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Magic Loop Technique – how to knit in the round using a single long circular needle

October 3, 2013

There are several ways to knit in the round.  For tubes that are 16″ around or larger, you can use a circular needle [tutorial here] – they come in several lengths (there are also really tiny little 9″ circulars that work for socks and mittens, but they are a less commonly used).

For knitting small diameter tubes (socks, sleeves, and the decrease sections at the top of hats), you need to use another technique: either double pointed needles (DPNs) [tutorial here], or a technique called ‘Magic Loop’ which employs a single long circular needle.  Here at Tin Can Knits, Alexa prefers DPNs and Emily prefers the Magic Loop technique.  The results are the same, so the choice is up to you, and you should use the technique that you prefer, although it is useful to know both!

We have a tutorial here describing the process for knitting in the round on double pointed needles.

This tutorial is dedicated to Magic Loop.

Using a 32″ / 80cm or longer circular needle, cast on the required number of stitches, plus one extra stitch.  For this example, I CO 21 sts.  I have also used two different kinds of needle tips (metal and wood) to make the process a bit more clear.

Folding the cable in half at approximately the half-way point of your cast-on stitches, pull out a loop of cable.  This means half the stitches are on one part of the cable, then there’s a loop, and half the stitches are on the other part of the cable.

Now slide the stitches to the needle points, so the two needles are together, and the needle points next to one another. Make sure that the cast on ‘edge’ is not twisted.

Transfer the last stitch you cast on (the extra stitch), using your fingers, from the needle it is on to the other needle.  Now you are ready to begin!

The needle tip which had the last cast on stitch on it, and the working yarn, is the needle you will knit with (in my case the metal needle).  Pull it out, until there is a 8″ loop of cord, then use it to knit the first 2 stitches of the round together (the extra stitch and the first cast-on stitch).  This little trick is not essential, but it makes for a nice clean join at the cast-on edge.  This is the first stitch of the round.

Next knit across the rest of the stitches on the wooden needle.  Once you are at the end of the needle, half the stitches are on the metal needle, and the wooden needle is free, flopping about.

STEP 1 ::: To prepare to knit the next set of stitches, pull the cord on the loop, until all stitches are on the needle tips again, half on the metal needle (you just knit those) and the others on the wooden needle (these are the next stitches to knit).  There is a single big loop at the other end.

STEP 2 ::: Turn your work 180 degrees, so that the metal needle is in front, and the needle tips point to the right, and the loop of cord is on the left.

STEP 3 ::: Pull out the back needle (metal needle in my case).

STEP 4 ::: Pass this needle underneath the working yarn

STEP 5 ::: knit across the stitches on the front (wooden) needle (after knitting the first stitch of a section, give it a nice tight tug to ensure there isn’t a big gap between it and the previous stitch).

Then you are in the same situation as you were – you have half the stitches on the metal needle, and the wooden needle is free, flopping about. Repeat steps 1-5, and a little tube of knit fabric will form!  As you will notice, you are ALWAYS knitting using the same needle tip in your right hand, the other needle tip always acts as the left-hand needle.

LETS REVIEW THE PROCESS AGAIN, with a few more rows on the needles.  With practice, it will become simple, clear and intuitive for you.

In my opinion, the magic loop technique is simple and elegant, and it avoids the problems of dropping stitches off the ends of double pointed needles.  Markers don’t really work when placed at the start or end of needles (same as with DPNs), but you can place them in between, and use the end of the section, or the ‘loop’ as a marker.

You can work any number of stitches using this technique, although when I have a large number of stitches, I find it more convenient and fast to knit using a circular needle of the correct size, rather than an excessively long one!

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Projects to practice your magic loop skills :::

Little SocksBonBon mittensFancy Balls

45 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    November 26, 2015 10:19 pm

    Thank you. so easy to follow I was quite nervous about using this method but not now! Although I have managed to work it inside out! I think I may need a little more practice!

  2. Jennifer permalink
    November 20, 2015 1:25 pm

    I’ve been knitting using the magic loop method, but my right side is on the inside when I’m working. I then just turn my finished work inside out. It’s worked on hats, cowls, and mittens but I’ve never knit a sweater before. I want to make your Flax sweater my first one. Do you think my method will be a problem? My working needle is in the back of my work… I can re-learn the method to make your sweater, it’s worth it. Thoughts???

  3. Spud Watson permalink
    October 13, 2015 6:13 am

    I have 64 stitches on a 2.5mm needle do you think this method would be alright or should I get a circular needle with a smaller cable length? at the minute I’m using this method with an 80cm cable

    • October 13, 2015 2:50 pm

      It’s hard to get a small enough circular, you would need something like a 12″ (that’s tip to tip), I would typically work magic loop on a cord 40″ or longer.

  4. Josn permalink
    September 7, 2015 11:24 am

    Magic loop..I have 10 stitches on each needle but they are the sides of the sock instead of the sole & instep.. I need to move them to have 10 on top (instep)& 10 on bottom(sole) to do the Kitchener stitch.. How do I do that?

