There are many ways to knit in the round. For me, using a set of double-pointed needles (DPNs) is by far the best way that shows the neatest results. So, if you want to learn how to knit with DPNs, then you came to the right place.
In this tutorial, I’m going to show you the exact steps and techniques I use to knit all my socks, hats, and other knitting patterns that are knit in the round (like my easy beanie pattern). I’m also going to share some little tricks and tips with you from 30 years of knitting experience.
You might also want to check out my post with 10 tricks to knit in the round like a pro!
An introduction to double-pointed needlesNote: Click here if you want to get right to the instructions
I know, knitting with a 5 double-pointed needles in the round sounds scary! It certainly looks awfully complicated. I mean, as a knitting beginner you probably wish you had one more hand just knitting with two needles. So, how on earth do you handle 3 more?
Well, let me tell: Knitting in the round with double-pointed needles is certainly the most complicated way to knit socks, but it’s also the oldest and most time-proven method. A lot of knitters try it once, feel it’s too complicated, switch to Magic Loop or Circular needles, and never look back. So, wrong!
First of all, that logic is somewhat flawed. Your first scarf or potholder in garter stitch probably looked kinda wonky as well. But you persisted and now you can create beautiful wearables with your knits and purls (if you can’t, maybe go back to my free knitting school first). So, why should it be different with DPNs?
But perhaps more importantly: If you pick the seemingly easier method to start and get so used to it, learning the more complicated version will feel all the weirder and harder later on. That’s why I actually recommend starting with DPNs so you don’t fall into that trap.
I knit larger objects like wraps, sweaters, etc using the Magic Loop technique and all the small circumference projects (like socks, or the tip of hats) with double-pointed needles. They all got their pros and cons. You need to identify them and use them accordingly. Just using one technique is like taking the car everywhere. Sure it’s convenient and easy, but taking a plane is cheaper for longer distances while walking to the grocery store further down the road might be better for your health and faster. It’s the same with knitting techniques. There’s a place for all of them!
So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it, eh?
Step by Step instructions for knitting in the round on DPNS
I broke the process down to a couple of steps. In reality, most of it is one continuous motion but for the sake of this tutorial, I think it makes more sense to look at the individual steps separately.
The best DPNS for beginners
Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.
Before you can start, you obviously need to buy a needle set first. I have a big guide on the best knitting needles for beginners here, but it doesn’t really touch DPNS, so I’m doing it here.
I personally always knit with the Knitter’s Pride Carbon needles. They are expensive but they are perfect in every way. The metal tips allow fast knitting, while the carbon “body” is extremely durable (so they don’t bend or break like wood/metal). They also offer nice friction so stitches don’t slide off.
For beginners, simple bamboo needles might be better (I like these Addi bamboo needles). Bamboo is both very light and warm to the touch. The high friction of the wood prevents your stitches from sliding off if you glance the other way (which certainly will happen with metal needles!). They are slower to knit with, but as you start out, this is probably an advantage as you will take your time anyway.
Usually, DPNS come with two different sizes 15cm and 20 cm / 6 and 8″ inches. If you can, try to buy the smaller 15cm/6″ version and the bigger the DPNS are the more unwieldy it gets. Later, once you tackle larger projects, you can get the bigger variants. But for socks, you don’t need the extra length and it will get in your way.
Needles sizes between 3-4mm (US size 3-6) are perfect to start with. If you go smaller (or bigger) things will get more complicated in my experience. Also, for socks (like my easy men’s sock pattern), size 3 / 3mm is perfect.
Step 1: Cast on Stitches as normal
To begin, cast on as many stitches as your pattern requires using a single needle of your set. You don’t need any special cast-on techniques for knitting in the round. The longtail-cast on is just right for most projects, but use whatever you want.
So, you start a round project the same way you would if you knit flat. There are just two things you need to consider:
- I usually cast on using two needles, as you will have to move stitches around a bit. Using a needle two sizes bigger is also an option. But as most objects knit in the round start with a ribbing of some kind, two needles will create a super stretchy edge.
- I always cast on one additional stitch. That way, I can create an invisible join (see step 3). So, if you need to cast on 40 stitches, then create 41.
Step 2: Distribute the stitches
In the next step, you need to distribute the stitches to the 4 needles. A needle set always comes with 5 needles. One is the working needle, and the rest can be used to hold the stitches.
So, pick up one needle, and then slip 1/4th of the stitches on this needle as if to purl. Insert the left needle into the stitch from right to left. But now, don’t purl it, just slip it. Say you cast on 41 stitches, then you slip 10 stitches in that way to this second needle.
Once you are finished, you pick up another needle and slip 10 more (or however many) stitches on this needle. Continue until there are the same amount of stitches on all needle. Only the last needle has one more stitch.
Some tips for you:
- There is no need to have an even number of stitches on all needles. You can distribute them however you like. Sometimes, especially when you knit socks, you have a big repeat in the middle that may involve more than 1/4th of stitches. For example 15 stitches. So, in our example from above, I’d recommend you to have 15 on the middle needle and then 8 on the two adjacent needles and 10 on the last. Just try to keep a nice balance, if you had 18 stitches on two needles each, and then two needles with 2 stitches each, you’d lose all mobility.
- A lot of tutorials tell you to knit with 3 needles only. This is not a good idea if you ask me (except for very small projects with less than 14 stitches). Why? Simple geometry. If you use 4 needles, you can fold your work in progress flat to store it away. With 3 needles, you always end up with one rigid triangle. 3 needles also tend to stress the stitches a lot more around the area where you move from one needle to the next.
