The dreaded double pointed needles! Learning to use double pointed needles is probably the biggest leap a beginner knitter can take into the world beyond scarves. Hats, sleeves, mittens, gloves, socks... all pretty much require the use of double pointed needles. So if you're ready, here we go!
Double pointed needles are used to knit things in the round that are too small for circular needles. For example, when you knit a hat on a circular needle, toward the top of the hat the stitches become so few that they no longer reach around the circular needle. At that point you need to switch to double pointed needles. Other projects start out too small for circular needles, like the Toadstool Baby Rattle, which is the project this tutorial is illustrating.
If you've never knit anything in the round before, it's very important to know that you never turn your work around when you knit circularly. In other words, the right side of the fabric always faces you. The major consequence of this is that some stitch patterns are different in the round than they are flat. For example, to knit stockinette stitch in the round you only use the knit stitch; you never purl. As you gain experience, this concept won't sound so complicated!
Double pointed needles come in a pack of five, but the knitting tradition in America is to usually use only four at a time. Three needles hold the stitches while a fourth knits them. Sometimes you do use all five, four to hold the stitches and the fifth to knit. This would come in handy when the pattern increases or decreases in multiples of four or if you can't fit all the stitches onto three. Either way, the instructions are basically the same, but this tutorial illustrates the more common use of four double pointed needles.
And, finally, I painted my double pointed needles four different colors to help you keep track of which needle is doing what!
Cast all the stitches onto one double pointed needle. Try to cast on somewhat loosely, so that the stitches are able to slide freely on the needle.
Then slip 2/3 of the stitches onto a second double pointed needle. (In this case, there are 72 cast on stitches, divided by 3 = 24 x 2 = 48.)
Slip 1/2 of the stitches from the second needle onto a third double pointed needle. Each needle now holds a third of the total number of cast on stitches (24 stitches on each needle). (If the cast on is not exactly divisible by 3, then just have one more or less stitch on one needle.)
Join into the Round
In order to join for working in the round, you need the needle where tail and yarn are coming from (the "white" needle) in your right hand. This usually requires that you flip everything around, the needle in your left hand switching with the needle in your right hand.
Arrange the stitches so they are all facing the same way and aren't spun around on any of the needles.
Insert the fourth (empty) needle into the first stitch of the left needle.
Firmly knit the first stitch.
You're joined into the round!
Knitting with Double Pointed Needles
Continue to knit across the stitches of this first needle. Just pretend that you're knitting with two needles instead of four!
Having knit across all the stitches of the first needle, that needle becomes free to knit the stitches of the next needle. For example, the green needle knit all of the stitches of the yellow needle, freeing the yellow needle to now knit the stitches of the pink needle.
Keep knitting around and around, three needles holding the stitches, one needle knitting. (The first round is the trickiest because the needles tend to squirm around a bit. Don't despair! It gets easier!)
Tips and Details
End of the Round Marker
You don't usually need a marker to indicate the end of the round when you use double pointed needles. Instead, the end of the round is marked by the cast on tail. The first stitch of the needle where the tail comes from is the first stitch of the round.
If, occasionally, you do need a marker, it's easier to put it after the first stitch so that the marker doesn't keep sliding off the needle. Just remember that the first stitch is actually the one before the marker.
The First Stitch of Each Needle
If the first stitch of a new needle is a knit stitch, then make sure that the needle you're knitting with is situated under the previous needle (in this photo, the yellow needle is positioned under the green one, ready to knit the first stitch of the pink needle.)
This helps to prevent a column of loose stitches at the intersection of the needles.
If the first stitch on the needle is a purl stitch, then it's better to start the new needle above the previous needle.
Also, always give the first stitch of each needle a bit of an extra tug to close the gap between needles.
If you need to decrease at the end of a needle and only have one stitch left on the needle,
then slip that 1 stitch to the next needle, and do the decrease at the beginning of the next needle.
That's about it! Good luck with this new skill. I hope that it opens many knitting doors for you!