Techniques in Depth: Joining in the Round
“Distribute stitches evenly across needles … place a marker … and join for working in the round, being careful not to twist.”
These are phrases to strike fear in the heart of even the bravest knitter. If you do any work in the round—hats, seamless garments, socks, mittens—you’ll have seen this sort of instruction.
Although these are all standard form in knitting patterns, as with my mother’s regular and insistent instruction to “drive carefully,” we should consider them more a description of an objective than a specific process or technique.
“Distribute Stitches Evenly Across Needles”
This instruction applies if you’re using a small-circumference method like DPNs, Magic Loop, Two Circulars, and the trendy Flexi-Flips/Addi Trio needles. The short answer is that you absolutely don’t need the same number on each needle.
If you’re working on four DPNs—that is, stitches on three needles, with a fourth to knit—the usual approaches are to either have roughly a third on each, or half on the first and the remaining half divided across the other two. If you’re working on five DPNs—that is, stitches on four needles, with a fifth to knit—the usual approach is to have roughly a quarter of the stitches on each needle.
But the divisions don’t need to be exact, or even close. I don’t recommend having significantly more than one half or less than a quarter of the stitches on one needle, as the resulting angles where the needles meet can cause laddering. But otherwise, use the distribution that works best for you.
What’s more important is that you arrange your stitches in a manner that makes sense for any pattern stitches. For example, if you’ve got 68 stitches, and you’re working with five DPNs, this would lead you to believe that you need to put 17 stitches each on four needles – but that’s a terrible breakdown of stitches for pretty much any ribbing pattern. If working (k1, p1), you’d end up having to start a needle with a purl stitch—did you know that can make laddering worse?—and if working (k2, p2), things would get ridiculously complicated. In this case, I’d put divide them up so that three needles have 16 and the fourth has 20.
If you’re on Magic Loop, Two Circulars or any other method that requires you divide the stitches in half, there’s also room for play. For example, if you’re working (k2, p2) ribbing on 60 stitches, put 32 stitches on one needle and 28 on the other. Don’t make the split too extreme – I don’t recommend going much less than 1/3 or more than 2/3 on either side, but do whatever makes sense for your pattern stitches.
In the MDK Shop
“Place a Marker for Start of Round”
If you’re on a circular needle in the conventional manner—that is, with stitches going all the way around—just put a ring-style marker on the right-hand needle before you work the first stitch.
If you’re on DPNs, Magic Loop, Two Circulars or any of the “small circumference” methods?
No marker is needed. Just use the cast-on tail to keep track of the start of the round. When your two ends of yarn are lined up, you’re at the start of the round.
You can’t use a standard marker in this sort of set up, as it would just fall off the end.
If you find it helpful, you can place a removable-style stitch marker in the edge near the start of the round, but it’s entirely optional.
“Join for Working in the Round”
You’ve got two “end” stitches. One will have the working yarn hanging off it, one won’t. To join the round, you’re going to work the stitch that *doesn’t* have the working yarn on it, with the working yarn.
On a circular needle, this is entirely straightforward. The stitch that has the working yarn hanging off it—specifically, the needle tip that it’s on—goes in your right hand. The other end of the needle goes in your left. And just work the first stitch on the left needle tip—knit or purl as the pattern requires.
In truth, this whole “join” instruction is a bit weird, in that you have to actually work the first stitch of the round to create the join. And you have to consult the pattern instructions for what to do with that first stitch. That is, if the instructions say to join, and then Round 1 says to work (k1, p1) ribbing around, the join isn’t complete until that first k1 of the ribbing pattern is worked.
You should think of the “join” instructions as “set up so that when the first stitch of the round is worked, the round is joined.”
If you’re on DPNs, find the end stitch that doesn’t have the working yarn hanging off it.
Hold the needle with that stitch in your left hand, with that specific stitch at the right end. If you work with the yarn in your right hand, just put an empty needle into the stitch, ready to work, and hold it with your left hand—then go grab the yarn, and knit that stitch.
If you work with the yarn in your left hand, once you’re holding your needle with the first stitch to be worked, grab the yarn and position it. Then just put an empty needle into the stitch, and just knit it.
Either way, there’s no need to fuss about how the other needles are positioned, about forming a triangle, about any twists or any of that nonsense. Honestly, I don’t even bother holding the other needles. I just work the first stitch.
The needles come together, and the round is joined. Done.
In the MDK Shop
See how quickly you can do it:
If you’re on Magic Loop, or using two (or more) circular needles, then the trick to making the join is to line up the stitches so that the first one you’re going to knit is up on the body of the needle, held at the front, and let the second half (-ish) of the round sit on the flexible cord at the back. The working yarn should be coming off the back side, coming off those stitches that are on the cord. And both the first stitch you’re going to work and the working yarn should be on the right-hand-side.
Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of other ways to do this—cast on extra stitches, and knit them together across the gap, or cross the first and last stitch over the join, and other sorts of trickery—but why make it any more complicated than it needs to be? Just knit!
BONUS TIP: I don’t worry too much about how tight or loose that join is, or whether there’s a gap or not. It’s pretty tricky to make the join very tight, and you’ll have an end to deal with anyway–just close up the gap when you weave the end in.
BONUS BONUS TIP: If you use a Long Tail (two strand) cast on, or any of its variants, work the first couple of stitches with both ends of the yarn—this helps reduce the “divot” at the join point. Just remember to work the two strands of those doubled stitches together on the next round.
“Being Careful Not to Twist”
This is the biggie: you’ve been misled.
When I’m joining the round, I don’t pay the slightest attention to whether my stitches are twisted or not. Heck, if you’ve got a lot of stitches on a long circular needle, it’s essentially impossible to tell. So don’t worry about it.
Join, work the first round, and then check to see if there’s a twist.
SHOCKING NEWS: You can fix a twisted round at any point in the first round.
When we say that a round has a twist, we mean that the cast on edge, runs over the top of —around—the needle or one of the needles.
On a circular, a twisted round looks like this:
On DPNs, a twisted round looks like this:
There is no need to panic. Trust me.
Just work the first round, following whatever pattern might be required—ribbing, usually.
BONUS TIP: If you find that there’s a bit too much going on, it’s perfectly legal to just knit the first round, no matter what the pattern might say. Consider it a setup round. Start any pattern stitch—ribbing, or what-have-you—in the next one. It will make your cast on edge a little more prominent, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider it a decorative element.
Once the first round is complete—knitted or ribbed or whatever—then look for a twist. If there is one, it will be significantly more obvious, as you’ve got a more prominent edge.
And then just shuffle the twist off the end of the needle, so it “falls off.”
It’s that simple. Really.
What you’re actually doing is transferring the twist to the strand that joins the round, which no-one will be able to see. (Not even if you use two strands to work that first stitch.)
If you’re on DPNs or the other small circumference methods, you won’t even need to work the full round—you’ll likely be able to see the twist as you’re working across the needle that holds it. In that case, just shuffle it off the far end of the that needle. Done.
And yes, I know you can always work a few back-and-forth in rows before joining—this does indeed help you avoid a twist—but then you have to sew up the gap, and it can be hard to make that tidy.
My feelings on that are a nice summary of my entire philosophy about this joining-for-working-in-the-round business: honestly, why bother if you don’t need to?
This Could Come in Handy