Step 3: Join the stitches in the round
Now it’s time to join the stitches in the round. The first time you are doing this, this will feel a bit like juggling. Your needles may even slide out. The first rounds are always a bit fiddly – even for me. So, don’t let that discourage you. Just follow my advice here.
Put the four needles in front of you and arrange them so they form a square. Take care, you don’t twist your cast-on edge. It should point towards the center in one continuous line without twisting around the needles. If it does, untwist it.
There is one needle with the tail from your cast on. This will be your fourth needle. And needle touching the cast-on tail will be your first needle. The needles in between your second and third respectively.
Now, pick up the four needles carefully without twisting them again. Try to keep them in this exact position and make sure the working yarn isn’t tangled with the tail.
To create an invisible join, you need to…
- slip the first stitch on your first needle onto the fourth (last) needle. Make sure to secure the tail of the cast-on so you don’t accidentally unravel the last stitch.
- Next, lift the original last stitch (now the second stitch from the left on the fourth needle) over the first stitch
- And drop it off the needle, the way you would perform a standard bind off.
- Slip the remaining stitch back to the first needle and pull gently on the tail to tighten the stitch-up. And just like that, you joined the work.
Note: There are different ways to join knitting stitches in the round, but I feel this is the least conspicuous way to do so.
Step 4: Start knitting in the round
You already got a joined circle (or rather square) of stitches in front of you. So, pick up the working yarn, and make sure it’s in the right place (so, probably in the back if you are doing a knit stitch) and you didn’t accidentally twist it around. If the yarn got tangled in between the needles, free it first with one hand while holding on to your needles with the rest.
And now you can just start knitting across all stitches with the remaining fifth needle. You don’t need any special technique. Your regular knits or purls will do just fine. When you are finished knitting all stitches on this needle, slide the stitches to the center and proceed to step 5.
Important: Make sure to knit the first two stitches with a high tension so you don’t create a gap where you joined the two needles.
Step 5: Switch to the second needle
One you knit all stitches on the first needle, it’s time to rotate your project around. You should have one free needle by now and you can use it to start on the next (that would be the second) needle the way you would normally start a new row if you were knitting flat.
Before you do that, you should move around the needles so your working needle rests on top of the previous and next needle. That way you ensure that you can move your working needle around freely. Otherwise, you will find it’s kind of hard to knit the first couple of stitches or the last few stitches.
Also, make sure your working yarn doesn’t get tangled in between the needles, and if it did untangle it so it can move along freely.
Once you are set, knit across all stitches according to your pattern and try to keep a good and even tension – especially on the first two stitches so you don’t create a gap or floating yarns.
Step 6: Continue knitting
From here, the process is pretty straight forward. Just continue switching to new needles as described in step 5. So, every time you move to a new needle, move the new working needle to the top and the working yarn around (in case you caught it with a needle).
Once you finished the first round (so after needle four), you may place a stitch marker. This is not entirely necessary, as your tail from the cast on will dangle in the exact same place and you can use that as a reference to identity the start of your round.
If you still want to place a stitch marker, then slip one stitch from the fourth needle onto the first needle and place the stitch marker there. Otherwise, it would simply slip off your needles.
Step 7: Bind off (optional)
Most tubular projects don’t need a bind off, as you will be working towards a tip (like in socks or hats). So, in essence, you are decreasing your stitch count to a point where there are so few stitches left, that you can simply use a tapestry needle, thread the yarn through the stitches and tie a knot/weave in the tail.
For wraps or headbands, you will obviously want to bind off your stitches. In this case, there are no special methods needed either. The regular cast off /bind off techniques work just as well in the round.
How to prevent laddering when knitting in the round
At this point, we have to talk about something important: Laddering. Because you are not knitting on one needle, you can create a visible seam at the spot where you switch needles if you don’t pay attention. This happens when you don’t keep an even tension as you switch needles. Multiple loose-knit stitches above each other will look a bit like a tiny little ladder, hence the name.
In the beginning, this will probably be a problem for you. But there are two easy ways to prevent it:
- First all, it’s all about keeping a neat tension. So, remember to pull the working yarn quite tightly as you knit the first stitch. But, and this is even more importantly, you also have to do this for the second stitch. Why? Well, if you pull tight after you knit the first stitch, it will ease up a bit right away because there are not enough stitches to create enough friction. When you have two stitches on your needle, then and there can you really pull tight for a lasting effect.
- Secondly, ladders are cumulative effects. If you switched needles a bit too loose once, then this will give the two needles the freedom to move around a bit more, and this again, will pronounce the laddering within every round. So, when you notice a ladder, it’s NOT enough to simply pull tight from here on. What you also have to do is, you have to slip two (or more stitches) to the next needle to get away from these already loose stitches.
You can also do this as a preventive measure and slip stitches back and forth ever so often.
How to store your project on double pointed needles
The advantage of DPNS is also the biggest problem: They have two ends and there’s no little knob. This means, your precious work can slide off from two ends at any time. As you probably don’t want your work to unravel during knitting pauses, you have to take preventive measures.
That’s one of the reasons I recommend knitting with 4 needles. That way, you can fold the four needles so they form two parallel lines. And then, I usually wrap my project and a bit of yarn around the needles to secure. And off it goes into my project bag. In 30 years of knitting, I cannot remember any accidents even once.
That being said, it might still be a good idea to buy some needle stoppers (here is a link to the ones I am using). You can also use corks or rubber bands (just wrap them around a couple of times).