How to knit small circumferences
using one long circular needle
If you understand the concept of knitting with two circulars it is easy to switch over to using one long circular to knit a small circumference. The two techniques are very similar (same basic concept) and which you use will likely depend on the circulars you already own or your budget for buying new circulars. Also, some people prefer using one circular because the dangling ends of a second circular can be considered distracting.
I like working with a 40" Addi Turbo circular. My size 0 Addi is 47" and that works great as well. (Update: With time I've learned that I actually prefer using the 47" length, but this won't be true for everyone.) Some knitters prefer using a shorter circ, like 29" or 32" -- which is perfect for people who already own circulars in those sizes. This is really personal preference, I think the shorter circs feel too short, like I'm putting too much strain on the circ. I knit a pair of socks using a 29" circular so I know it can be done, but I went back to a longer circ on the next pair. Whatever feels right to YOU is what's best for you. Some craft stores in the U.S., such as Michael's and Joann's, sell Susan Bates 36" circulars and those work as well. I like the smooth join of the Addi Turbos and feel the quality is worth the extra expense.
This technique has been around for ages, some people say their grandma or auntie did it, but it's explained in a booklet published by Fiber Trends titled "The Magic Loop" so that's what most people now call it. I was taught the technique in about 20 seconds at a local yarn store and I think most people will be able to understand how it works by viewing the two photos below -- it's really that simple. If it looks confusing grab some yarn and a long circular, cast on 20 sts, and try it sitting in front of your computer while following the 3 steps.
I received the Fiber Trends booklet as a gift after I had already learned the technique so I was prepared to trade it away. But I followed the Figure 8 cast-on instructions for a toe-up sock and decided to keep it. If you like doing toe-up socks the booklet is worth buying for those detailed instructions alone, the text and photographs explain how to do the Figure 8 cast-on using your 40" circular, no extra dpns required. The booklet also contains a few patterns so it's a good starting point if you'd prefer to work from a sock pattern written especially for the Magic Loop technique. The Fiber Trends Website has a list of yarn shops that sell their patterns and booklets.
Instructions for using one circular:
1) Cast on the required number of stitches onto a 40" circular needle. Slide the stitches to the cable, pinch the cable between the two center stitches and pull it out to create a large loop. Arrange the stitches so 50% are on one needle and the other 50% are on the second needle. (Note: You can join the first and last stitch to close the circle before you start knitting. I like to have the first and last cast-on stitches swap needles, pulling one through the other with a crochet hook in the process.)
See Picture 1 below. This is how the stitches look at the start of every round. The stitches you're about to knit are in front (closest to you) and the yarn attached to the skein is on the right side of the needle in back.
2) Pull the needle in back (slide the stitches on it to the cable) and start knitting the stitches on the front needle like normal. See Picture 2 below (and note there are TWO loops, not one loop).
3) At the end of the row (half the round has been completed) turn the work around and return the stitches to the position shown in Picture 1. The stitches you're about to knit are in front (closest to you) and the yarn attached to the skein is on the right side of the needle in back.
Repeat steps 2 & 3 until the required number of rounds have been worked. You only do the "pinch and pull" in step 1 once, at the very beginning.
That's all there is to it!
Mark the start of the round with a safety pin or run a few inches of scrap yarn through a stitch on that side.
NOTE: The Magic Loop booklet and I disagree on what to do with the resting instep stitches while you work the heel of a sock. The booklet says to let them rest on the long cable but I prefer to slip them to scrap yarn to ease strain on the stitches. You can decide what feels right to you when you reach that point.
Inside-Out: How to prevent and fix it
(Some people prefer to knit inside-out, do whatever works for you.)
Hold your needles so the working stitches are closest to you and the stitches-in-waiting are in the background. Work as usual, knitting stitches off the left needle onto the right needle.
The photo below shows the working stitches in the background and I'm knitting into the center of the tube, which causes the item to be knit inside-out.
If you're knitting inside-out it's easy to fix: push the fabric through the circle formed by the needles so the knit stitches are on the outside. Pick up the needles with the working stitches closest to you and you're back on track. In the photo below I paused in the middle of pushing the sock down through the needles.
If you have knitting questions please refer to the message forums on Knitter's Review or knitting.about.com or the Livejournal Knitting community. All three sites offer free accounts. If you sign up for a Livejournal account you can start your own knitting journal there too.
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