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How to knit flat with circular needles (instead of straight needles)

Do you only knit with straight needles? Are you scared of circular needles, or think they look strange or complicated?  They’re actually really easy to use & similar to knitting with straight needles. 

A great way to give circular needles a go is to use them instead of your straight needles to knit back and forth in rows. 

That’s right. Circulars are not just for knitting in the round. You can use them for ALL your knitting. Once you see how handy they are, you may never go back to straights.

Knit Flat with Circulars Video Demo

This video tutorial explains how to knit flat with circular needles. See how easy it is to switch to knitting with circular needles instead of straights. Or keep reading this step by step guide if you prefer written instructions.

How to Knit Flat with Circular Needles instead of Straights: Step by Step

Circulars are like Mittens on a String

Circular knitting needles do look very different from straight needles. It’s hard to get your head around how they work at first.

Circular needles are like mittens on a string for a toddler. They’re still a pair of mittens, just connected by a long string.

Circular needles are still a pair of knitting needles too. It’s just they have short tips connected by a long cord, instead of being 2 long pointy sticks.

How to hold Circular Knitting Needles

Holding circular knitting needle tips in hands with cord between them
Hold a circular knitting needle tip in each hand with the cord lying in front or behind

You hold circular needles similarly to straight needles. Instead of holding a long straight needle with each hand, you hold one tip in your left hand and the other end in your right hand.

The cord dangles between them, but forget about that for now. Focus on seeing your circular needle tips as a pair of knitting needles, just like your straights.

Casting On with Circular Needles

Casting on is exactly the same on circular needles as straight needles, regardless of what cast on you’re using.

If you’re using a one needle cast on, e.g. the long tail cast on, you just add stitches to the right tip of the circular needle instead of your right straight needle. For other cast ons that use both needles, like the knit cast on, you use both needle tips in the same way you would use both straight needles. See both cast ons in action in the video demo.

Once you cast on enough stitches to fill the short needle tip, you need to start moving stitches down from the needle tip on to the thin cable. This is similar to moving cast on stitches down along a straight needle to be able to free space at the tips for adding more stitches.

Keep going until you have cast on all your stitches. With a straight needle, you can only cast on a limited number of stitches and they may need to be bunched up together to fit. There’s more space for stitches on the long circular cord and circular needles come in different lengths too. 

Stitches cast on to circular knitting needle
The circular needle cable has lots of room to cast on stitches. Move stitches down from the tip to add more.

Knitting the First Row on Circular Needles

Once you have cast on all your stitches, you start knitting just like you would with straight needles:

  1. Your working yarn is at one needle tip. Hold this tip in your left hand, like you would hold your left straight needle. 
  2. Hold the other needle tip in your right hand. The connecting cord can either lie to the front or behind the tips. It’s personal preference. I like it at the back.
  3. Put your right needle tip into the first stitch on the left tip and knit it, moving it across to the right tip.

This works exactly the same as knitting with straight needles, moving stitches one at a time from the left to the right needle.

The only difference is that you’re knitting with short needle tips here. So you nudge the next stitches up from the cable to the left needle tip, instead of moving them up along a straight needle.

When you finish knitting the first row, all the stitches have moved across from the left tip to the right side of the circular needle.

Knitting the Second Row on Circulars

You might get confused at the end of the first row: what do you do next? 

Guess what? You start the next row the same way as with straight needles. If you’ve been knitting a while, you do this on autopilot. But stop and think for a second. How DO you start the next row with straight needles?

You turn your work and switch the needle to your left hand. Then you pick up the other needle with your right hand and start knitting row 2.

So, just follow the exact same steps to knit row 2 with circular needles:

  1. Turn your knitting so the other side is facing you. The working yarn is now at the needle tip ready to knit.
  2. Hold this needle tip in your left hand.
  3. Hold the other needle tip in your right hand.
  4. Put the right needle tip into the first stitch on the left tip to start knitting the row.
Knitting rows back and forth on circular needles
Knitting rows back and forth on circular needles

Keep Knitting Rows Back and Forth

Repeat this at the end of every row. Turn your knitting. Switch the tip with stitches on it to your left hand. Hold the other tip in your right hand and start knitting another row.

It may take a few rows to get the hang of doing this with circulars. But you’ll soon see how knitting back and forth in rows on circular needles is just like knitting with straights.

Actually, knitting with circular needles has several advantages, even if you never knit in the round. Find out 7 ways circular needles are better than straights.

I hope this guide has shown you how easy it is to switch to using circular knitting needles instead of straights. While circular needles look completely different to straight needles, knitting with them is very similar.

Once you have got the hang of knitting with a circular needle, it’s easy to move on to knitting in the round. Check out my knitting in the round for beginners guide with a step by step video tutorial.

There’s nothing scary about circular needles & they might just change your life. ? Got any questions? Comment below & I’ll try to help.

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