Round Ridges, Welts, and Stripes

Here’s how you make garter in the round:

Rnd 1: K.
Rnd 2: P.
Rep Rnds 1 &2 for pattern.

If you’ve ever actually made garter in the round, you notice a little seam at the place where one round ends and the next begins. You don’t mind. In fact, you like it because it’s got a cool faux-sew feel, so you happily garter in the round wherever applicable.

Then one day, you’re feeling perfectionistic. Maybe you’ve attended a workshop with lots of spiffy knitters, or maybe you’ve read a blog that’s made you feel inferior in your modest yarniness, or maybe you’ve spent the day commenting on the imperfections of others and feel it’s time to move yourself one step closer to quintessence. Whatever the case, the seam is bothering you.

You notice the imperfect garter is caused by the fact that each round doesn’t line up with its neighbors. It’s really obvious when you work two rounds of knit stitches, one round of purl stitches, and two more rounds of knits. As you examine your work closely, you discover that the first purl stitch of the round is next to and below the last stitch of the round. They can’t line up, just like the loops in the wire spine of a spiral notebook don’t form a closed ring.

Suddenly you experience an overwhelming desire to make flawless garter in the round. You don’t know why it’s vital, but it is, and it’s more urgent than a potato chip craving or a yarn jones. You Google; you ask; you experiment; and finally, the mystery is solved.

Here’s how you make garter in the round without the faux-sew seam:

Rnd 1: K till 1 st rem, sl1.
Rnd 2: P all sts of rnd; slip first st of next rnd; new beg of rnd after slipped st.
Rnd 3: K all sts of rnd; slip first st of next rnd; new beg of rnd after slipped st.
Rep Rnds 2 & 3 for pattern.

Notice two things are happening:
1. Each round is one round plus one stitch long, so the beginning of the round is always moving. When you’re new to this, you can place a marker at the beginning of the round, moving it as you go, but once you get used to identifying the slipped stitch, you can do it without a marker.
2. You’re always slipping the last stitch of the round. This pulls the higher stich down to the level of the lower stitch.

The same technique helps you with welted stitches like:
Rnds 1-2: K.
Rnds 3-4: P.
If the welts consist of 3 or more rounds, you still have to slip the last stitch of the round, but the beginning of the round can stay where it is—no moving required.

The technique is exactly what you do when you work horizontal stripes of different colors.

You make incredible garter, welts, and stripes in the round. You are most amazing!

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Yarnless Bind Off: Normal and Stretchy

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how to cast on or start a piece of knitting, but so far, I’ve only described two ways to bind off. That’s because I have fewer bind-offs in my bag of tricks. Nevertheless, I have a couple more to post.

One of my favorites is called the yarnless bind off. It’s yarnless in the sense that you use the yarn that is already on the needles, not the working yarn that’s hanging from the beginning of the row or round. It’s also the technique that all knitters discover eventually, but never admit to, because they think they’re committing some knitterly infraction.

Yarnless Bind Off (Normal)

The yarnless bind off is useful when you know or suspect you don’t have enough yarn to bind off in the usual way. Here’s how it works:

1. Find your starting point.
a. When you’re knitting flat, start at the end farthest from the working yarn. If you’re using circular needles, hold the tip nearest the end of the round in your left hand. If you’re using single-point needles, first slip all the stitches to another needle, so the working yarn is closest to the button; then put that needle in your left hand.
b. When you’re working in the round, do a little prep work. First, slip the first stitch of the round to the right needle. Then bring the working yarn between the needles, to the front if you’re knitting or to the back if you’re purling, and drop the working yarn. Finally, return the slipped stitch to the left needle.
2. Slip two stittches to the right needle.
3. Pass the second stitch over the first stitch. This means that you use the tip of the left needle to pickup the second stitch (the one farthest from the tip of the right needle), lift it over the first stitch (which is closest to the tip), and let it drop off the needle altogether. Only one stitch remains.
4. Slip one stitch to the right needle.
5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until one stitch remains. The remaining stitch is on the right needle and has the working yarn at the base.
6. Draw the working yarn through that last stitch and pull the tail to close the loop.

