How to knit with a magic loop

Knitting round things, like sleeves and socks and other tube-like structures, requires some work-arounds. If the item has a large circumference, like a sweater, then you can knit it using a circular needle, which is two straight needles connected by a flexible cord. For this to work, the item you’re knitting must have a larger circumference than the length of the needle — otherwise, the stitches have to stretch across to fit the needle, and that will distort (or render impossible) the work.

For smaller items, the usual approach is to use a set of double-pointed needles (dpns). These needles are short (usually 5-6 inches long) and, as the name suggests, they have points on both ends. This allows you to knit onto and off of either side. Using a set of these needles, you knit the round shape with a piecewise linear approximation, as shown at left. However, this setup is somewhat awkward, particularly if you’re on the move — the needles stick out at all angles and pierce holes in unintended places.

Enter the Magic Loop technique. My pro knitter friend Kate showed me how to knit a small item, like a sock, using a long circular needle. It turns out that this *is* easier than working the dpns, at least so far (I haven’t gotten to turning the heel yet). Here’s how you do it (links are to pictures of each step):

  1. Obtain a really long circular needle. I’m using a size 2 circular that’s 47″ long. You can probably get by with a 40″ needle.
  2. Cast on the number of stitches needed for the pattern (here, 56).
  3. Divide the stitches into two groups. Pull the loop of the needle through the gap between your two sets of stitches and move the stitches so that each half is on one of the needle ends.
  4. Rotate so that the loop is on the left. The working yarn should be on the right, coming out of the back row. Adjust needles if necessary to get this arrangement.
  5. Pull the back needle through the stitches, leaving them in place. Pull the needle out enough to give yourself some working room. Insert this needle into the first stitch in the front row and follow your pattern for the first half of the stitches. (This will be tricky, since you only have the fragile cast-on row to hold things together.)
  6. When you finish the row, the other needle end will be free. Continue pulling the loop out the way you did in the last step, which will bring the free needle up and into the back row of stitches. The loop will be on the right. Repeat from step 4.

So far, this is working out great! Since taking this picture, I’ve just about finished the 1.5 inches of ribbed cuff and soon will move on to the leg of the sock.

Thanks, Kate!