In the long history of knitting, most knitting in the round was done on DPN’s.
New knitters are often afraid of working with DPN’s—but find, once they try, they are not nearly as hard as they thought they would be.
Convention dictates that DPN’s are sold in sets of 4 needles or 5 needles-
(different countries have different conventions!) But knitters are not limited to using these numbers. It is quite possible to use 6 or 7 DPN’s at a time in a single project!
Circular needles are a rather new invention—the earliest circ’s had metal cords that resembled piano wire. The cords were stiff—and needed to be used with care, since the wire cords could (and did) break--leaving a rough edge that snagged each stitch.
By the 1960’s, new circ were introduced with nylon cords. These cords were stiff (by todays standards!) but they were more durable and much easy to use then the wire cords.
Today, circular needles come in a range of materials*—and the worst of the cords (Boye brand) are still 100 times more flexible than the old ones!
Most knitters today will use Circulr needles to knit in the round—especially sweater or other garments.. Few knitters still use DPN’s for large items, and its not easy to find sets of 14, or 20 inch long DPN’s, since so few knitters use DPM's for sweaters, or shawls, or other items.
The ready availability, and reasonable cost of circular needles, means most knitters will use circular needles to knit in the round—And that some knitter use Circs almost exclusively—for both circular knitting and flat knitting.
Sock knitters are one of the converts--today, many sock knitters knit socks 2 at a time on 2 circular needles (often called 2 on 2) and others knit their socks on a single long circular needle using the "Magic Loop" method.
What is hard, for many knitters, is grasping how to convert their knitting/or knitting patterns from one method to the other.
I will attempt to show you the process—(you might want to knit along to increase your understanding.)
I will show you how to work your way from a tube of knitting worked on 5 DPN’s (a box like shape) to a tube worked on 4 DPN’s, (a triangle) to a tube worked on 2 circulars, to a tube worked on 1 circular..
If you’d like to knit along you need:
1 set of 5 DPN’s,
2 sets of circular needles (one should be at east 36 inches long)
(all the needles should be the same “size’ –that is size 8/5mm or some such size)
stitch markers.. 5 will be needed--
4 of the markers should be numbered (1, 2, 3, 4)—you can buy or make fancy ones (like these) or use something like those paper disks used to mark keys.
These markers, (and this tutorial) will help you understand no matter what number of needles are used, the process is really unchanged—and by using markers, you’ll be able to easily use any method for any pattern. I didn't mark the stitches/needles as I worked--and you don't have to either... it's just an option.
Step 1--cast on 48 stitches, 12 each on to 4 DPN- (5th needle will be use to work with)—at the mid point of each needle place a marker (# 1 on first needle, #2 on the second needle, and so on)
Step 2—Join into a round, and ‘crank’ out 1 round. Use a stitch marker to mark the BOR. With 4 DPN’s holding stitches, the needles form a square that easily collapses into flat shape. (The fifth needle is used to work the stitches.)
Step 3—Change to a set of 4 double pointed needles.
A—Work the stitches on needle 1 (the first needle after the BOR)
B—Work the stitches from needle 2 and needle 3 onto ‘spare needle)
C—Put the now unneeded 5th needle away.
D—Work the stitches on needle 4 onto the spare needle
At this point you have an uneven triangle.
The needles form a triangle than can easily be collapsed.
Needle 1 and needle 3 each have 12 stitches, but the third needle (the center needle) has 24 stitches.
The stitches on needle this center needle are the stitch groups 2 and 3
If a pattern called for working on a set of 5 DPN’, and you only had sets of 4, you could easily ‘combine’ 2 stitch groups onto one needle—and either make a mental note when reading the pattern, or you could mark the stitches groups, and have a visual reminder of which stitches are the needle 2 group and which are the needle 3 group.
Step 4-- Next round, start by working stitches on needle 1 with the spare DPN.
Then, using any length of circular needle, work the stitches from needle 2 onto the circular needle. (All 24)
Finish the round working the stitches on the last needle onto the spare DPN.
Only 3 DPN’s are being used now—One DPN has been replaced with a Circular-- Which if you think about it, is a DPN—a long DPN, a DPN with a flexible cord in the center, but still, in all, a DPN!)
On the next round, again, start by working stitches on needle 1 with the spare DPN
The stitches on the circular needle can be worked by sliding the stitches to left tip of the needle, and bringing the other end of the needle round to be the right tip.
Work the stitches from the circular needle, onto the same circular needle.
This is easy to do with any length of circular.
Finish round by working the stitches on the last DPN onto the second Circular.
And then begin the next round by knitting the stitches on the remaining DPN (needle 1)onto this circ.
At this point, you can put the DPN’s away. All the DPN’s have been replaced with
2 circular needles.
The beginning of the round is centered of one of the circ’s.
NOTE—the BOR doesn’t have to be in the center—it can be at an edge too—
It is in the center because of the way we first divided the stitches. –
Normally when I switch from DPN’s to 2 circs, I end up with the BOR as the first stitch on one of the circs.
But it doesn’t matter how the stitches are divided—the stitch markers (numbered stitch markers) can be used to label each group of stitches--or you can just use the BOR to ‘keep track’--
No matter how you have divided the stitches, each Circular needle holds half the stitches.
When working, the stitches on the unused needle are moved to the center (cord portion of the Circ.) Always, the stitches are worked from 1 circular needle ONTO the same circular needle.
In the beginning, it is helpful to have 2 different circular needles (either different materials, or different colors, or different lengths)—what ever works to help you keep track.
The stitches on each circular needle are worked from the needle back onto the needle. This style of circular knitting, doesn’t crank the same as work on sets of DPN’s. Instead, it feels like flat knitting—Each turn of the work is a 180°--but each side is knit (if working in stocking knit!)
Step 5—the last step is the easiest. Using the longest of the 2 circ, work all the stitches onto the single circ.
The stitches are kept in 2 group-- A loop of the cord pulled to divide the stitches—as they are worked, the loop is continually recreated.
When one group of stitches is being worked, there are 2 loops of cord –one at each side of the work. At the end of a round (or half round, there is a single loop one side of the work, and the 2 tips of the needle at the other side.
This style of working in the round is called Magic loop—and with a magic loop a small number (48!) stitches can be easily worked on a long (36 inch or longer) circular needle.
A knitter could have ONLY 36 or longer circulars, and work any number stitches –from 4 to 400!--on a single circular needle. As the number of stitches increase, the loops will get smaller and smaller until they are no longer there at all!
Keeping track of which stitches are the needle 1 stitch's, and which stitches are the needle 2 or 3 or 4 stitch's gets easier with each project. But numbering the groups of stitches to correspond with ‘needles’ allows even a newish knitter to convert any pattern to this style of work.
I don't intend to discuss the merits of the different sets of interchangeable needles --but...
*Circulars are available as single needles, and as sets of interchange able tips and points.
Each set has advantages and disadvantages.. (and each knitter has personal preferences! I for one love metal needles (and dislike bamboo)
If I were starting out today, as a new (and in need of equipment) knitter—I think I would be buying some of the new interchangeable sets on the market.. ones with super flexible cords, and strong but easy to connect joints.
The cost of set of interchangables vary—but the range is from about $50 (US) to $100(US) –and each set is substantcially less than buying the same brand of needle individually. Every knitting forum that exist has any number of thread about the relative merits of each set.
Most sets, (used) retain about 90% of there value, and can be resold on Ebay or craig’s list for just a bit less than what you paid for them. So its not a bad investment to buy a set, any set and see if they suit you. Recouping your investment is not that hard!