Yarnless Bind Off (Stretchy)

The stretchy yarnless bind off is useful when you need the bind off edge to be especially loose, like when you’re making a hat that starts at the crown, socks that start at the toes, or gloves or mittens that start at the fingertips. It’s also a great way for tight knitters to loosen things up. It’s a two-part process. Part 1 (Step 1 below) sets up the bind off, and Part 2 (Steps 2 through 9 below) actually bind off. Here’s how it works:

1. On the last row/round of the project, work 1 st as directed, * yo, work 2 sts as directed; rep from * until no sts rem. The last yo may be followed by one or two stitches. If working the yarn overs into the existing pattern feels overwhelming, simply knit or purl across the entire row or round with the yarn overs (e.g., [K1, * yo, k2 *] or [P1, * yo, p2 *]).
2. Find your starting point.
a. When you’re knitting flat, start at the end farthest from the working yarn. If you’re using circular needles, hold the tip nearest the end of the round in your left hand. If you’re using single-point needles, first slip all the stitches to another needle, so the working yarn is closest to the button; then put that needle in your left hand.
b. When you’re working in the round, do a little prep work. First, slip the first stitch of the round to the right needle. Then bring the working yarn between the needles, to the front if you’re knitting or to the back if you’re purling, and drop the working yarn. Finally, return the slipped stitch to the left needle.
3. Slip one stitch to the right needle, drop the yarn over off the left needle, and slip another stitch to the right needle. There are two big floppy stitches on the right needle.
4. Pass the second stitch over the first stitch. This means that you use the tip of the left needle to pickup the second stitch (the one farthest from the tip of the right needle), lift it over the first stitch (which is closest to the tip), and let it drop off the needle altogether. Only one stitch remains.
5. Slip one stitch to the right needle. There are now two stitches on the right needle.
6. Repeat Step 4 to pass the second stitch over the first.
7. Drop the Yarn over off the left needle and slip the next stitch to the right needle, repeating Step 4 again.
8. Continue as established, working the normal yarnless bind off except that you’re dropping all yarn-overs as you come to them.
9. When only one stitch remains, draw the working yarn through that last stitch and pull the tail to close the loop.

All of this sounds a lot harder than it is. For the yarnless bind off, you’re really just slipping stitches from one needle to the other and passing each stitch over its neighbor, and for the stretchy version, you add lots of yarn overs to the last row so that, when it’s time to start slipping stitches and passing them over their neighbors, you can drop the yarn overs making the stitches extra big.

Sweet Tomato Heel

I love knitting socks. Whenever I grab a pair of skinny circs and a hundred grams of equally skinny yarn, I get fizzy and tingly, and all thoughts of chocolate and earthly delights leave my brain.

So imagine the biological upheaval that took place when I discovered that Cat Bordhi developed a new heel technique last summer, which she calls the sweet tomato. It produces a smooth, round heel without holes and other weirdness, and it’s one of those things that works right the first time. The heel uses short rows, but there’s no wrapping or picking up stitches, and once you practice it on medium weight yarn, you will understand what to do when working with the skinny stuff.

After you learn to do it, you can purchase her ebook for patterns. The book is a pdf file, which you can save as text, and it includes both text and charted instructions.

The Sweet Tomato Heel Explained

Bordhi describes her technique for the sweet tomato heel in a YouTube video. Her directions are easy to follow until, of course, the crucial step—hence this tutorial.

For our purposes, let’s say you’re making a slipper sock with medium weight yarn and 4 or 4.5 mm needles (i.e., worsted weight yarn and size 6 or 7needles). Because you like your slippers roomy, you’ll make them 36 stitches around, and because you’re a great planner, your math will be simple and your yarn will be big enough for you to identify things without too much trouble.

