I have come to really enjoy and appreciate knitting on circular needles. Specifically, knitting on circular needles where I used to use dpns. I have to admit that it took me a while, mostly because I love knitting with dpns. But it just makes so much sense to do both mittens, both socks, or both sleeves at the same time. Knitting two at a time on one circular needle ensures that your increases are in the same place and so the finished pieces look exactly the same. Well, maybe not ensures, maybe “makes it more likely” is a better way to put it!
WARNING: If you don’t know how to knit magic loop then don’t read this. Seriously. Don’t. It will freak you out to the point where you might possibly break out in hives. I should have written a knitting in the round general how to tutorial first. (See next weeks post!) But I actually have someone waiting for this post! (Will miracles never cease?) I picture her, standing there looking forlorn with her circulars, and a ball of yarn just dying to get on with her holiday knitting…so I had to just DO IT!
WARNING TWO: If you do know how to knit magic loop, be warned, this is a long post. Not difficult, but long. If you want to wait and come back later when you have more time I don’t mind. It’ll be here. 🙂
What type of cast on you use is not all that important. It doesn’t matter if you use a cable cast on, or a long tail cast on, or any other kind. What I am going to show you is how to accomplish the cast on for two mittens, two socks, or two sleeves onto one circular needle, at the same time, with a minimum of fuss.
Keep in mind that the first couple of rows of anything is always a bit fiddly, and can be annoying. Casting on for TWO items on one circular makes the first few rows doubly fiddly. But really, it’s not hard, you just have to keep your wits about you.
Disclaimer: OK, let me be honest. I don’t ever find knitting hard. It is sometimes tedious, sometimes annoying, and frequently frustration; but never actually DIFFICULT. This may be the way I am personally wired, and you may find that you are wired differently. I often find when I teach that if someone continuously tells themselves (either out loud or in their heads) “I can’t do this” then they, in fact, can’t. If however they relax, keep an open mind, and honestly give it a try 99 times out of 100 they find that they can do it. Just because you have never done this before does not mean you will never do it, it just means you haven’t done it yet. Everything is trickier the first time you do it.
The first thing is to pick a needle. There is no point in trying to accomplish this if you don’t have the right tool. So here is my personal checklist for the perfect needle:
- 32″ or longer
- very smooth joins between the needle and the cable
- sharply pointed needles (not rounded)
- a flexible cable (so probably no cable needles made before the 80’s)
I strongly recommend that you practice this once (or possibly up to 3 times) on scrap yarn before you begin a real project. First because it’s just easier to learn when you aren’t creating something REAL, and second because if you find you need to do it two or three times to get it right you won’t be wearing holes in the yarn for a REAL project. All you need to practice is a 32 inch circular needle and two balls of scrap yarn (same or different colors).
To show you how to do this I am going to pretend that I am casting on for children’s mittens. Let’s say I need to cast on a total of 20 stitches in a worsted weight yarn on size 8 needles. (You would want to get all this from the real pattern you are using, when you do it for real. This is just for practice. There are no mitten patterns that ask you to cast on only 20 sts in worsted weight on size 8 needles for any kids, anywhere. Just saying.)
To begin the cast on for Mitten One I will cast on half the stitches I need for the mitten. (For practice then, cast on 10 sts) Mitten One is purple. See how I have labeled the two ends of the circular needle A and B? Keep watching so you can see where they are…
Move the stitches you just cast on further down the needle. We don’t need them for now, so just move them down away from the point and ignore them. Then taking the ball of yarn for Mitten Two (Mitten Two is green) cast on the total number of stitches (in our practice that will be 20). When you are done it should look something like this.
You will notice that the second mitten (green) was cast on the same needle (A) as the first mitten (purple). That means that the purple yarn is stuck in the middle where you can’t get to it, right? Don’t worry, have faith. Keep going, you are doing it right.
Move the stitches for Mitten TWO along until they are all on the cable. Then divide the stitches into two equal groups (in our case two groups if 10 sts) and pull the needle up through the middle of those groups. It will look like this.
This creates a division now, between Needle A and Needle B. You will want to keep this loop, just like you do in regular magic loop knitting.
Now, position your needle so that both points are facing in the same direction. You will have Mitten Two (green) on the left (half on the A part of the needle and half on the B part of the needle) half of Mitten One (purple) on the B part of the needle. Like this:
Now you need to cast on the second half of Mitten One (purple) onto the same needle (A). How you do this depends on what type of cast on your are using.
- If you use long tail then just create a new stitch. Do it just like you always do, but instead of trying to put it next to the last one you cast on (which you can’t cause it’s in the middle of the cable, and nowhere near a point) just put the newly cast on stitch on the same needle you have been using to cast on all along (A).
