tutorial

How to knit on tiny circular needles

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I'm a huge fan of knitting in the round -socks, sleeves and pretty much anything I can do on circular needles I will. I tend to mainly use magic loop but for travel knitting where elbow space is limited or where I need to be able to drop my knitting at a moment's notice (and not miss my stop) I tend to use tiny circular needles.

I generally use the 23cm (9”) diameter ones - these particular ones are Addi sock rockets but other brands also do them.

I often get asked how I knit with them and so I thought I would note down a few tips and pointers to help get you started.

The first thing to say is that they aren't everyone's cup of tea. Some people love them, some hate them and that's entirely fine. We all have our preferred ways of knitting.

  • Give it time - it will feel strange at first and that’s OK. Give yourself time to adjust to the new sensations, how they feel in your hands.

  • Relax your grip - I tend to hold my needles quite tightly anyway but I found that with tiny circulars it really does help to loosen the death grip a bit. Not only will your fingers cramp less but it will feel a lot more comfortable

  • Try to use the tips of your fingers - this can be tricky if your knitting style means that you tend to rest the needles on your palms usually. Keep movements small and light - again trying to keep a light hold on the needle tips as you guide the yarn really helps.

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to master tiny circular needles if you are a “thrower” rather than a “picker/Continental style”. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that as I can knit both ways and both seem equally comfortable.

One thing I would say is that unlike with magic loop or DPNs, there is no natural pause whilst you are knitting. There is no point in proceedings where you have to stop to rearrange your stitches or needles. That’s great from the point of view of efficiency but it does mean that you need to make a conscious effort to stop and stretch your hand muscles from time to time.

Many people complain of hand cramps when using small circulars but I find that a short stretch every 10 minutes or so is really helpful. The Loopy Ewe published a short series of ‘Exercises for Knitters’ a while ago which is really useful if you are interested.

Anyway, I hope these few pointers help you to overcome your fear of the tiny circs and give them a go - do let me know if you do try them. I’d love to know what you think.


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Super Sock Snake

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This blog post could also be titled “How to Knit a Sock Snake” - or indeed -why you would want to do such a thing.

Now, you know me - I love a bit of knitting efficiency and I like to knit socks in those spare in-between moments of travel and general hanging around. A recent long train journey meant that I got a bit carried away with the toe-up socks I was knitting. I normally knit around a 16” tube if I’m going to be adding a cuff and an afterthought heel but on this occasion I was engrossed in my Kindle, sipping my coffee and knitting away.

It was only when I got to my destination that I realised that I had in fact knitted close to 22” - practically the foot of sock number 2.

I was absolutely not going to rip out 6” of perfectly good sock so I decided to make a virtue out of a necessity and carry on to make a long sock snake. I had seen someone else on Instagram do this a while ago and the idea had stuck with me since then.

So many people asked about it that I said I would write it up as a short tutorial and will also link it to a free pattern page on Ravelry for those that want to knit a sock snake of their very own. You can find the Ravelry tutorial here.

Step 1: knit your snake.

For toe-up socks (8-9” foot circumference, 4ply yarn and 2.25mm needles) I cast on 24 sts using Judy’s magic cast on - 12 on each needle - and work a standard sock toe with increases on alternate rows (to 64 sts). Then knit, and knit...and knit some more. I knit until the tube measured 31” from the cast on and then added a second toe at the other end.

Step 2: divide your snake in half and decide where you are going to snip.

I like to fold the sock flat and pick the midway point - mark it with a pin. Then unfold it and lay it flat in front of you. Using a tapestry needle and waste yarn, slide 1 full round of stitches onto the waste yarn. Repeat with a second length of yarn - leaving one round between each lifeline

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Step 3: Snip (it sounds less scary than cut)

Once your stitches are secure on your two lifelines they can’t go anywhere. Using sharp scissors - snip a stitch in between the two lines and gently unravel the yarn - I like to use the tip of the tapestry needle. Continue around the whole sock until your sock snake becomes 2 shorter snakes.

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Step 4: Add cuffs

Return the live stitches to needles, join in your chosen yarn and add cuffs to the two tubes

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Step 5: Add afterthought heels

Using the same lifeline process - just across 32 stitches though - add in afterthought heels.

And hey presto - 2 separate socks.


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How to avoid 'ears' on toe-up socks

An ‘ear-free’ sock toe

An ‘ear-free’ sock toe

It’s such a tiny thing to worry about in the greater scheme of things, I know. But if you’ve ever been annoyed by that tiny sticky-out ear that you sometimes get when you start a sock toe, then this tip might help you.