    • September 11, 2015 9:57 am

      You can slip stitches around the needles so that you get them into the correct position, and pull out the ‘loop’ in a different location. You may want to knit a few stitches so that your last stitch knit is at the end of either the sole or instep section of the sock, and you can kitchener using the yarn tail, starting at one end. You may want to check out our Rye sock pattern – it is our free beginner sock pattern. Good Luck!

  5. florence permalink
    September 3, 2015 6:02 pm

    I am going to start knitting the sleeves for your Antler sweater pattern. I was going to use the magic loop method for joining in the round. The pattern says after knitting rib with smaller needles you need to switch to larger needles. How can this be done using the magic loop method??How do you get the stiches from one needle size to the next needle size? Maybe I have to use double pointed needles???

    • September 4, 2015 1:17 pm

      Hi Florence – it is exactly the same as with double points, you pick up your larger needle with your right hand and start working with that needle instead of the right side of the smaller circular

  6. August 28, 2015 8:43 am

    Can you explain how to do a yarn over at the end of a “magic loop ” row? I’m struggling to know where to place my yarn to start the new row following the yarn over at the end of the previous row. Thanks!

    • August 28, 2015 10:52 pm

      You may want to try moving where your loop comes out. Then you won’t have it as you make the change.

  7. Jean Rae permalink
    August 4, 2015 5:15 am

    Thank you for the very clear instructions of magic loop. I have only one question, what do you do with the extra stitch besides slip it to the other needle? If you were doing a pattern,wouldn’t this extra stitch be extra?

    • August 4, 2015 6:45 pm

      You are knitting the extra stitch together with the first stitch of the round (it’s a little further down the page ;)

  8. Cindy permalink
    July 31, 2015 10:33 am

    I ordered HiyaHiya both the large and small bamboo interchangeable circular sets. They come with various cord lengths. Could one of these sets be used to do the magic loop method for a hat, I’m trying to avoid buying more needles but will if needed.

    • July 31, 2015 10:01 pm

      Hi Cindy- you bet! Just swap in a longer cord and you can magic loop the top!

  9. Wendy Downing permalink
    July 11, 2015 1:09 am

    Thank you for your excellent tutorial on magic loop. Have wanted to try it but until now found it too confusing. Your photos of each step are brilliant. I didn’t have correct dpns to start a new jumper pattern sleeve so followed your tutorial and now have a new knitting skill. Thanks again.

  10. wilna permalink
    June 2, 2015 7:36 am

    hi i would like to know when you knit socks, how to make sure that the leg opening is on the opposite side when you knit the second sock( im knitting slipper socks) i am a beginner and not sure what to do. i suppose it means a right and left foot sock?

    • June 2, 2015 11:16 am

      Hi Wilna – for socks we usually just knit two the same. If you are knitting from a pattern with definite left and right feet it should have instructions. Knitting is stretchy and flexible (unlike shoes) so it shouldn’t matter which is which.

  11. Julie K permalink
    May 4, 2015 9:01 am

    Thank you for this excellent tutorial! It is so descriptive and the photos are incredibly clear and easy to understand. I am so excited to try the extra cast on stitch trick that you outlined also.

  12. Tracey permalink
    March 28, 2015 8:59 am

    A couple questions for you……I am ready to start the decrease for the toe, following a “wedge toe” pattern. Im not sure if I should be dividing the stitches differently than when I’m knitting the foot section. Should I be placing markers so that I know when and where the K2tog etc should be?? Also I’ve now knit 3 pairs with the basic sts and would now like to try a sock with a pattern. Could you recommend a “simple” pattern to try for my 1st patterned sock. Thanks so much…….love your postings!!!

    • March 29, 2015 11:50 am

      If I was knitting toe decreases using magic loop, I’d put the top-of-foot stitches on one needle, and then bottom-of-foot stitches on the other needle, and loop between them. Then you’d work a decrease at the start and end of each needle to form a wedge toe (like [k1, ssk, knit to last 3 sts on needle, k2tog, k1] twice. I’d recommend the Monkey Socks by Cookie A: they were my first socks, and I love the pattern.

  13. January 31, 2015 8:20 am

    Thank you for taking the time to explain this!!!! I am working on a project trying to use magic loop but I was doing it wrong. . . Can’t wait to try it right, I think I will be happier w. The results!

  14. gillette permalink
    January 28, 2015 12:33 pm

    don:t understand how this is different than using two circular needles ,dropping the first needle when end of first group of stitches.and letting it hang loose picking up the second circular and knitting across that needle. i used the loop method but only use one needle. why the two needles?

    • January 28, 2015 1:37 pm

      I’m not sure I understand the question, we are only using one needle. It is a long circular needle.

