Daily Archives: November 14, 2011

Looping along

A couple of folks asked last week about a blog tutorial on Magic Loop, since it’s a technique I mention every so often and one that I use happily. So, ta-da! Let’s talk about that, with the aid of some photos.

I will start out with a brief proviso – Magic Loop is the popular name given to the technique of working small circumferences in the round by using a single, long circular needle, in place of a short circular, multiple double-pointed needles, or two circular needles. It is by no means my invention, and in fact I learned this technique through a collection of things – friends showed me, Elizabeth Zimmerman mentions the same basic approach in her books, and of course Bev Galeskas and Sarah Hauschka have what is arguably the most popular publication on the subject. There are likely other resources on the technique. What I’m going to show you here is the essential basics, but as for any technique, I invite you to check out your local resources and advice from other knitters on the subject. I hope this post will spark your interest at the very least!

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So: you’re interested in working in the round for small items (hats, sleeves, socks, gloves, mittens, toys, booties…snake sweaters? Flute cozies? I don’t know, there’s got to be endless options, right?), but aren’t so keen on double-pointed needles (DPNs), or at the very least you’re interested in an alternative. I definitely enjoy the magic loop technique – I still use DPNs frequently, and haven’t tossed them away, but more often I gravitate towards ML as a default.

First: you need a long circular needle, in whatever needle size is desirable for your project, and in a length no shorter than 32″. 40″ circulars are an ideal option for most needle brands, but 32″ is an option if the cord is flexible enough. (The reasons for this will become apparent later on in this post.) I find with products like Signature Needle Arts circulars, Knit Picks fixed circulars/interchangeables, and Addi Lace needles, a 32″ is all I need. With needles like Chiao Goo “red” circulars, classic Addis, and craft-store finds like Unique or Susan Bates, the cords aren’t quite as flexible and a 40″ circular is what you need. There are plenty of other brands that I haven’t managed to spend a lot of time with that are easily in play here as well,  (Dyakraft, Addi interchangeables, Lantern Moon, Hiya Hiya, etc), so if in doubt experiment until you find the ones you prefer the most. I tend to reach for the needles I do because of a combination of preferences – the cord, the materials of the needles, the pointy-ness of the tips, how well the knitting slides (or not) along the needle and cord, and so forth.

(Since I know someone will ask – here I’m using a 32″ circular from Signature Needle Arts, with a 5″ stiletto tip, and a superwash worsted from Neighbourhood Fiber Company that I found at Fibre Space in Alexandria/DC on a trip a while ago.)

Anyway, for magic loop, you’ll need a long circular needle.

The first thing you’ll do, naturally, is cast on all of your stitches as required for the pattern (first photo, above). Next, to get the stitches into working mode, you’ll divide them into two sections, one for each needle, like so:

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It’s most likely you’ll divide them evenly, but you might vary this up slightly depending on pattern. Here I have 2 sections of 22 and 20 sts, because I’m working ribbing in k1tbl, p1 on this mitten cuff, and wanted to keep the ribbing repeat intact. You’ll note that, as one would normally do for working in the round, I have made sure that the round is not ‘twisted’ around the needle, and the yarn will be pulled from the end of the round so that when I make my first stitch, the round will be complete and joined.

This is the position you will start from at the beginning of every round, and at the mid-point of every round. Many knitters refer to this as the “start position.” Your needle tips are lined up, with the work emerging below:

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To start knitting, you will first reach for the needle tip sitting in back…

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…and pull it out along with a portion of the cord.

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Now, you are ready to knit. Just start at the beginning of the round with your two needle tips and proceed as normal according to your pattern.

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When you get to the end of that side, you’ll have the Left Hand needle now sitting loose, drooping at the end of the cord that was looping around the left side.

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So, what you do is flip the work over…

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And pull that formerly droopy needle all the way through the work so that it is lined up at the beginning position just as we had before. Then, keep knitting the other side just like you did the first side.

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You’ll notice that while you work, you’ll have two loops – one on each side of the work, where the sides divide. Managing these two cord loops is, in my humble opinion, the only real difficult part of magic loop, and this is where your needle selection will make the biggest difference. Some needles swivel and twist more than others, others pull and separate at the side join more than others. Try a few kinds and see what works for you.

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There are several advantages to this technique over others. For one, you are only using one attached circular, and so there is no risk of losing one DPN of your set – both needles are always attached to each other at all times. Additionally, this method has the effect of dividing your work into two surfaces instead of 3 or 4. If you happen to be working a pattern which has an intricate pattern over the “front” and on the “back” (as for some socks – the front of the leg and the back are often identical), working this way allows you to not interrupt either of those surface with the join of a DPN, as would typically be the case for working with a set of either 4 or 5 DPNs. This also reduces the number of potential “laddering” points to two, as opposed to 3 or 4.

The only immediate downside to this is that, if you don’t own them already, you’ll have to go shopping for some long circular needles. (But on the other hand…you get to go shopping. So, still a win? ;) )

I’ve taken the liberty of putting up a short video clip on YouTube (because, uh, maybe the zillion other video clips weren’t enough? Heh), in case you’d like to see a little 3-D action on this.

Nothing like getting your Monday off to a good start with a little learnin’. May your day be as painless as possible, and with knitting waiting for you at home!

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