1. Start your slipper sock in the usual way. You can work cuff-down or toe-up. It doesn’t matter. Just do what you do until you’re ready to work the heel. (For this example, remember your slipper is 36 stitches around.)
2. For the heel, you will use two thirds of the stitches (24 of the 36), so separate the heel stitches from the instep stitches. You can use a pair of markers to let you know where the heel stitches begin and end, or you can put the instep stitches on one needle and the heel stitches on a different circ or on two dpn’s.
3. Knit across all (24) heel stitches, and stop.
4. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the rest of the heel stitches. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
5. Run a finger over the work. You’ll notice a wide space between the stitches at the point where you turned in Step 4. A new gap like this one will appear every time you turn the work. Get to know it since it’ll help you decide when to turn again.
6. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and knit across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
7. Turn the work, slip one stitch, and purl across the heel stitches. Stop when you are two stitches away from the gap. Make a point of tightening the two stitches after the slipped stitch by giving the working yarn an extra tug as you finish each.
8. Repeat Steps 6 and 7, always turning when you are two stitches away from the nearest gap. Stop when there is about an inch or 2.5 cm between the two center most gaps. The last row is a purl row.

If you’ve played the video, you got this far without any problems at all. The trouble begins with what comes next. Here’s a sampling of my notes:

1 st before gap:
Let me lift this off.
Daughter, mother, grandmother; ignore grandmother.
Mother says, “Let me ride that horse with you. I’ll sit in front.”
Put Mother on the horse.
Call this “thanks, Ma.”

Now, if the movie in your head didn’t feature a lonely prairie and a cowboy with lots of stamina, you’re not as normal as the rest of us.

But I digress.

9. Turn the work, and knit the entire round. Do the following as you work across each section of the round:
a. As you work across the first half of the heel stitches, pause when you’re one stitch away from each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch before the gap together with the stitch below it.
b. As you work across the instep, knit all stitches if you’re making a plain slipper sock, or work in pattern if you have a cable or some other fancy stitch going.
c. As you work across the second half of the heel stitches, pause after you knit the stitch before each gap. Insert the tip of the left needle into the stitch below the one you are about to knit; place that stitch on the left needle; and knit those two stitches together. You are not working a k2tog across the gap: you are knitting the stitch after the gap together with the stitch below it.
10. Knit two or 3 rounds even.
11. Repeat Steps 3 through 10 two more times, working three heel wedges in all.
12. Continue the slipper sock in the usual way.

Tips for Finding the Stitch Below

In Step 9, locating the “stitch below” is tricky the first couple of times, so practicing with larger yarn is a good idea.
• Some knitters suggest putting a pin in those stitches. This way, you can just grab the pin and lift the stitch onto the needle. This method works, but it can stretch the stitch out a little, which is what you’re trying to avoid in general.
• Another approach is to use your thumbnail to find the correct strand. When you’re working the first half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate on the public side, and when you’re working the second half of the heel, the strand is easier to locate from the wrong side of the slipper. In both cases, the strand is the outermost vertical line.
• A third way to find the “stitch below” is to make the “stitch above” submissive. When you’re working the first half of the heel, separate the needles so that the stitch you just worked and the one you are about to work are far apart; then use your thumb or the tip of the right needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the left needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide. When you’re working the second half of the heel, slip the stitch you are about to work to the right needle and separate the needles; then use your thumb or the tip of the left needle to slide the “stitch below” toward the right needle. If you’ve got the correct stitch, it’ll slide.

Variations on a Theme for the Sweet Tomato Heel

I haven’t been working with this heel long enough to have strong opinions about it, but two things I noticed during my early experiments are these:

A. The heel might be a little tidier if you use k2tog tbl in the second half of the heel.
B. You can use this technique when working a more traditional short-row heel. Just make each row one stitch shorter than the previous one as you would when working the first half of the standard short-row heel. Then as you work Step 9 (above), knit each of the sloppy short-row stitches together with the stitch below it. Work the foot right after that, or work a couple of rounds even then do exactly what you did before.

