The Magic Loop technique is a brilliant method which allows you to knit small-diameter tubes using a single long circular needle. Alexa and I use Magic Loop to knit socks, mittens, sweater sleeves, centre-out blanket squares, and to decrease at the crown of hats too.
Magic Loop is an alternative to knitting on double pointed needles (DPNs), and can be used to work any pattern which calls for double pointed needles.
How To Cast On for the Magic Loop Technique
- Using a 32″ / 80cm or longer circular needle, cast on the required number of stitches, plus one extra stitch.
- Fold the cable in half at approximately the half-way point of your cast-on stitches, and pull out a loop of cable between two stitches.
- Slide both sets of 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 (that extra stitch), using your fingers, from the needle it is on, over to the other needle.
- The needle tip which had the last cast on stitch on it, and the working yarn, is the needle you will be knitting with. Pull it out, until there is a 8″ loop of cord, then use it to knit the first two stitches of the round together (the extra stitch and the first cast-on stitch). See our tutorial on k2tog to learn how. 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.
- Last, knit across the remaining stitches on that needle. When you reach the end of the needle, half the stitches are on the needle you were knitting onto (the right-hand needle), and the other needle is free, flopping about. You have knit the first half of your cast-on stitches, and are ready to follow the repeating steps below.
How To Knit Using The Magic Loop Technique
- To prepare to knit the next set of stitches, pull the cord loop, until all stitches are on the needle tips again, half on one (you just knit those) and the others on the other (these are the next stitches to knit). There is a single big loop of needle cord at the other end.
- Turn your work 180 degrees, so that the needle with the stitches you just knit are at the back, and the needle tips point to the right. The loop of cord is on the left hand side.
- Pull out the back needle (it’s the one with the last sts knit, and the working yarn attached).
- Pass this needle underneath the working yarn.
- Knit across the stitches on the front 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.
Repeat steps from 1 through 5 to continue around and around, creating a tube of fabric!
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.
Let’s Review the Magic Loop Technique
Let’s review the steps, after a few more rounds have been worked. With practice, Magic Loop will become simple, clear and intuitive for you.
Why can’t I just use a small circular needle?
Knitting in the round on a circular needle works fine for tubes that measure at least 16″ around. However, the shortest circular needle that most knitters feel comfortable using is 16″ (40cm) around, and this means that for smaller-diameter knitted tubes, like mittens, socks, and sleeves, the standard method of knitting on circular needles will not work. There simply aren’t enough stitches to stretch around the 16″ circle that is formed by the needle and its tips. You will soon discover this if you try to decrease the crown of a hat… try and see!
To knit small diameter tubes like socks, mittens, sweater sleeves, centre-out blanket squares, and for decreasing at the crown of hats you need to use another technique. You can either knit on double pointed needles (DPNs) or use the Magic Loop technique. 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!
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!
There are other methods to knit small-diameter tubes in the round
- Very short 9″ circular needles exist, however they aren’t that commonly used, as many knitters find them awkward to handle because the needle tips aren’t very long. I have, however, used them successfully for simple socks.
- You can knit small-diameter tubes using two circular needles, using a method very similar to Magic Loop, with half the stitches on one needle, and half on the other needle, working in a very similar way to Magic Loop.
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~ Emily and Alexa