Knitting in the round is a useful skill that is excellent for hats, mittens, socks and pullovers. It negates the need for seaming as the item is worked in a continuous spiral from the cast-on upward. Special needles are needed since this type of knitting cannot be worked on a pair of straight needles. For small-circumference knitting (like hats, mittens and socks) knitters have traditionally turned to double-point needles -- a set of four or five shorter needles with points on both ends. These needles are the oldest type of knitting needle and are still widely used today.
However, with the advent of circular needles, there is another option for knitting the round when working a small-circumference piece. You can use two circular needles that are much longer than the finished circumference of the item. In this technique each needle holds half the stitches and works onto itself with yarn moving around the circumference of the work in a spiral.
To work this method you will need two circular needles that are the same size and preferably the same brand or type. This is important because different materials and possible variations in manufacturing between the different brands can affect stitch gauge.
How to Work It
Begin by casting on the total number of stitches that are required by your pattern. It is worth noting that if you are working a small-circumference item like a hat, sock or mitten, you will want to use a stretchy cast-on for this.
Divide the stitches onto the two needles as evenly as possible; lay them flat to make sure that the cast-on is not twisted.
Needle 1 is the first needle that will be worked across. Needle 1 has two points: The first point is directly beside the active yarn, the second point is hanging down and will be used to knit the stitches. Pull Needle 1 down so that that stitches are at the tip of the first point.
Bring the second point of Needle 1 up and insert into the first stitch, wrap with the active yarn and pull through, drop the stitch from the needle. Continue to work across Needle 1 in this fashion in whatever stitch pattern your instructions call for. The sample is worked with: *Knit 1 through the back loop, purl 1; rep from * around.
All the stitches on Needle 1 have been worked across and Needle 1 is now on the right-hand side. Needle 2 is waiting patiently with cast-on stitches ready to be worked across.
Pull the tip of Needle 1 out so that all the stitches of Needle 1 rest on the circular cable section. Treat the tips of Needle 2 in the same manner as Needle 1 -- the first tip is beside the active yarn, and the second tip is hanging down. Pull Needle 2 down so that the stitches are ready to work across at the first point.
Bring the second point of Needle 2 up and insert into the first stitch on Needle 2, wrap with the active yarn and pull through, drop the stitch from the needle. Continue to work across Needle 2 in this fashion in whatever stitch pattern your instructions call for.
When all the stitches on Needle 2 are finished, the first round of the work has been completed. At this point the work will lie better with the cast-on at the bottom and needles dangling.
For the next round, locate the active yarn. The yarn will move from the needle it is currently on to the next needle, which is Needle 1 (in this photo, Needle 1 is on the left-hand side).
Once again pull Needle 1 down so that that stitches are at the tip of the first point.
Bring the second tip of Needle 1 around and work across all stitches.
TIP: The crucial thing to remember with this method is that each needle knits onto itself.
A distinct benefit to working with this method is that you can more accurately measure your gauge on the needles than you can when using double-point needles. Also, you can have half a circumference worth of uninterrupted patterning, making cables and lace easier to keep track of.