- If you chose to use a cable cast on (like in the pictures) then use needle B (Or an extra needle, as I do in the picture because I find it less awkward) and knit through the last stitch cast on for Mitten One (purple) and slip the new stitch onto the cast on needle (A)
- When using another cast on, just do what you always do, but put the newly cast on stitch onto the end of the needle that you have been using to cast on (A).
This will feel VERY awkward because you will not be using the yarn at the END of a needle, but way in the middle. Don’t worry that you might be doing it wrong. Trust me, it IS awkward. But it’s not impossible and you will get better at it with practice. I have been doing it this way for so long I had to sit down and figure out HOW I did it, it has become second nature now.
This is what the first cast on stitch of the second half of Mitten One (purple) looks like once you have put it on A.
See how loose it is? You can’t help that, don’t worry about it, just cast on the second stitch. Then before you tighten up the second stitch tighten the first one, then the second one, and the second one will hold the first one. (See my warnings below about second stitch tightening…) If you let the first stitch on the second half of Mitten One (purple) stay lose it will leave a gap. Not the end of the world, but something to avoid if you can. Don’t tighten it up if it’s on the cable though, cause then you will make it so small you can’t knit with it!
When you have completed your cast on for the second half of Mitten One (purple) the needle should look like this:
You will notice that there is a gap between the first half and the second half of Mitten Two (green), there is also a gap in the same relative position on Mitten One (purple). This is not bad, it’s correct. You have finished casting on. Now you take a deep breath, and you begin to work your first round.
**Using the yarn that you were just using on the second half of Mitten One (purple), work the first half of Mitten One (being careful not to twist your stitches). When you finish the first half (10 sts in this case) just drop that yarn. Pick up the yarn from the other mitten and work the first half of Mitten two. Then rearrange your needles (just like you always do when you knit using magic loop on a circular needle) and using the same yarn (green), work the second half of Mitten Two. Then drop that yarn, and pick up the yarn from Mitten One (purple), and work the second half of mitten One. You have just completed your first round.
Now go back to the ** and do it again. And again.
This is what my practice looked like after three or four rounds.
If you are looking this all over and saying to yourself “WOW, the potential to tangle up my yarn is HUGE here.” You are not far wrong. What happens is the you knit across the first half of both items, then you turn your work. Of course you turn you work, that’s how you get to the next stitches that need to be knit! Then you work the second half of the two items, and you turn your work….again! What you might not notice at first is that you are constantly turning your work in the same direction, so you “barber-pole” the two yarns. (That’s a spinning term, but I think you see what I mean.)
The solution is deceptively simple. Turn your work clockwise, then counter clockwise, and your yarn won’t twist around itself. It’s really not that big a deal because you can always unwind it. BUT my advice is to start a habit of being mindful, so you don’t have to unwind. If I have two balls I will sit with one on either side of me while I knit, then if I start to wind them around each other it’s obvious. If you are knitting two socks from the same ball (one from the inside and one from the outside of the same ball) it can get annoying if you haven’t already developed the habit of watchfulness and alternating your turn directions.
Still not clear? Maybe these can help. First, the names of each of the pieces of our practice.
And second, the order in which you work the pieces:
- Don’t forget to drop your yarn. If you knit across the first half of Mitten Two (green) with the yarn from Mitten One (purple) you are going to have to undo it, which will make you sad.
- When you drop your yarn always drop it in BACK of your work. If you drop it in FRONT of your work (as if to purl) when you get to the other side of the needle and pick it up again you will find that you create a yarn over. Again, not the end of the world, just something you might want to avoid as it will create a bit of a gap.
- When you work the first row (the first row after the cast on row) remember to be sensible about your stitches and not make a moebius. It doesn’t matter if there is one sock or two on your needles, if you twist the cast on it won’t work!!! Be careful!
- Make sure that you pull your joins in (meaning the joins between the two halves of the same item). The best way to do that is to make sure you pull in the SECOND stitch (if you yank on the first stitch it will never stay taut). If you pull a bit (and make the first stitch as tight as you want it to stay) as you create the second stitch it will hold taut because the second stitch holds the first stitch in place.
- If you are not confident that you know which direction you should be knitting in when you pick up your knitting, then this might not be a skill you are ready for. Think about which direction you should be going in before you start, it’s easy to get confused when this is a new skill.
OK, that’s it. My last recommendation is that if you don’t get it the first time, go get a cup of tea. Relax, enjoy your tea. Then come back and try again. It’s awkward at first, but once you get it you will LOVE it. It’s magic.