I-Cord Knitting: "I" is for "Ingenious"

The venerable Elizabeth Zimmermann rediscovered and named the I-cord (the I-cord, called a “stay lace,” was mentioned in Victorian needlework manuals). The “I” stands for “idiot” because Ms. Zimmermann thought  the technique was so simple anyone could do it (even an idiot, I guess!).

I think the “I” should stand for “ingenious.” The I-cord is simply a tube knitted in the round with two double-pointed needles (I’ve done it with a long circular needle, too).

The I-cord is one of those things in knitting that is endlessly useful. This embellish knit technique is somewhat idiot-proof, once you get the hang of it, and it’s also really mindless knitting (especially if you need a long I-cord, like in the Greek Pullover)—the I-cord is something to do in front of the TV or with a good audio book on board for sure!

Here’s a quickie tutorial:

With a double-pointed needle, cast on the desired number of stitches. *Without turning the needle, slide the stitches to other end of the needle, pull the yarn around the back, and knit the stitches as usual; repeat from * for desired length.

(The illustration above shows knitting the stitches after you’ve slid the them to the other end of the needle.)


The I-cord Beanie: A Perfect Baby Topper

I’ve used the knitted I-cord for many things, but my favorites are those little hats where you finish up by making three or four inches of I-cord and then tying it in a knot. So cute!

I made a pair of booties and an I-cord hat for a friend who had a preemie baby, and he wore it all winter. He’s a big boy now, but that hat is well-documented in photos.

There’s a similar hat in my arsenal, one that I call the Noodle Cap. It’s a simple cap pattern, like the one in the photo, but to finish it I knit about eight, 4-inch long I-cords and then attach them to the crown of the hat. It looks like there are noodles coming out of the top! It’s especially cute if you use a white or cream yarn for the cap and different colors for each of the “noodles.”

A Smooth Finish: The Applied I-cord

One of the best uses of the I-cord is in finishing. The technique is called “applied I-cord” (or sometimes “attached I-cord”) and it gives you a really smooth, nice-looking finish that’s perfect around armholes and necklines.

The Ruched Shell by Lou Scheila (below) is a nice example of the applied I-cord used in finishing; note the pretty neckline and smooth, even arm openings.

Here’s how I do the applied I-cord.

With garment’s right side facing and using a separate ball of yarn and circular needle, pick up the desired number of stitches along the garment edge. Slide these stitches down the needle so that the first picked-up stitch is near the opposite needle point. With a double-pointed needle, cast on the desired number of I-cord stitches. Begin knitting the applied I-cord as follows:

Step 1. Knit across the I-cord to the last stitch, then knit the last stitch together through the back loop with the first picked-up stitch on the garment.

Step 2. Slip the number of cast-on stitches back to the right hand needle (so, if you’re doing a three -stitch I-cord, slip three stitches back to the right-hand needle).

Step 3. Knit across the I-cord to the last stitch, then knit the last stitch together through the back loop with the first picked-up stitch on the garment.

Step 4. Continue in this manner until all picked-up stitches have been used.

Here’s a video tutorial, which includes the infamous I cord bind off!

I’ve seen the applied I-cord used well on felted bags, too. The bags are sometimes finished with two applied I-cords on top of one another, which felts into a sturdy, rounded border around the opening of the bag. It’s a really nice finish when felted.

Case Closed: The I-cord Closure

I-cords can be used as pretty closures, too. Check out the Asian-style closures (at right) on the Mandarin Blouse.

My friend Leslie showed me how to make a really pretty I-cord knot closure: The Chinese Knot, which is nice on a cardigan for a little Asian flair. You could use it on a one-button cardigan instead of the button. The knot is from Knit Kimono, by Vicki Square. Here’s my version:

Click here for instructions on making the Chinese Knot closure.

In Elizabeth Zimmermann’s book The Opinionated Knitter, there’s a photo of Ms. Zimmermann with her glasses on an I-cord strap, which shows yet another use for this versatile technique. I hope you’ll try some of these projects that incorporate I-cords.

Have a great weekend!


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