Knitting on 3-5 needles, yarn going every which way, making sure the round isn't twisting into a mobius... sounds like a knitters nightmare. But don't fear, it's just knitting in the round!
Knitting a tubular shape across multiple double pointed needles or one circular needle, without having to go back and forth, is what's called knitting in the round or circular knitting. This knitting technique is used to knit hats, socks, sweaters, toys and much more! The alternative is to knit across straight needles and seam it. This can take more time, depending on your skill level.
To knit in the round using a circular needle, cast on the number of stitches you need and keep them close to the tip of the needle on the left side. Place a stitch marker on the right side of the needle.
Make sure not to twist your stitches. If you knit the cast on while twisted you create a mobius shape versus a tube. Next, hold the right side needle and join the round by knitting into each stitch. Move the stitch marker as you reach a new round.
When you are knitting in the round, you are always working on the "right side" of the fabric. Flat knit patterns may need to be altered to achieve the same results. If the pattern calls to purl the "wrong side," you would knit these instead. To knit in stockinette on circular needles, you are knitting every round.
To begin knitting in the round with double pointed needles, cast on the number of stitches you need onto one needle. Slip one third of the stitches purlwise onto a second double pointed needle. Repeat with the third double pointed needle, leaving the stitches divided across the three needles.
Join the stitches, being careful not to twist them. Make sure the cast on edge is pointing down on all needles. Push the stitches on the lefthand needle down to the tip closest to you. These are the stitches you will be knitting first.
Insert the fourth needle into the first stitch on the lefthand needle. Knit one and place a marker to note the beginning of the round. Now you have joined in the round on double pointed needles. Continue to knit across each of the needles, moving the marker as you reach a new round.
Some people prefer to knit with four needles, three with the stitches on and a fourth to work the stitches, and some prefer five needles, four with a fifth to work the stitches. Sometimes your project will dictate how many needles you will need to use.
This technique was developed by Sarah Hauschka and Bev Galeskas. It allows you to create a small tube on one circular needle by using the more of the needle and less of the cable.
First you need a 32" cable needle. Next, cast on the number of stitches needed and slide them down onto the cable. Bend the cable so the stitches are divided in half and slide them back onto the needles. You should have roughly an even number of stitches on each needle.
With the needle tips pointing right and parallel, your yarn will hang in the back of the stitches. Pull on the needle that is holding the back stitches and draw up enough slack on the cable to allow you to use that needle tip to work the stitches on the front needle.
Knit all of the stitches on the front needle, being careful that you haven't twisted the stitches around on either needle. (The cast on edge should be visible all around the bottom.) Continue around. Each time the working yarn ends up to the right of your stitches, it is a new round.
As with all new techniques, knitting in the round takes some time to get used to. With a lot of practice, these should become just as natural for you to knit as on straight needles, with the added bonus of no pesky seams!
Hats are a great project to practice knitting in the round. We even have a class just for that: Hats Four Ways with Stefanie Japel. In this class, you will learn how to make hats using four different circular knitting techniques. Learn how to increase and decrease in the round, blocking, making jogless joins, and adding fun embellishments like embroidery to your custom-fit hats. Even if you have never knit a hat before, this class is the perfect place to start!