Magic Cast On

The third provisional cast on of the series is Judy Becker’s magic cast on, which was described in the spring 2006 issue of Knitty. It’s the most seamless of the cast ons if you’re doing stockinet or garter, and it’s perfect for making closed tubes, like socks and purses; for projects that start in the middle, like scarves and afghans with ends that are mirror images of each other; or for the start of a top-down triangular shawl. . It’s also fairly stable, so unlike the figure-8 cast on, you can freely put lots of stitches on the needles. The original directions are pretty clear, but Steps 4 and 5 of Becker’s article, where the actual stitch is being described, require much rereading and experimentation, so here’s an alternate explanation of the way it works.

For this cast on, you’ll need two needles (circs or dpn’s) or maybe one long circ and some practice yarn. My instructions aren’t identical to Becker’s, but they’re very close. The biggest difference is that, in Step 2, she has the knitter hang the tail end of the yarn over the index finger (opposite from the long-tail cast on), while I’m satisfied with holding the yarn in the standard long-tail cast on way. I’ve tried both methods, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, so ….

1. Tie a slip knot around one of your needles, leaving a longish tail (about 12 inches or 30 cm).
2. Hold the yarn as if you were doing the long-tail cast on.
a. Your left hand is holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. Lay the yarn over the thumb and index finger of your left hand, with the tail end hanging from your thumb and the ball end hanging from your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your left hand into the palm and tuck the hanging strands of yarn into them.
d. The yarn itself forms an inverted triangle. A horizontal strand goes from your thumb to your index finger. One diagonal goes from your thumb to your middle finger, and another diagonal goes from your index to your middle finger. The needles are resting on the horizontal line at the top of the inverted triangle. The one with the slip knot is farthest from you, but we’ll get into that in the next step.

As you continue reading the instructions, it helps to think of the clock: 9:00 is to your left; 12:00 is in front of you; 3:00 is to your right; and 6:00 is behind you.

3. Hold both needles in starting position.
a. The needles are in your right hand. They point left to 9:00, and the needles are lying side by side, like the planks of a floor or the seat of a rocking chair.
b. It’s helpful to put the thumb of your right hand on this floor, so you always remember which side is the top.
c. The slip knot is on the needle that is farthest from you. Call this Needle 2.
4. Twist the needles so they point away from you to 12:00.
5. Tip the needles so that Needle 2 is above Needle 1. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the left; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the left.
6. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left index finger slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
7. Twist the needles so they point toward you to 6:00.
8. Tip the needles so that Needle 1 is above Needle 2. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the right; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the right.
9. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left thumb slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
10. Repeat Steps 4 to 9 until you finish casting on all of your stitches, ending with Step 6. If you do things right, you should feel a ridge forming on the underside of the needles.
11. Twist the working yarn and the cast-on tail once.
12. On Needle 1, knit all stitches (k), and on Needle 2, knit all stitches through the back of the loop (ktbl).
13. After that, do as the spirit moves you.

Once you get the hang of this cast on, the movements become smaller and subtler, a flick of the right wrist as the needles swing back and forth catching the yarn on their way.

Instead of starting with a slip knot, you can just twist the yarn around Needle 2. This sometimes produces a tiny hole at the end farthest from the cast-on tail, so if I’m making socks, I often work a couple of rows back and forth and just pick up stitches at the ends.

Figure-8 Cast On

The figure 8 cast on is similar to the Turkish cast on. It is done with two needles (circulars being ideal), and it produces an extra row of live stitches, which can be used as a top or bottom edge or as a way to work in the round. The only real difference is that, instead of wrapping the yarn around both needles at the same time in one direction (Turkish cast on), you wrap around the needles individually, moving the yarn around one needle in one direction and around the other in the opposite direction in a figure 8 (hence the name). Since the wraps aren’t anchored to anything, the stitches tend to loosen as you work across, so this cast on works better with fewer stitches, like the toes of socks and centers of scarves.

