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!

3 of 4 people learned something from this entry.

  1. jim said,

    January 21, 2007 at 12:24 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Are there standard lengths for circular needles? (I received one as a wish-list item, thinking 36″ was going to be “long” because the alternatives from that vendor were 24″ or less.)

  2. wkiri said,

    January 21, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Yes, I believe there are standard lengths. They seem to come in 24, 36, 40, and 60 inches pretty commonly. I couldn’t find a 40″ needle in size 2, so I got the closest thing, which was 47 inches — that seems like an odd length to me. So far, so good, though. (36 inches might also be enough for magic-looping, but I’m guessing that your needle is larger than a size 2, which pretty much only gets used for socks and baby clothes.)

  3. Erin Mueller said,

    January 29, 2007 at 10:42 am

    This is great..I’m going to share this with my daughter the “knitter”

  4. candace said,

    January 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Hello! Do I have to somehow join the loop ends together when I start knitting after the cast on?? Or does just knitting the first stitch take care of that? Thanks!!

  5. Kiri said,

    January 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Knitting into the first stitch should join the round. Be sure that the yarn is hanging off the *back* needle, then knit into the front needle with that yarn. (I’ve done it backwards more than once — if the yarn is hanging off the front needle, it won’t join the round!)

  6. Maria said,

    January 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Thank you for all comments. I took a lesson today to learn the magic loop method to make a pair of mittens. I was so confused. I will make certain, I use this link for reference.

    Thank you!

  7. maria said,

    March 19, 2010 at 7:20 am

    (Knew it already.)

    hi there!

    i’ve used the magic loop technique for three pairs of socks by now (but i learned the name right here). you can knit two at a time very well on a bigger one! i always take the longest needles i can get (120cm/47″). once i used an 80cm-circular (about 30 inch): it alright for the straigt parts but it got tricky with the heels! everything from 100cm/40″ up works well for knitting two at a time.

    have a nice weekend!

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