When most people think of knitting, they think of an elderly lady sitting in a rocker near a fireplace, a ball of yarn at her feet, and two straight knitting needles in her hands that make a clicking noise as she deftly turns the yarn into a sweater. While a comforting image, it no longer holds true because knitting has become a popular hobby with many teenagers and young adults. Traditional yarns have changed from all-cotton and all-wool to many blends of synthetic and natural fibers, and the needles have also changed. The more modern circular needles are simply two short, straight, pointed needles joined by a long, thin nylon filament or plastic cable. Benefits of knitting on circular needles include the ability to knit a seamless garment and the luxury of knitting every row (without having to purl alternate rows, as on straight needles) to complete piece in a stockinette stitch. Another positive aspect of circular needles is that they enable the knitter to work in a confined area (as in an airplane seat) and on a wide piece (if the cable is a long one), and to lay the bulk of the weight of a large piece on the lap and not have to hold the weight in the hands, as straight-needle knitters do. It is easy to knit a traditional flat (not seamless tube-like) piece with circular needles.
Using a circular needle, cast on 20 stitches. Knit the first row. Flip the needles over so that each needle is now held in the opposite hand. Take the yarn to the back of the piece between the needle tips and knit the 20 stitches for the second row. Flip the needles over again and move the yarn between the needles to the back and continue knitting until you have knit about 20 rows. Now use the ruler to check your gauge and see how that compares to the gauge suggested in your pattern. If your stitches are too small, unravel your stitches and begin again using a circular needle that has larger size needle ends on a cable the same length as the one you were using previously. If your stitches are too large, use a circular needle with smaller needles on the ends of the cable. Check the gauge again until it's correct.
Unravel your gauge test pattern and take the stitches off the needle. Read the pattern and cast on the correct number of stitches. (For a simple baby blanket in the moss stitch, cast on 90 stitches of Red Heart Plush yarn or a yarn of similar weight.)
Flip the needles over so you are now holding the needles in the opposite hands as when you cast on the stitches. Work the first row according to the pattern. (For the baby blanket, knit Rows 1 to 21.)
Flip the needles into the opposite hands when you get to the end of each row and follow the pattern. (For the baby blanket, on Row 22, which is the wrong side of the piece, knit 15, purl 60, and knit 15. On Row 23, which is the right side of the piece, knit all stitches. Continue Rows 22 and 23 until you have a total of 20 rows. Repeat Rows 1 to 21, then Row 22 and Row 23, and continue until you have the desired length of the baby blanket, usually about 35 inches. Remember to end with Rows 1 to 21.)
Bind off your work in the same way you would do it on straight needles, and weave in the "tails" of yarn to complete the piece.
To avoid making one arm too long or too short when making a sweater, you can work both arms on a circular needle at the same time. If you need to stop knitting for a while, finish the row and poke both ends of the circular needle into the ball of yarn so that it is ready to pick up and begin again when you have time to knit more. If you are a serious knitter, it will pay to invest in a set of circular needles that includes various sizes of tips that can be screwed to the ends of several sizes of cables, such as the the Needlemaster Kit 200 by Boye.
Keep circular needles away from small children, as children could poke themselves with the points or become tangled in the cable.