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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.


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!

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Reader Comments (77)

~~thanks for the tip whitney...that sounds a lot more doable!!!
November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoreen
Really nice article and great pictures. You helped me a lot! Thank you!
December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebra
Can I knit mittens with 4 needles and have 12 stitches on two needles and 16 on the third? I have looked for the answer everywhere! Thanks. c
February 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercheryl
Hi Cheryl-

That seems like it would work fine. The stitches don't have to be totally evenly distributed on all of the needles.

Thanks for your question

February 21, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
THANK YOU! This was wonderful.
March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarilisse
just a random comment but why do you only use 4 needles ? in Norway we knit with 5 in exactly the same way but it's much easier when knitting socks etc as it's a square not a triangle..nobody has ever really explained why it's different .i only noticed it when i had to buy double pointed needles in england for the first time. i have to buy mine in norway now as it's too awkvard for me with 4. :)
March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
Hi Anna,

Yes, it's true that English knitting tends to use a total of 4 double pointed needles, while Continental knitting uses 5.

Both methods have pros and cons. The biggest advantage for knitting on three needles instead of 4 is that it's quicker because there are fewer needle changes. But even English style knitters knit on 4 needles when it's a tricky stitch pattern that is divisible by 4.

By the way, all of Purl Soho's double pointed needles are sold in sets of 5, so everyone's happy!

Thanks for asking!
March 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi, thank you so much for this tutorial, I am knitting with DPNs for the 1st time and you have really helped!
One question, I have done the ribbing on my sleeve and I am now starting a lace pattern.

The pattern jndicates right side and wrong side ( K on RS P on WS) - but the RS is always towards me. I am now quite confused as how to continue.
Thank you
April 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlison
Hi Alison,

Huh. Your lace pattern sounds like it's written for flat knitting, meaning knitting that you turn at the end of every row. You'll either have to convert the pattern for knitting in the round, or switch gears and knit the lace flat.

Please let us know if we can help and thanks for this question!
May 6, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Bless you for posting this! I was never quite sure how to hold the needle, over or under another needle. Whew!
July 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Great tutorial! I am eager to start knitting socks using dpns but am not sure what length dpn to buy. I would also like to knit hats using dpns. What length do you suggest I use and should I use a different length depending on what I am knitting? Any advice will be very helpful. Thanks, Connie
July 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterconnie
Hi Connie,

For socks I usually use 6-inch double pointed needles, and for an adult hat I might use 8-inch ones. The factors to consider are how many stitches of what size yarn are going to go on each needle. You don't want stitches to fall off the ends of the needles, but you also don't really want more needle length than you need because that can get a little unruly. My advice, though, would be to err on the side of too long rather than too short!

Thanks so much for the great question and please let us know if you have more!

July 30, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thank you so much for the tutorial. Now I am going to knit the mushroom/toadstools for my partners grandchild due in October. They look delightful.
September 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Whitfield
Thank you so much! I've been working on socks for a few weeks and got to the decreasing point and became very confused. Although I'm left handed, this tutorial is by FAR the most helpful. Thank you!
September 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelli Nicole
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.
September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonnaV NC
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!
October 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllie
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??

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOrit
Hi Orit-

Yes that would work fine!

Thanks for your question!

December 1, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
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.
January 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBev
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!!!
January 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey S
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 !!
February 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFarah
Thank you thank you thank you! The DPN's are no longer the DDPN's-the dreaded double pointed needles! Purl bee is awesome!
February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKiki
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.
February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Hi Amy,

If you use a Long Tail Cast On (, 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!

February 24, 2014 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
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?
June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
This is the BEST instructions ever.....Thank You DEB
June 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdebbie connett
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!

June 14, 2014 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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