One of the best things about knitting top down sweaters is being able to try it on as you go. But if you’re new to knitting in the round, it’s not obvious how to do this.
Since your circular needle cable is always shorter than the sweater circumference, you can’t put it on as is without losing lots of stitches. So here’s 4 ways to try on work in progress knitting, each with their pros & cons, so you can find the best option for you.
Table of Contents
Method 1: Cable connector (for interchangeable needles)
- Pros: cheap, quick & easy
- Cons: need interchangeable needles, screwing on & off the connectors can be a bit fiddly at first
If you’re using interchangeable circular needles, you can get a nifty cable connector that lets you join multiple cables together. It’s a quick and easy way to try on your work in progress (WIP) sweater at any stage while knitting it.
I’ve been using a cable connector to try on as I knit for a few years now & find it really handy. Here’s a 3 minute video demo tutorial:
If you prefer written instructions, here’s a step by step guide:
How to use a knitting cable connector to try on a sweater
Total Time: 5 minutes
Remove a needle tip
Unscrew one of your interchangeable needle tips.
Screw on the cable connector
Screw the cable connector on to your circular cable, replacing the needle tip.
Attach another cable to the connector
Now attach another cable to the other end of the cable connector – the longer the better. It can be a bit fiddly to do at first, but you soon get the hang of it. As you screw your cable on, the other side of the connector sometimes twists the other way and can come loose. So check both cords are fully secure.
Screw on cable cap to end (optional)
You can screw on a cap to the other end of the cable to prevent any stitches falling off. This isn’t necessary if you have plenty of cable.
Spread out your stitches along the cables
Slide some of your stitches down along the 2nd cable so that the sweater body is full width. Gently pull both the needle and cap ends of your cord so that your knitting is roughly central with spare cable at both sides.
Try on your sweater
With your knitting secure on the long cord, you can try it on to your heart’s content. Take a good look from all angles to judge the fit. Have a measuring tape handy to check the length as it drapes on the body, or to measure how much longer you need to knit etc.
Pull the 2nd cable back out from your knitting
Once you have finished trying on your sweater, gently pull the 2nd cord out from your knitting, so that all your stitches are back bunched together on your original circular needle cable.
Replace the cable connector with your needle tip
Finally, unscrew the left side of cable connector from your circular needle cable & attach your needle tip again to resume knitting.
Cable connector kits for interchangeable needles
Cable connectors are cheap & all interchangeable needle brands should sell them. Here are some quick links for popular brands:
- Chiagoo cable connectors (small) for size 3-8 us needles and large connectors for size 9-13 us needles
- Knitpicks cable connectors – $2.50 approx
- Knitter’s Pride (KnitPro) cable connectors – these should be compatible with Knitpicks & vice versa
- Addi click cord connectors – $10 approx
If you can’t find cable connectors for your needle brand, you could try a kit from Knitter’s Pride (KnitPro in Europe), Knitpicks or Drops, because these interchangeable needles are made the same way. So you can mix & match parts between these brands. In other words: these interchangeables are, well, interchangeable. 😊
My KnitPro (Knitter’s pride) cable connectors only cost a few dollars. You get 3 connectors in the set, which is handy if you lose one (like me!) or need to connect more than 2 cables for knitting a one piece blanket or other large projects.
Method 2: Multiple circular needles
- Pros: works for all circular needles
- Cons: need more circular needles (if fixed)
Another good way to try on a sweater while knitting is to split your stitches between 2 (or more) circular needles. I first came across this technique on the Fringe Association blog and it works for all circular needles (fixed and interchangeable). Here’s how to do this:
How to use 2 circular needles to try on a sweater
Step 1: Knit half a round onto a 2nd needle
Take a 2nd circular needle (32-40 inches works well) and start knitting a round with it. Knit half a round approx. Now pull out your needle tips and half your stitches are on each needle cable with the tips dangling between them.
Step 2: Spread out your stitches & try on
Check there’s enough cable for your sweater to lay out flat, preferably with some spare at each side. Then you’re free to try on your sweater without losing any stitches.
Step 3: Start knitting again & return to 1 needle
To start knitting again, just continue where you left off. Knit to the end of the round with your 2nd needle. This leaves your original circular needle empty and free of your work. Now just knit all the next round on to this needle, leaving the 2nd needle aside until the next try-on.
