
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.
When you reach the beginning of round marker, you’ve completed one round.
Slip the marker from the left needle to the right needle and continue knitting.
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.
By following our step-by-step mattress stitch knitting tutorial, you'll learn how to make your seams look beautiful and how best to prepare your knitting so that when you seam it with mattress stitch, it goes smoothly on the first try.
The long tail cast on is a great multi-purpose knitting cast on and the perfect place for beginner knitters to start. Learn how to work the long tail cast on and how to estimate the length of yarn needed with our clear step by step tutorial and video.
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