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February 24, 2006

May the circle be unbroken.

A reader recently asked for some information on knitting in the round. With all the emotional binge-purge going on around this here website, knitting in the round seems like a perfect topic to cap off a week of budgeting, reviling 80s fashion, daydreaming about music, bad poetry, technology gone wrong, then right, and generally surprising myself with what appears to be some repressed anger at a certain ex-husband. What could possibly be next besides knitting? Really!

I love knitting in the round because you can get perfect, pretty stockinette stitches with just the knit stitch. Yes, you can. I would not lie to you. And I love it because I can do it while hanging out with my friend Tivo without messing up (much). Just knit, knit, knit! Plus, the cats aren't sitting around ready to pounce on the ends of circular needles like they do with straight needles.

To knit in the round, you need to have a set of double-pointed needles OR use circular knitting needles. Circulars are the needles that look like midget knitting needles attached to each other by an umbilical cord of plastic, or sometimes the cord is metal.

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With circular needles you will see two measurements on the package, one is needle size (for example, a size 10 knitting needle) and the other measurement is inches, telling you the length of the cord that connects your needles. [Correction! The measurement tells you how long the whole circular needle contraption is from tip-to-tip. Thanks Margot!]

Double-pointed needles are like mini javelins, pointed on both sides. The concept is the same for both types of needle. But ya'll. Really. If you're starting a "knit in the round" project for the first time, start with the circulars! So. much. easier.

Let's assume you're going to make a knitted Easy Roll-Brim Hat. In just... uh, 20 simple steps. Heh.

You want to start with circular needles, and you'll change to double points once the hat starts narrowing towards the finish line. You need the shortest length of plastic cord attaching the two midget needles, right? Because hats are not supposed to be 300 inches wide. A 16" needle will be perfect for casting on the brim of your hat.

Cord length is confusing and tricky sometimes, because you may have to switch to longer needles or shorter ones depending on projects you may be knitting, but there's lots of great information on the web about stuff like magic loops and probably gnomes, too. But since I'm a simple girl, with barely the basics for Remedial Knitting 101, I'm sticking with my circular needle for most of the hat and switching to duoble pointed needles (called dpns) when the hat gets smaller. I think it's good practice for using dpns, and I kind of like them, they make me feel like I'm doing Extreme Knitting.

If you use a circular needle whose cord is too long for your project, it can stretch the yarn in wonky ways.

The yarn I'm using for this little photo shoot is Cascade Yarns "Magnum" (hee... Magnum!) in color #9478, a.k.a. "Pepto." It's a super-bulky 100% Peruvian Highland wool and the fine folks at Stitch Cafe wound it up for me into the world's largest yarn cake, which I was apparently dorkified and obsessed about showing ya'll.

(click for bigger images):


The first time I knitted in the round I had all kinds of issues. So of course, this is the perfect place for a list!

1) Is casting on different?
No, not really. You cast on using one of the midgety ends of your circular (ya'll, I am so getting hate mail for using the word "midget" like eleventeen times, whoops!) and just try to be careful when casting on that you do it loosely. Loose women cast on to midget needles! Film footage at ten!

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2) How do you join the yarn? What the hell is joining anyway? Where do you place a marker? Does the marker get knitted in?

Ha! My questions exactly! (No, really. These are my own questions.) I really wondered when I first started knitting in the round, does the stitch marker get knitted in? Scary!

But it's not scary really. No, the stitch marker does not get knitted in. And starting is easy. You just cast on your stitches like normal, then when you are all done casting on, you hold the needle with the very first stitch you cast on in your LEFT hand.

The needle with the very last cast-on stitch (and the yarn tail leading to your ball of yarn) goes in your RIGHT hand.

Still with me?

The plastic cord thing should be sticking out away from you, not toward your chest. Look down at all your stitches, make sure they are all nice and even with the knot part hanging down (this is what they mean when they say "make sure your stitches are not twisted). Put a stitch marker on your right-hand needle, just hanging there. It gets scooted from one needle to another on the next round. Finally, stick the right-hand needle tip into that stitch on your left hand needle and knit on. That joins the whole mess.

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3) The join looks sloppy, what can I do to make it nicer?
I hope lots of ya'll post answers to this one, because I got some good advice in the past on this -- my joins always look sloppy -- but then my email crashed and everything has been erased prior to like December 21, and so, really. I know ya'll have nicer joins than me. And you want to post here and tell us all how to do it. Right? Carry on!

4) Why does it matter which way the plastic cord thing sticks out?
Glad you asked! (I'm now talking to myself, not a good sign.)
Hold the needles with the plastic cord away from you. If you hold it the other way, with the needles away from you and the cord near your boobage, you'll be knitting inside out. Which I have done many a time. Luckily, it's an easy fix on a hat ... after you knit a few rows, you turn it rightside out. It happens.

5) What do they mean when they say "do not twist your stitches"? Why is this a big deal?
Ah, that damn U.S. Department of They. Always telling us what to do. But the thing is, if your stitches are wrapping around the plastic tube all twisty, your knitted item will be twisty and you will have to rip. It's ugly. Take it from me, A Cautionary Tale.

6) Should I start with any particular brand of circular needle?
I'm about to tell ya'll something that will have me crucified in knitland, but I actually prefer my cheapy bamboo clover circs (see how we go with the knitting lingo? circs? as if I were down with the knitting YO YO) (help me) anyway! focus! I prefer the bamboo needles to the mucho expensivo Addi turbo metal ones. Why? Am I nuts? Perhaps.

You see, I knit on the bus and those Addis are so slippery! Plus, I am a very tight knitter, with my stitches way down on the tips of my needles, and with the Addis the stitches just seem to jump right off every time we hit a pot hole on the freeway. And this is Los Angeles, our entire freeway system is held together with pot holes.

So, hopefully that's just enough to get you over the scary "circular knitting sounds complicated" hump. (I said 'hump' and 'midget' and 'magnum' in this column, so right about now we send out a hearty welcome to all ya'll who are here wondering where the porn is. Hi! No porn! Hope you like yarn!) Knitting in the round is really not that complicated, because I can do it with a cat on my lap and while simultaneously drooling over Sayeed, or Jack, or Sawyer or whoever is available at the time.

Just don't drool on woool. It felts.

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Posted by laurie at February 24, 2006 8:37 AM