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