Guest Blog Post by: Kate Atherley, Magic Loop & 2 Circulars
Although double-pointed needles were the traditional solution for knitting in the round, circular knitting needles, invented in the late 19th/early 20th century, provided an excellent and convenient way to work larger pieces in the round. Before their invention, knitters would have used longer DPNs: it wasn’t uncommon to see 14 inch DPNs, and a knitter working a garment in the round might have the stitches distributed across multiple sets of DPNs.
UK Knitting needle manufacturer Aero coined the name “Twin-Pin” to describe these circular needles, and they were adopted with enthusiasm by knitters on both sides of the Atlantic.
Although originally design for working in the round, circular needles can also be used for working back and forth in rows – essentially becoming a pair of straight needles joined by a piece of string. This is particularly useful if you’re working on a larger piece, as the weight is better distributed, and you don’t have to jam together many stitches on a straight needle. Many knitters – myself included – use circular needles almost exclusively for knitting, whether flat or in the round.
There is, however, a limit on the use of circular needles – you can fit a larger round on a circular needle, but not a smaller round. And the smallest common length of circular needle is 16 inches. (There are smaller circulars – 12, 9 and even 8 inches – but the small circumference demands shorter needle tips, and some knitters find them hard to hold and work with. In addition, the tightness of the angle can make it challenging to work anything other than plain fabrics: it can be difficult to tilt the needle tip to work decreases or increases.)
So for a long time knitters continued to use the traditional double-pointed needles for smaller circumference items like the tops of hats, socks, mittens and sleeve cuffs.
But DPNs have drawbacks. They’re not necessarily great for portable knitting, as it’s too easy to lose a needle. And some knitters find the “porcupine wrestling” aspect daunting. Four DPNs means 8 points; five DPNs means 10 points! Stitches can fall off the ends of the needles, and laddering – loose stitches at the breaks between the needles – is an issue for some knitters.
Almost exactly 100 years after the invention of circular needles, some clever knitters landed on ways to use them to totally eliminate the need for any other kind of needles – notably, DPNs.
The Magic Loop method – invented by Sarah Hauschka and popularized by Bev Galeskas in 2002 – uses a long circular needle (usually 32-40 inches) to work a smaller round. The round of stitches is divided in half, and loops of cord pulled out at the breaks between the halves. The half of the round actively being worked sits on the actual needles; the other half of the round rests on the cord.
The Two Circulars method – invented by Joyce Williams and first described in print in the Summer 2000 issue of Knitter’s Magazine – uses two shorter circular needles (usually 16-24 inches) in a manner similar to Magic Loop. Each half of the round lives on its own needle, and those stitches are worked only with the needle they live on.
If you’re not a fan of DPNs, these two methods provide excellent alternatives. There are pros and cons to all three methods; which you prefer is usually a matter of how you hold your needles, and how you like to work. Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing is wrong! I still work my socks and mittens most often on DPNs, but I will change off to Magic Loop if I’m travelling – losing a needle mid-vacation would be a total disaster! I also like using Magic Loop if I’m working a sock with cables that twist all the way round, as it reduces the number of times I have to rearrange my stitches. I also use Magic Loop if I’m working a patterned sock with a large pattern repeat that’s worked twice around; I can organize the stitches so that there’s one repeat per needle.
For these two methods, you should choose your circular needles carefully: you need cords that are flexible enough to bend, but not so flexible that they kink. Older circular needles had much stiffer cords that would not bend sufficiently. When the Signature product development team was working on their circular needles, the cords were an area of great focus – making sure that they were just right for all uses of circular needles.
For more info, see the below