Thursday, June 5, 2014

Photo Tutorial: Magic Loop

I mentioned in a recent post that I had finally decided to learn magic loop for small circumference circular knitting, and once I'd gotten the hang of it, couldn't believe I hadn't tried it earlier. I think the word "magic" threw me off--I thought it would be impossibly fiddly or require the kind of knitting gymnastics I just didn't have the patience for.

Actually, though, there's nothing magical or even particularly difficult about it. It's something you might even stumble across yourself, given the right circumstances. I think we've all bent and twisted our circular needles into odd configurations in order to slip stitches, undo mistakes or beat novel constructions into submission. And that's basically all it is.

Ready? Let's go!


Magic Loop is used for small circumference circular knitting (socks, sweater sleeves, hat tops), where the smallest circular needle (usually around 16", though you can find 9" if you look hard enough) is too large. The less obstinate among us might use DPNs or two circular needles, but if you don't have multiple circulars in the same size, or you fear poking an eye out with DPNs, read on.


Circular needle (fixed or interchangeable) with a long cable (at least 32"; 40" is better)
Confidence (come on, it's not steeking; nothing will happen if you screw it up, other than having to start over)


Cast on your required number of stitches (this is, by the way, the 1st sleeve for my Aunt Fred sweater):


Slide all of your stitches down to the middle of the cable.


Divide your stitches in half, and pull the cable right through the middle, like so:


Move your stitches up onto the needle tips, with your working yarn on the bottom/right needle tip. Make sure all your little stitch butts are pointing inward, so you don't get a twist.


Now, pull the bottom/right needle tip out, so that the stitches on that tip slide onto the cable; the other half of your stitches should remain on the top/left needle tip.

The result will be some slack cable looped on the far side:

And your bottom/right needle tip dangling in the wind on the other side, with lots of loose cable.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.


In arranging the stitches this way, you've given the right needle tip enough slack to use it to knit! Just pick it up and start knitting the stitches on the top/left needle tip. When you reach the end, repeat Steps 4 and 5 to get your needle tips into position to work the second half of your stitches. Voila!

That's it. No rocket science. You're just finagling your needle tips to create a bit of circular knitting divided between 1 needle tip and the middle of your cable.

Give it a try!


Can be used with any circumference
No DPNs to drop (or maim yourself with)
Uses only 1 needle
Fewer joins (2 vs 3 or 4 with DPNs), fewer potential ladders
Harder for stitches to slide off and unravel


Over time, puts extra pressure on needles/cables (may ultimately lead to a break)
Cables must be flexible (I would not recommend trying this with ChiaoGoos; too rigid)
Requires longer cable, may not be in your standard needle collection
Takes extra time to rearrange stitches, especially as you're first getting the hang of it.

Personally, I am quite happy knitting my socks on 2 circular needles, particularly because I've already bought pairs of all my sock sizes. For something like sweater sleeves, though, I don't have pairs of my large needle sizes, and I detest knitting on large diameter DPNs, so this is a great option. I'm already using it on a second set of sweater sleeves, and expect it will be my go-to method from this point forward.

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