“So what is a figure 8?” you ask. It’s one circle stacked on top of another circle. Think Peeps, those odd little marshmallow chicks sold around Easter, only figure 8’s are two dimensional, so think Peep sliced vertically (Crossagital Peep. How gruesome). For a more precise sense of figure-8-ness, place two cups or cans next to each other on a table. Then wind a piece of yarn clockwise around one of them, making sure the yarn goes completely around it, and wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the other cup or can. If you trace the figure formed by the yarn, you notice two circles that touch where the yarn crosses between the cans, a little like a pair of eye glasses with a really short bridge. This is a figure-8, and if you keep alternately wrapping clockwise around the first can and counterclockwise around the second, you are making a figure-8 cast on. Here’s how you do it with needles and yarn.

1. Make a slip knot around one needle.
2. Hold both needles in your right hand, and point the tips left. The needles should be side-by-side, like the planks in a floor, and the slip knot is on the needle closest to you.
3. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand and guide it around the needles in the following way, keeping the needles more or less still.
a. Guide the yarn over the needle that is farthest from you, lead it down behind that needle, bring it under the needle and toward you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
b. Guide the yarn over the needle that is closest to you, lead it down in front of that needle, bring it under the needle and away from you, then pull it up between the needles. This puts a backward yarn over on the needle.
c. Repeat A and B until the right number of stitches has been cast on to each needle. I always cast on one extra stitch so I can ignore the slip knot that is on one needle and the partial wrap that is on the other.
4. Gently tug on the tip of the needle that is closest to you, stopping when the wraps or stitches are in the center of the needle or on the cable if you’re using a circular. Then drop the tip.
5. Knit the wraps or stitches on the other needle in the usual way. The stitches are sloppy and loose so it helps to hold them in place with the fingers of your right hand.
6. Continue working back and forth on that needle, or work in the round as you normally would.

When it’s time to work the stitches on the idle needle, remember that they’re wrapped in the opposite direction (backward yarn overs), so you’ll need to knit or purl them through the back of the loop to untwist them. If that sounds too daunting, just slip each stitch to the right needle as if you were going to knit it, and then go back and knit or purl them in the usual way.

Making the figure-8 wraps is not difficult. The first few times, remembering what direction to wrap feels complicated. Then your left hand finds the rhythm, and your stitches are on the needle in no time.

Turkish Cast on, One Way to Go Provisional

The first real provisional cast on that worked for me was the Turkish cast on. It’s simple and elegant, really just wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle. It’s best for when you have a small number of stitches, like for the toe of a sock or the middle of a scarf. You can try it for larger numbers of stitches, and it’s doable, but things can get a little messy.

Turkish Cast on with Two Needles

The usual way to do this cast on is with an extra needle. You can use 3 double pointed needles, but I think two circular needles work much better.

1. Tie a slip knot around one needle.
2. Slide the slip knot about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the tip.
3. Hold the needle with the slip knot and a second needle in your right hand as if they were a single needle.
4. Point the needles toward your left hand.
5. Grab the working yarn with the thumb and index finger of your left hand, and pull away from the needles so the yarn is lightly taut.
6. Move the needles up and in front of the working yarn, away from you and over the working yarn, down and behind the working yarn, and toward you and under the working yarn. When you finish, you have made a yarn over.
7. Repeat Step 6, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs from bunching and to slide the growing number of wraps away from the tip of the needles. Each of these yarn overs is a stitch.
8. When you have the right number of wraps or stitches on the needles, move the needles to your left hand.
9. Gently tug on one of the needles until the wraps are in the middle of the needle. If you’re using a circular, the wraps are on the wire.
10. Knit the stitches on the other needle. This is awkward because the needle in Step 9 is in the way, but it’s not bad if you’re using circs.

