Knitting in the round is a knitting technique which involves joining a set of stitches together and working them in a circular fashion to create a seamless tube of finished material. It is sometimes called circular knitting, in a reference to the circular nature of knitting in the round. In many nations, this technique is used for all types of knitting, while in others it is less common. This wiseGEEK article happens to be a big fan of knitting in the round, especially for things like sweaters and socks.
In order to knit in the round, special knitting needles are required. Normal or “straight” knitting needles typically have a small bulb on one end, to prevent the yarn from sliding back and forth. Needles for knitting in the round are double pointed, allowing the knitter to work from either side; generally, three to four double pointed needles are used to create a rough circle while an additional needle is used to work the piece. Knitters can also use circular needles to knit in the round; many knitters prefer circular needles, since they are less unwieldy to use than double pointed needles.
The knitter starts by casting on the desired number of stitches, and then joining them so that they form a complete circle. It is important to make sure that the stitches are not twisted, as this can lead to irregularities in the finished product. Once the stitches are joined, the knitter is off on a project. Techniques like cabling, ribbing, and lacework can all be accomplished while knitting in the round, and it is often possible to rework a pattern designed for straight knitting so that it can be created using a circular knitting technique.
Because the knitter is working in a continuous circle, he or she is always working the “right side” of the knitting. This means that the knitter does not have to alternate between knit and purl stitches to create a stockinette pattern, as is the case in flat knitting. When holes in the piece need to be created, as might be the case with a sweater or a pair of gloves, they are worked into the pattern; in some instances, the holes may be temporarily knit and reopened later, depending on the pattern.
For things like socks, knitting in the round is ideal, since it creates a seamless garment which is more comfortable to wear. Many traditional sweaters are also knit in the round; in some countries, flat knitting is almost unheard of. Circular and double pointed needles can also be used for flat knitting, although care must be taken with double pointed needles to prevent the knitting from sliding off the unused end.