When You Want to Switch to Circular Needles

I like circular needles for certain projects, such as a blanket with too many stitches to hold on straight needles, or a turtleneck without a seam. Although I am not in love with them, I can’t deny the popularity of circulars with knitters. It is possible to use circular needles, even if the pattern instructions are written for straight needles.

Most pattern instructions are written for flat knitting using straight needles. In flat knitting, your work is turned each row, so the alternate sides (the right and wrong sides) face the knitter. There are some points to consider when switching to circulars and knitting successfully in the round, namely, how does using a circular needle affect your stitch patterns, and how do you read the pattern instructions.

Do the Opposite

The key point to remember when knitting in the round, is the right side is always facing you. What would be the wrong side row in flat knitting, is simply every other right side round. It helps to understand what the finished stitch pattern looks like, by recognizing the difference between a knit and purl stitch. This is sometimes difficult for the beginner knitter, but over time you’ll get the hang of it. Because a knit stitch and a purl stitch look different, to get the wrong side rounds to look correct on the right side, work the stitches “opposite” of what you would do in flat knitting.

Basic Stitch Patterns in the Round:

  • Stockinette StitchKnit every round. When knitting stockinette stitch on straights, you knit one row, and purl one row. In the round, the purl row is knit – the opposite of what you would do in flat knitting.
  • Reverse Stockinette StitchPurl every round.
  • Garter StitchKnit one round, then purl one round.
  • Rib PatternsRepeat the same round on all rounds. Remember when working rib on straights, you knit the knit stitches, and purl the purl stitches. In the round, they are set up correctly. For example a k3, p1 rib on straights would be worked k1, p3 on the wrong side; in circular knitting, keep repeating k3, p1, again the opposite.
  • Seed Stitch – is a broken rib pattern. For an even number of stitches, k1, p1 across on round one; p1, k1 across on round two.

Dealing with Pattern Repeats

If the instructions are written with stitches outside of the pattern repeat (multiples plus extra stitches), these extra stitches balance out a pattern, and aren’t necessary when knitting in the round. You will have to add or subtract them from the total number of stitches to calculate a multiple of the stitch repeat (full repeat). Also, any stitches that come outside the main pattern repeat, before or after an asterisk (*) in the instructions are omitted.

Read Backwards

For written instructions, work the right side rows as written. Reverse the wrong side rows by reading them from right to left (backwards) and working the stitches opposite. For example, a wrong side row reads: k4, sl 1 kwise, k3, p3. A round would be worked as follows: k3, p3, sl 1 pwise, p4. I would recommend writing out the wrong side rows to alleviate confusion.

For charted instructions, read all rows from right to left.

In summary, the key to remember is that the right side is always facing you when working in the round, work the stitch opposite to what you would for the wrong side rows in flat knitting, and read pattern instructions backwards for wrong side rows. So go ahead, try the circular needle, I won’t judge.

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