The cast on is complete. If you’re working in the round, do what you normally would with dpn’s, two circs, or magic loop. If you’re working flat, put point protectors or wrap rubber bands around the tips of the needle in Step 9, and continue working with the needle in Step 10. Either way, ignore the slip knot, dropping it off the needle when it is no longer handy.

Turkish Cast on with One Needle

The same general idea can be accomplished with a single needle. The method is no longer called the Turkish cast on, but since I haven’t found any consensus about what it is called, we’ll pretend they’re variations on a theme.

It’s also much easier to do than to explain. The hand is held as for the long-tail cast on, except that the working yarn hangs over the thumb, and the tail hangs over the index finger. For these instructions, the thumb yarn is the strand that goes from the thumb to the needle, and the index yarn is the strand that goes from the needle to the index finger.

1. Tie a slip knot around the needle, leaving a tail long enough to go along the entire cast-on edge with about 6 inches (15 cm) to spare.
2. Hold the needle in your right hand, and point it left.
3. Position your left hand as for the long-tail cast on, only hang the working yarn over your thumb and the tail over your index finger.
a. The thumb and fingers of the left hand are holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. The working yarn hangs over your thumb; the tail hangs over your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and little fingers like a fist, and tuck the hanging yarn into them.
d. If this is done correctly, the yarn forms a triangle that goes up from middle finger to index finger, horizontally from index finger to needle to thumb, and down from thumb to middle finger, .
4. Move the tip of the needle down and behind the thumb yarn, under the thumb yarn and toward you, and up and in front of the thumb yarn. This puts a yarn over on the needle.
5. Relax your left hand, and with your fingers, bring the tail/index yarn forward to the right of the working yarn, then in front of the working yarn, then to the left of the working yarn. This motion is a lot smoother than it sounds.
6. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 until the right number of yarn overs is on the needle, using the fingers of your right hand to keep the yarn overs or wraps from bunching and to slide them away from the tip of the needle. Each yarn over or wrap is a stitch.
7. Examine the work. Along the bottom of the needle is a ridge. This is the yarn tail that got tucked in under the wraps.
8. Slip a safety pin through the slip knot.
9. Knit the stitches in the usual way, careful not to pick up the yarn tail by accident.
10. Continue with your project.
11. When you are ready for live stitches along the cast-on edge, carefully untie a knot that is at the point where the cast-on tail enters the work.
12. Gently tug on the safety pin at the opposite end of the cast-on edge.
13. Slip the live stitches onto the needle as the tail is pulled out of the stitches. If you can slip the stitches onto the needle without pulling out the tail, that’s fine too.

This method is for working flat, not in the round. The cast-on edge is ragged and fragile. It’s a good idea to slip a skinny needle, one with a diameter of 2 to 3 cm, into those stitches early on, then wrap rubber bands around the tips to keep it from sliding out.

The Turkish cast on is simple enough to learn, even when you’re fairly new to knitting. The hardest part is keeping the wraps tidily on the needle. Once that’s mastered, the rest is no trouble at all.

Knitting Small Circumferences on Double-Pointed Needles

When I came back to knitting, someone gave me several sets of double-pointed needles. They were all for medium weight yarn, and most were short enough for sock or mitten knitting. I was about to declare this to have been very prescient of the giver, but since I promptly moved on to the wonders of circular needles, leaving the double-pointed needles (dpn’s) to languish in a drawer out of the great fear that I’d never get them to work right, I can’t boast about that. What I can boast about is that I finally learned to use them though I’m still far from feeling convinced that I’ll use them very often.

Double-points are probably the most traditional way to knit tubelike shapes. Nothing more than slender dowels with a tapered pencil point at each end, they are the closest thing a modern knitter comes to working with sticks. The needles sell in a couple of shorter and longer lengths, the shorter length being for smaller items like socks and mittens; the longer, for larger projects like hats,sleeves, and pullovers.

