Gather ’round for these tips (collected from years of experience and mistakes) in using DPNs
I am a big, big fan of knitting tutorials. So much so that I have a whole section on this site devoted to the care and feeding of tutorials.
Er, that is, I have a whole section of tutorial collections. I’m pretty sure tutorials don’t need feeding or care.
However, sometimes it’s helpful when tutorials are supplemented by the experience of a knitter who has made plenty of mistakes. And lucky you–you’re reading the writing of exactly such a knitter!
If you’re in need of tutorials for using double-pointed needles (DPNs) for knitting in the round, be sure to check out this post. To get some tips, just keep reading!
Some of these tips will help you when you’re beginning your project. Others will, I hope, help you avoid the trickiest parts of learning to handle all those needles.
Start Out Flat
When you try using DPNs for the first time, I highly recommend sitting at a flat surface — a table or a desk. It will be much easier for you to determine if all your stitches are lying correctly and you are not about to twist them when you join to work in the round.
Lumpy surfaces like a sofa, chair, or your lap (ahem) tend to obscure the way your stitches lie. (They lie about the way they lie, in other words. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!)
This will also help you if you have to set down your knitting and leave it mid-round. You’ll find it much easier to pick it back up again and find where you left off if you set it on a hard, flat surface.
Make Sure Your DPNs & Your Yarn Are a Match Made in Heaven
Match your DPNs to your yarn. That is to say, if you’re using a slippery yarn, use wooden or bamboo needles. If you’re using a not-so-slippery yarn, use metal or plastic needles.
Slippery yarns include wool, wool blends, and other animal-based fibers. Non-slippery yarns include cotton and acrylic.
This is especially important when you’re starting out. You don’t want to have to fight your yarn along with your needles. Match a slippery yarn with metal needles, and your needles could slip right out of the stitches. Pair a non-slippery yarn with wood or bamboo needles, and you’ll be fighting to slide the stitches as you need to.
No one needs those headaches!
How to Mark the Beginning of Your Round Without Losing Your Mind
Stitch markers can be your friend, but sometimes they can feel more like an enemy. You’ll see frequent suggestions to mark the first stitch of the round with a stitch marker. Stitch markers are usually sold in yarn and craft shops as little metal or plastic hoops.
I will tell you this, though: you’re going to drop that marker. A lot. (Unless you are far less clumsy than I am, in which case, congratulations!)
What’s more, you’re probably going to lose that marker. I can’t even tell you how many markers I have lost all over my house. Mice probably use them for Frisbees.
Therefore, I often use other tricks to tell me where the beginning of my round is aside from markers. Feel free to try one!
Looking for easy patterns using DPNs to improve your circular knitting skills? Check out this post!
a. When you join your stitches and start knitting, use the yarn tail as a stitch marker. You can either leave it hanging down from your knitting, or you can tuck the end between the first and last stitches to leave a little bump. That bump, of course, can easily be pulled right out when necessary.
b. Most of the instructions you read will probably tell you to “divide evenly between three [or four] needles.” But guess what? It’s rarely absolutely necessary.
You can divide the stitches between the needles almost evenly, and perhaps leave more stitches on the first needle than the last, or vice versa. Then, you’ll know when you’ve reached the beginning of the round simply by counting the stitches on that first needle.
c. Some kinds of knitting don’t take well to (a) or (b). In that case, just pin the first stitch at the beginning of the round with a safety pin. The safety pin won’t fall off and get lost, and you’ll always know where the start of the round is.
If you happen to have the sorts of stitch or row markers that clip onto the stitch? Those work, too!
When to Use Stitch Markers (Yes, Sometimes You Must)
The one time you won’t want to skip the stitch markers? When your pattern specifies to “place marker” or “pm” in the midst of a round.
The pattern is telling you to do this because in subsequent rounds you’ll use a different stitch (a knit, a purl, a yarnover, or the like), an increase, or a decrease before and/or after the marker. You’ll find it much easier to just place the markers than to try to count to the proper stitch every time.
Yes, you’ll still probably lose markers. That’s okay. Just keep a little baggie or container next to you full of stitch markers as you knit.
Conversely, you can also just tie a small length of yarn in a circle and use that. (I learned this trick when I couldn’t find my container of stitch markers. Oops.)
How to Avoid the Dreaded Ladders
“Ladders” are the gaps that can form between the first and last stitches of every round. This gap can resemble a ladder, hence the name. They can also tend to form between the first and last stitch of every needle.
The most common way to avoid “ladders” is simply to knit the first stitch of every needle as tightly as you can. Pull the yarn tight once you have placed the stitch on the right needle, and give it another little tug once you’ve slipped the stitch off the left.
Another way to avoid ladders is to periodically slip stitches from the end of one needle to the beginning of another (and vice versa). This can help for laddering between needles, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for laddering between first and last stitches. It can confuse you as to where the round begins. And for most patterns, that’s pretty important.
In the past few years I’ve discovered an even better way to avoid ladders: knit (or purl, as your pattern indicates) the first and last stitch on every needle through the back loop. This twists the stitch, which in turn draws the stitches around it more closely together.
Since I started doing this, the ladders have disappeared from my circular knitting. If you have a persistent laddering problem, give it a try!
I hope you find these tips helpful as you learn to use DPNs. Have any other tips? Please feel free to leave them in the comments. Any other questions about a persistent DPN problem? Feel free to offer that in the comments, too, and I’ll do my best to answer them!