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Double-pointed needles...friend or foe?

If you've ever felt a tremble of fear at the thought of using double-pointed needles, read on...

Double-pointed needles come in various lengths, from tiny little 4 inchers used to knit the fingers of gloves, up to a whopping 16-inch-long needes for Shetland lace. They're available in all sorts of materials, from warm birch to flexible casein and bamboo and from elegant ebony to super-strong steel. The ones I find most comfortable to knit with are around 8 inches long. The needles come in sets of 4 or 5, but it makes sense to buy sets of 5 whenever you have a choice. Dividing your work over 4 needles rather than 3 helps keeps tension from distorting the stitches [more on this later] and you won't have to run out for an extra set if you drop one and it rolls between the boards and under the front porch.

Double-pointed needles are used to knit in the round when there are too few stitches to fit comfortably around on a set of circulars; socks, mittens and the crowns of caps are common places to employ them. To cast on with double points, you can cast on all stitches on one needle, then slip an even number of stitches to the other 2 or 3 needles, or cast on to each needle in turn. Once the required number of stitches are divided evenly over the needles, be sure they're not twisted by laying the needles flat and arranging the stitches so the bottom of the cast on row is facing the inwards as shown below:

Join and begin to knit by inserting the remaining empty needle into the stitch that was cast on first. Until you become accustomed to knitting with double points, it may feel like you've got an unruly hedgehog in your hands. It's frustrating but not terribly uncommon for the needles to slip out of the stitches on the first few rounds or if there are very few stitches on each needle. If you're just beginning with double points, choose lightweight plastic or wooden needles and a non-slippery yarn. Metal needles and cotton yarn can wait until you've got a bit more experience under your belt.

How you hold the needles is purely a matter of personal choice. Just keep
your attention focused on the two needles that you're working with at any
given time - no different than any other type of knitting! - and let the
other needles hang loosely inside the circle of your fingers, supporting
them in any way it feels comfortable. You may want to center the stitches on
a needle before moving to the next needle. It helps prevent stitches
accidentally dropping off.

Begin by knitting over the stitches on the first needle. When it is empty, transfer it to your working hand and begin to work over the stitches on the second needle. Do the same for the rest of the needles and you'll be fast friends in no time.

The dreaded ladder:

Looseness at the point where you change from one needle to the next can lead to a ladder forming from the yarn being stretched in the space between two distorted stitches. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid them.

- The best way: Make it a habit to tighten things up when moving from one needle to the next by giving the yarn a tug after working the first and second stitches. It's become such second nature to me that I had to work very hard to make the ladder for the picture above!

- Using a set of 5 needles rather than 4 will divide tension more evenly, keeping strain off of the stitches themselves.

- If you're still having trouble, knitting a couple of stitches forward from the next needle onto the one you've just finished with will shift the point of tension, thus helping to keep a vertical line from forming.

- Inserting the working needle under the previous needle as shown below will help you make a tighter stitch than if you come at it from above.

One final note: I realize that there are many, many people who say
"Pish-posh - there's no need to use double points when you can use two
circulars," but I think I'm going to try to avoid getting into that particular conversation if you don't mind.


If there are any knitting techniques you're especially interested in seeing here, write to Theresa.

If she doesn't know how, she'll be more than happy to try to figure it out!