TIP: if you’re using interchangeables, you only need 1 pair of needle tips for this with a 2nd cable cord. Just replace the far tip from your circular needle that’s not in use with a cable cap, and attach it to a 2nd cable with a cap at the other end. This gives you 2 single tip circulars which is all you need to split your stitches on the next round before you try on your WIP knitting.
Remember that the combined length of your cables must be greater than your sweater circumference. Circular needle lengths assume needle tips are attached, so the cord part of a 40 inch circular is only around 32 inches. So two 40 inch circular needles will work for a circumference up to 64 inches max. It’s nice to have some excess to play with, so the longer the cables the better here.
If you’re knitting something with a larger circumference or only have shorter cables to hand, you can use more than 2 circulars:
- Start your round with a 2nd needle, and knit until the stitches fill up most of that cable (with your knitting at full width, not bunched).
- If there are too many stitches left on your first needle to lay flat, grab a 3rd needle and continue your round until you use up most of that cord.
- Now pull out all your needle tips & lay your sweater flat so that your stitches are divided among 3 needles with the tips dangling between them.
Method 3: Knitting Tubing Cords
- Pros: quicker & easier than waste yarn
- Cons: may not fit all needles perfectly, moving fine stitches can be fiddly
Knitting tubing cord is a new invention that you pull on over a needle tip & then move your stitches to. It’s fancy, modern waste yarn & a big timesaver. You can use it with all knitting needle types (straights & circulars).
How to use knitting cords to try on a sweater
- Pull one end of the tube on over your needle tip and make sure it’s secure.
- Slide all your stitches down from your needle on to the tubing.
- Remove the tip of your empty needle from the tube & knot the tube ends together.
- Try on your knitting with all your stitches secure.
- To resume knitting, undo your knot, and put one tube end over your needle tip again. Slide all your stitches back up on to your needle cable & remove the empty tubing from the tip.
Aside from using them for trying on top down knits, knitting tube cords make handy stitch holders. You can quickly transfer stitches on & off to them instead of faffing with waste yarn.
Here’s a short video tutorial showing how to use knitting tubing cords. This demo shows how to transfer sleeve stitches to tubing, but you can do exactly the same with a sweater yoke or body to try it on.
Knitting tubing products
- Try-it-on tubing ($6 approx): 2 yard lengths of clear vinyl tubes in 2 sizes for us 2-8 and 8-13 needles.
- Blue Ewe knit keeper cords ($10 approx): Silicone tubes in lots of colors with kits for accessories (shorter 24-32 inch cords), clothing (30 & 60 inch cords) and xl projects (100-120 inch cord). The standard 2mm cords work for us 0 to 8-15 depending on brand. The thicker 3mm cords work for size 8 upwards (5mm).
- The Knitting barber cords ($15 approx): 3 silicone tubes (14 colors) set with a 60 inch (150cm) cord & two 30 inch (75 cm cords). Ideal for top down sweaters, you can use the short cords for the sleeve stitches and the long cord for trying on the body.
Method 4: waste yarn
- Pros: free
- Cons: lots of time & hassle
Most knitters are familiar with threading a length of “waste yarn” through stitches to move them off your needles for the moment.
Although you can transfer some or all of your sweater stitches to waste yarn to be able to try it on while knitting it, I don’t recommend it. Threading your stitches on to waste yarn is easy, but getting them all back on your needle safe & sound is slow and risky.
Being able to try on top down sweaters as you knit them is a major advantage. But to enjoy the full benefits you need a quick & easy method – waste yarn is neither.
So save your time & sanity and try the other 3 ways instead. If you’re a fan of waste yarn, tubing cords (method 3) are a new & improved version which might just change your life.
Like so much with knitting, there’s no one best way to try on a sweater knit in the round. Since I use interchangeables, I love the connector cable approach. But others prefer using a 2nd circular needle instead of messing about with cables or tubing.
The best way to try on a sweater knitted in the round is the one YOU find quick and easy. If there’s hassle involved, you’ll do fewer try ons & miss out on the benefits.
One final tip: whichever method you choose, try on early and often so your sweater ends up just right, like Goldilocks’ porridge.
I hope you found this guide useful. Confused about anything? Do you know of any other methods? I’d love to hear how you find trying on your WIPs.