My Material Life

Easy Peasy Knit-In-The-Round Leg Warmers

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These leg warmers are a lot like the hand warmers from a couple of posts back; both projects are simply knit tubes. But while the hand warmers were knit with regular knitting needles flat and then seamed, these leg warmers were knit on circular needles in the round, no seaming required. If you have the skills to make those hand warmers – cast on, knit stitch, purl stitch, bind off – you can make these too. I’ll show you how.

You really could use some leg warmers, couldn’t you? Of course you could wear them to ballet class … or maybe at home with some cropped sweat pants and your house Birkenstocks?

These are fun and fast to knit. A couple of days with a little time for recreational knitting are all you need.

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These leg warmers are 9″ long with an 11″ circumference. I’m planning to make a longer pair too. I knew I wanted this pair to be shorter and as it turned out I let the yarn dictate how short. I found this Plymouth Encore Colorspun in Raspberry Drift at Uncommon Threads in Los Altos. It’s a 75% acrylic and 25% worsted weight value yarn made in Turkey that’s machine washable and dryable. It’s much coarser than the Cotton-Merino I used for the hand warmers, but that’s OK for leg warmers. You’ll need one skein to knit a pair and will still have plenty left over to make them longer if you wish. I liked how I centered the band of grey (entirely by accident), so I decided to stop where I did on the first piece and tried to start at about the same point in color for the second piece. It’s hard to know how these variegated or self-striping or drifting yarns will work out. Swatches like these can be helpful (click on a color to see the swatch), but it will really depend on what you are making. It’s a good idea to approach these yarns with a spirit of adventure and hope for the best.

Now about the circular needle. When I used an exclamation point after noting that no circular needle was needed to knit those hand warmers on that recent post, I didn’t mean to imply that knitting on circular needles was bad. Indeed, if you’ve knit anything much larger than a scarf you know that they are used for flat knitting in addition to circular (or tubular) knitting because just think how long and ungainly your regular knitting needles would have to be to knit say a blanket. The cable on a circular needle provides a place for all those stitches to go without having to use 4-foot-long knitting needles. And when you are knitting in the round with circular needles, especially a tube like a leg warmer with no particular bells or whistles, well your needles can really fly. Round and round they go with no back and forth to slow you down. That’s a lot of fun.

My only problem with circular needles is that there are not one, but two sizes that come into play with each set. You have the size of the needles themselves and the length of the cable as well. Do you know what this means? This means that you will not likely have the correct size you need and you will end up buying a lot of needles. So be it.

My yarn called for a size 8 knitting needle and though I did have a size 8, 16″ circular needle I also had a size 9, probably 16″ circular needle and it was a little shorter in length overall so I used it. Keep in mind that when you are knitting a tube on circular needles, the stitches must be able to fit around the needles and cable like you see below so that both ends can be joined together.

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The important thing to know about knitting a tube on circular needles is how to close your ring. You only do it once, with your first stitch after casting on, and from there on out you are knitting a tube. The way I learned to do it is to cast on one extra stitch. Make sure your ring of cast-on stitches hasn’t become twisted. Then make your first stitch by knitting both the first two stitches on your left needle as one; use both your cast-on tail and your working yarn.

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That’s all there is to it. From there on out you’ll drop your cast-on tail and knit with your working yarn only as you usually do. Just be sure to treat those first two loops that you knit together (now seen in the photo below on the right needle just above the ring marker) as one stitch when you knit the next round. Use a ring marker between your first and last stitch so you know where one ring ends and another begins. This is especially important if you will be changing your stitch pattern (e.g., moving from knit stitch to rib stitch for the cuffs).

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Now let’s talk about how to determine how many stitches to cast on. With my size 9 needles my gauge was 3 stitches per inch. If I know I want an 11″ circumference for my leg warmer I can determine the number of stitches I need to cast on by multiplying my stitches per inch (3) by 11. That gives me 33. But I’d like an even number of stitches because I’m going to use a rib stitch for cuffs. So now I’m at 34. And I need to add another stitch to be able to close my ring. That’s how I ended up casting on 35 stitches for these leg warmers.

If you want to use size 8 needles that’s fine. Your stitches will be a little closer together, but it’s pretty easy to figure out how you can still end up with an 11″ circumference. You’ll need to know your gauge (how many stitches across will give you an inch). You can do a bit of knitting to measure your own gauge or use the information that comes with your yarn if you’re not too concerned that your own knitting will be wildly off. This particular yarn says I should get 5 stitches per inch. So to determine the number of stitches to cast on for size 8 needles I would multiply 5 by 11 and add 2 for a total of 57 stitches.

So how to make the leg warmers? Cast on the appropriate number of stitches based on your gauge and your desired circumference (plus one if you ended up with an even number after multiplying gauge by circumference and plus two if you ended up with an uneven number) and close your ring using the directions above. Knit your first 6 rows in rib stitch (knit 1, purl 1, repeat all the way around) and then switch to knit stitch (there is no need to purl to create stockinette stitch when you are knitting in the round) until your piece measures your desired length minus another 6 rows of rib stitch. (The leg warmers shown are 9″ long; full-length calf leg warmers would be anywhere from 16″ to 19″ long.) Finish with 6 more rows of rib stitch and bind off in the rib pattern. Weave in ends and hit the bar … the ballet barre that is.

Ballet class photo by A. Moody

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