  15. Ginnie Harney permalink
    January 11, 2015 10:30 am

    While I am an experienced knitter, I have never used this method but found myself with a project I wanted to do and without the correct needles so I decided to try it. I looked at a number of pages and found your directions the easiest to understand. Once I got going and was familiar with the technique, I tried randomly pulling my loop as I continued to knit – always keeping stitches on my needles. I was able to knit faster and my stitches were more even as this eliminated the joining in the original technique. Worked great!!!

  16. Sue turner permalink
    January 6, 2015 5:43 am

    Sue turner

    Thank you at last I’ve understood the magic loop with your help. I can carry on doing my son’s jumper it’s the fist time I’ve used circle needles, should have used them ages ago 😀

  17. Hazel Clayton permalink
    December 2, 2014 12:17 pm

    Now I get it!!! Thank you so much for this.

  18. November 17, 2014 1:04 pm

    THIS tutorial is wonderful, I picked up the technique with one run through, thanks so much for this! can’t wait to get making hats and mittens now :) jenny xx

  19. Elaine Pollard permalink
    April 25, 2014 9:04 pm

    I understand the basic premise of magic loop, but I have not found one tutorial that explains how I will know I have completed a full row. Is there an easy way to tell? I have even tried a marker, but somehow it didn’t work. I guess I could just count double. Thanks for any advice!


  20. April 19, 2014 1:08 pm

    I’m interested in trying this technique but wonder whether laddering will be more of a problem. When making socks with dpn I continuously change the point at which I go from one needle to the next so I don’t have to deal with that tendency for the changing point to create a vertical line in the sock. Is this any harder to do with the magic loop? Or is there a different way to prevent the possibility of laddering?

    • April 21, 2014 4:31 pm

      I think it’s about the same, you can still change where the join is on a regular basis to avoid ladders with Magic Loop.

    • Agustin permalink
      March 21, 2015 6:22 pm

      It’s actually pretty easy to eliminate laddering without having to keep changing the transition point with this method. When you pull out the back needle when you’re at your changing point, the last stitch you made is now on the loop, which is much thinner than the knitting needles. If you pull on the working yarn, that last stitch is pulled tight on the loop and becomes really small, and the usual “stretching,” which would normally lead to laddering, causes it to become the same as all the other stitches. I hope that makes sense.

      • Minouu permalink
        August 16, 2015 5:13 am

        Thanks, Agustin! And thanks for the easy to follow instructions for the magic loop.

  21. March 29, 2014 8:02 am

    Hello! I used this tutorial to learn Magic Loop. So easy! And I’ve only been knitting for a few months! If a newbie can figure it out, anyone can!

    I gave you a shout out on my blog, so people know where I learned it.

    Thank you so much for the very clear instructions! Happy knitting!

  22. Sandy permalink
    February 16, 2014 4:52 pm

    do you have a tutorial on the heel and picking up the gusset for a sock using long circular needle

    • February 18, 2014 10:29 am

      Hi Emily
      When needing to pick up sts for the heel, I use an interchangeable tip, dpn or other circ.
      Then slide the picked up stitches to my working circ.
      It does require additional tools, but much easier than trying to pick up with the working circ in magic loop mode.

      • February 18, 2014 12:04 pm

        Oh that’s one way to do it, but I’ve always just used the working end of the magic loop circular, and never had an issue with it. But I do tend to use quite long circulars for magic loop (40″ often).

    • February 18, 2014 6:57 am

      Hi Sandy – we don’t have a tutorial specifically on how to pick up along the gusset when using magic loop. But the process is exactly the same as when using DPNS (except you pick up using your circular needle). Check out our tutorial on sock knitting here.

  23. Shelby Ostergaard permalink
    January 25, 2014 9:37 am

    This is BY FAR the most helpful magic loop explanation I have seen. However, I have a question. When I knit in the magic loop, I end up with yarn slipped over the cable, at the end of the first half of a row. It looks as if it is the part joining the round. When I simply slip the needle out so that it is no longer going over, I end up with small holes in my knitting. When I knit it (as if it were a stitch) I end up adding a stitch to every row. If I attempt to ignore it, it usually slips off anyway in the process of me turning my work 180 degrees. Do you have any idea what this is?

    Will the extra stitch help this? In addition, when do you stop knitting the extra stitch? How do you do that without dropping it?

    Thank you so much, I’m sorry, it looks as if I might have actually had many questions!

    • February 18, 2014 12:08 pm

      Hi Shelby – I’m not sure what you mean by the yarn slipped over the cable at the first half of the row. I think perhaps you are actually creating a yarn-over (increase) at the end of the previous row…

      Your yarn should lead from UNDER the previous stitch, into the next stitch. If you send me a detailed photo I might be able to diagnose your problem more accurately! ~ Emily

  24. Leslie Gearhart permalink
    December 22, 2013 6:52 am

    Do you have a tutorial on knitting 2 items (socks or sleeves) at once with either the magic loop or 2 circulars? I’m getting mixed up with casting on and keeping track of the circulars and where to start when I have to put my work down and come back later!!

  25. November 28, 2013 10:50 pm

    Thank you so much! I have feared using circular needles until now, because I found your tutorial!

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