What is an i-cord? When is it used?
An I-Cord is a tube of circular knitting over 3-6 stitches using double pointed needles. Elizabeth Zimmerman coined the term i-cord, where “I” stands for idiot since it’s so simple even an idiot could do it. It is simple and has many uses, but tedious to knit when making many small or long cords. You may remember making long i-cords as a child by tapping 4 small headless nails into a wooden spool and wrapping the yarn around the 4 nails and then lifting the lower thread over the upper thread of each nail and pulling a knitted cord through the hole. I remember making this on “The Little Red Spinning Wheel” and after using all the yarn having no idea what to do with it? Well I was 5 and had no idea how to make a rug (one of the ideas in the instruction guide).
Since then, I’ve learned the many uses of I-cords as embellishments.
- Make many and add as fringe for a shaggy look, see Maggie Jackson’s designs.
- Make long cords and attach into elaborate surface designs.
- Make into frogs for sweater closures with toggle buttons.
- Make fingers for gloves; use more stitches as needed
- Join the ends of long i-cords to make a necklace.
- Make one or two and use as purse handles.
Here are 4 methods that give the same results and provide variety and interest.
Double Points or Circular Needles – Cast on 3-4 stitches. Knit each stitch across the row. Do Not Turn; instead, slide the stitches back to the tip of the needle where you started. Carry the working yarn across the back and knit the next row. Repeat. The work will begin to form a cord. It does take a few rows for the cord to form.
Straights – Cast on 3-4 stitches. Knit each stitch across the row. Do Not Turn, instead, move the stitches from the right hand needle back to the left hand needle. Carry the working yarn across the back and knit the next row. Repeat.
Crochet – This was a surprise! I came across this method on YouTube. Tried it and loved it. Looks like it was knitted. Can easily be substituted for the knitted version. Uses a regular crochet hook. You only need to know how to chain to do it. Check it out
I-cord Spool or Embellish Knit Tool – If you need to make a really long cord using thin yarn, this is the way to go. The i-cord spool is so easy a child can do it, so gather your little ones to make these for you. You can also purchase the Embellish Knit Tool, which has a hand crank which turns the spool and lifts the hooks to make the cord.
One ingenious user replaced the hand crank with an electric drill to speed the process along.
I-cord can even be used as a bind off to make a rolled edge or an “applied” edge to a finished project.
For an i-cord bindoff: Start with the stitches you want to bind off. Cast on 3 additional stitches. Knit two stitches, then SSK the next 2 stitches. There are now 3 stitches on the right-hand needle. You have decreased one stitch. Now slide the 3 stitches back to the left-hand needle and repeat. Continue until only 3 stitches remain and then bind off all. An Applied I-Cord is added to the edge of a finished project. It’s similar to the I-Cord bind-off. Start by casting on 3 stitches. Pick up one stitch from the edge to which you are applying the i-cord and place it on the left needle, *slip the 3 stitches onto the left needle, k2, knit the 3rd and4th stitches together. Pick up another stitch from the edge and place it on the left needle; repeat from * until the edging is complete. If all else fails, make a faux i-cord by knitting 4-7 stitches in stockinette; knit one row, purl one row, and repeat. Since stockinette is an unbalanced stitch, it will naturally curl inward giving the same effect without making a tube. Ta da.
Carolyn Hanson is a local knitting and crochet designer, teacher and fiber artist. She can be contacted at