I’ve been starting socks this way for so long that I can’t remember where I heard it first. It might have been either via Paula of the Knitting Pipeline podcast, or Susan B Anderson - both fabulous sock knitting gurus.

It’s ludicrously simple to do - you just need to unlearn the first piece of advice you were ever given as a new knitter and don’t start with a slip knot. It is this tiny knit which sticks out in the fabric, no matter how tightly you try to pull it and gives that annoying little lump on the very outside part of the toe.

Don’t use a slip knot when casting on

Don’t use a slip knot when casting on

Instead of tying a slip knot, just drape the yarn over the needle and then arrange the yarn as you would do normally for a Judy’s magic cast on - yarn tail over index finger and the end nearest to the yarn ball around your thumb.

You might find it helpful to give a twist to the yarn before you start casting on - just to anchor it and give you something firmer to knit into on the first row. But once you’ve got that first fiddly stitch into the loose loop out of the way it’s plain sailing.

No, tiny knot and no annoying sock ears!

Do give it a go and let me know what you think.

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How to work the clasped weft join

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I suddenly developed a passion for knitting scrappy socks with leftover sock yarn. Having previously shunned them for fear of having to weave in All The Ends, I discovered the Clasped Weft Join and became positively evangelical about it.

Simple to do, no needle is required or any faffing. You don’t even need scissors if you can just snap the yarn by hand. It takes less than a minute and you are up and running with your new colour.

Sounds too good to be true? Just try it - and I’m sure you’ll be a convert too.

I uploaded a short video of how I do it, as it really is easier to see it in action than to try to write out a tutorial. It’s the first time I’ve ever uploaded anything to YouTube so please be kind - I may need to hire my teenaged sons to be my social media managers at this rate.

How to knit from a sock blank

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What on earth is a sock blank I hear you ask? Simply put, it is a machine knitted flat piece of fabric which you then unravel and knit with. It really is that straightforward. Rather than knitting from a ball or skein or yarn you unravel the yarn as you go and knit with it.

This always baffles my husband. "So you are taking a piece of knitting, and turning it back into knitting?" was his puzzled query when I showed him what I was doing. "Why on earth would you do that?". But he has been around knitters long enough to know not to argue and to accept that we are ingenious souls who come up with all manner of intriguing solutions.

By applying the dye to a flat piece of knitted fabric rather than the actual strands of yarn themselves, dyers can produce a fabulous range of colours and effects that would be very hard to achieve otherwise. A gradient-dyed yarn is much more straightforward to produce from dyeing a sock blank than it is to apply a gradient to a continuous 400m length of yarn, for example. Hand dyers can really go to town and have fun with the dye pots and then, as knitters, we get the inestimable joy of knitting with it, straight from the fabric. There is no winding or caking needed. 

The first thing to is to unroll the fat sausage-like sock blank and check if it is a double layer of fabric or a single layer. If it is a double layer it means that you can knit two socks at the same time (should you want to - don't worry - it isn't compulsory). If it is a single layer you will need to knit one sock at a time. Please don't try to unravel from both ends of a single layer - that way madness lies. The sock blank has a right end to pull the yarn from and a wrong end - it will quickly become apparent when you give an experimental tug and unravel a metre or two.

If you do have a double stranded sock blank and you want to knit with just one strand at once you will need to come up with a solution for dealing with the other strand as you work. Either wind each strand off separately into 2 balls before you start or wind the other yarn around a bobbin (or similar) as you work. If you aren't sure, check with the dyer before buying to make sure you get a sock blank that will work for the project you have in mind.

And that's really all there is to it. Unravel the yarn for a metre or so and cast on. The yarn will have the characteristic "kinky" appearance that you get from unravelled yarn and to be honest it can take a bit of getting used to, but the fun you will have from watching the colours play before your eyes will more than make up for it.

Do I need to reskein and soak the yarn to remove the kinks?

This is a matter of personal preference. For me, I'm quite happy to knit as it is but if you know that this would drive you mad then by all means then you can wind the yarn into a skein, soak, dry and then rewind. The only time that I have done this with a sock blank is when I was knitting from a beautiful single layer of rainbow gradient yarn for my Fuss Free Festival Shawl. Because I was knitting at quite a loose gauge (on 4mm needles) the kinkiness gave an unevenness to the garter stitch fabric that I didn't really care for and it didn't fully go away after blocking. Normally when you are knitting socks, the much tighter gauge used tends to eliminate this problem and any slight unevenness in the fabric is normally undetectable after the socks have been washed and worn.

Have I tempted you? If you do decide to go ahead and try a sock blank do let me know.

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