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Double Pointed Needles

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!

An Overview

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!

Casting On

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.

TBRdpncaston.jpg

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.)

TBRdpncaston2.jpg

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.)

TBRdpncaston3.jpg

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. 

TBRdpnjoining1.jpg

Firmly knit the first stitch.

TBRdpnjoining2.jpg 

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!

TBRdpnneedles1and2.jpg

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.

Decreasing

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!

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63 Responses to Double Pointed Needles


  1. DonnaV NC says:

    I'm just experimenting with DPNs. Your tutorial is very clear and easy to follow. I am knitting a hat on circular needles and the decreases are making it necessary to switch to DPNs. When I transfer my stitches I assume I will already be "in the round." How will that affect my beginning? Thank you.

  2. Allie says:

    Beautiful post! I love the painted needles, and might actually do it just for fun. More importantly, I've been struggling with purl stitches in dpns, and one quick glance here told me all I needed to know. Thanks for such a beautiful and informative blog post!

  3. Orit says:

    Hi purl bee,

    I'm try to knit the big cuddly bunny project and the instructions say cast 8 stitches on dbp needles
    Would that then be three on two needles and two on the third??

    Thanks
    Orit

  4. purl bee says:

    Hi Orit-

    Yes that would work fine!

    Thanks for your question!

    Molly

  5. Bev says:

    I understand the double-pointed skill. It's good to know all kinds of ways and methods to knit. I prefer to use two circular whenever double pointed are called for. You knit each needle separately and can actually knit in very small tube. Your post was very informative and nicely presented.

  6. Lindsey S says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!! I was ready to totally give up on DPNs after two book tutorials and several very confusing YouTube videos. The clear pictures and the colour-coded needles made all the difference, plus your tips and tricks helped me get rid of the weird loop-y things I was getting at the start of every needle. Thank you again!!!

  7. Farah says:

    Last year I used DPNs for the first time to knit legwarmers for my now 1 year old baby daughter – and this was using this really clear and fantastic tutorial. The tips been really useful – i never got ladders even on my first time ever! Ive now returned to consult it to knit some gloves for myself :) Ill definitely be keeping this page as a favourite…. it was all a mystery to me before and now im not scared to start DPN projects :D thank you !!

  8. Kiki says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! The DPN's are no longer the DDPN's-the dreaded double pointed needles! Purl bee is awesome!

  9. Amy says:

    I am a beginner and very confused how the tail and knitting yarn are on the same needle (white needle). Can you please explain this to me? If I can figure this out, I understand the rest.

  10. purl bee says:

    Hi Amy,

    If you use a Long Tail Cast On (http://www.purlbee.com/knitting-tutorials-cast-ons/2006/9/29/long-tail-cast-on.html), your tail and working yarn end up in the same place.

    Maybe you used a different kind of cast on, like a Backward Loop or a Cable Cast On, that leaves the tail at the beginning of the cast on. This doesn't actually matter or change the instructions, it just means you have to adjust for this difference in your head when you're looking at our photos!

    Thanks for the great question and please let us know if you have any more. And good luck!

    Whitney

  11. Rebecca says:

    Hi! Could you tell me about your painted needles? I have a whole pile of dpns, and have been wanting to color code them somehow. what kind of paint did you use? I never paint, and I'm afraid I'd get the wrong thing and ruin my needles and yarn. :-/ do you have/know of a tutorial I could follow, or tell me what all you did?

  12. debbie connett says:

    This is the BEST instructions ever…..Thank You DEB

  13. purl bee says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I used acrylic paint, but I didn't actually ever knit with these needles. In fact, i kind of remember the paint was already starting to chip off a little bit.

    I imagine that some kind of ink or stain would be best because it wouldn't chip and it wouldn't interfere with the smoothness of the needles' tips, but I would worry about the color coming off on my yarn. Hmmm… I wonder if acrylic paint mixed with a thinning medium might be best. That way it wouldn't be too thick or chippy, and It's not likely to rub off either. But, mind you, this is said in an experimental spirit!

    Thanks so much for asking and let us know how it goes!

    Whitney

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