While there’s really only one process, there is a little variation in whether knitters work with 4 needles or 5. People who use 5 needles divide the work evenly over 4 of them and use the fifth to do the actual knitting. People who use four generally place half the stitches onto one needle, divide the rest over two more, and knit with the fourth needle, but they may distribute the stitches in some other way, based on what makes sense for the project or the pattern stitch.

If, like me, you’ve been dreading dpn’s, the thing to keep in mind is that these needles aren’t like regular needles. They’re rougher. You don’t notice it from normal handling, like when you use them to put your hair up in a bun or when you bang them on a sauce pan to let the family know dinner is ready. But as you cast on and begin to work your stitches, you notice that the metal, plastic, or wooden surface of the needle shaft is actually weirdly . . . porous and, yes, rough. This causes the work to slide more slowly along than it would on an Addi or Knit Picks circ, which reduces the likelihood that stitches will drop off one of the tapered ends and gives you and me time to grab them if they slip.

To learn the process, the best approach is to start a hat, mitten, pouch, sleeve, sock, or some other tube, using one or two circs. When the tube is 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) long, remove the circular needle(s), slipping the live stitches on to double pointed needles as you go. You can use 3 or 4 needles. I used 3 to have fewer things/needles to deal with.

Now here’s where knitting with double-pointed needles becomes a lesson in trusting the process and the tools. Once the dpn’s are in place, find the working yarn, which should be at one end of a needle. Grab that neighboring needle, the one that is closest to the working yarn. Hold the neighboring needle in your left hand, and with an empty needle in the right, start knitting.

That’s right. Just grab the needle nearest the working yarn with your left hand as if it were a traditional single-pointed needle (the ones with a stop at one end), put an empty needle in your right hand, hold the working yarn as you normally do, and knit away.

The other needles hang in the work without slipping out and onto the floor. If you’re nervous about losing a needle or if you’re an especially loose knitter (hey, what we do on our own time is our own business, right?), you can put point protectors on the ends of the idle needles, or if you don’t have point protectors handy, you can wrap rubber bands around the ends.

To start a project on double-pointed needles, cast the stitches onto one needle, using a firm cast on that keeps its shape, like the long-tail cast on, or choose any other cast on and work one row. Then start redistributing stitches by slipping stitches from one end of the cast-on needle to another needle or two. For example, if you plan to divide the work over four needles, put half of the stitches onto the second needle; lay the needles on a table perpendicular to each other, forming a wedge or V; then slip half of the stitches from each needle onto two more. If you plan to divide the stitches over three needles, lay a single needle on the table; then starting at one end, slip a fourth of the stitches onto a second needle, and starting at the other end, slip another fourth of the stitches onto a third needle. Much easier than I’m making it sound.

To actually start knitting, shift the collection of dpn’s that are on the table so that the working yarn is at the left end of one of the needles. If it’s near the right end of a needle, pick up the whole structure and flip it over, as if you were turning a pancake or emptying out a purse. When the working yarn is properly positioned, rotate the structure of needles so that the one with the working yarn is near your right hand. Do not pick that needle up, Instead, pick up the one next to it, the one nearest the working yarn, the one that starts with the first stitch you cast on. That is the needle that goes in your left hand. Hold an empty needle in your right hand, and pick up the collection of needles with stitches so you can bring the working yarn close enough to your left needle to knit. This is one of those knitterly moments when you really wish you had a few extra fingers, but it really does stop feeling awkward with a little practice.

Then just knit. When you finish working the stitches on a needle, put the newly emptied needle in your right hand, and use it to work the stitches on the next needle, repeating the process with each needle until you’re done.

That’s all there is to it. To avoid laddering where the needles meet, give the working yarn an extra tug after working the first stitch of each needle. Run your hand over the work periodically to make sure you haven’t dropped any stitches. Beyond that, it’s all a matter of trusting that things will go as they should–kind of like life. Who knew?

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