A step-by-step tutorial on knitting an i-cord – with or without double-pointed needles + 4 variations
Do you want to knit a fun little drawstring for your cowl or a strap for a baby hat? Then look no further. I’m going to show you exactly how to knit an i-cord and all its fun variations.
An i-cord is basically a very small tube knit in the round. But because it is so small you can get away with knitting it on straight needles instead of the usual four or five double-pointed needles or circular needles. It’s much faster and a lot less complicated.
Note: Read this tutorial if you were looking for the i-cord bind off. And here’s how to do the i-cord cast-on.
Why is it called i-cord?
The “i” in i-cord stands for “idiot“. Elizabeth Zimmerman thought the technique was so easy that even an idiot could learn and knit it and gave it that name. Personally, I’m not sure it’s all that flattering. The technique is actually quite smart. So, I’ll stick to “intelligent cord”, but didn’t want to keep that anecdote from you.
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Instructions: How to knit an i-cord
The easiest, neatest, and fastest way to knit an i-cord is with needle double-pointed needles (dpns). Basically you always knit one row, ad then slide the stitches back to the other end and knit across without turning.
If you don't have dpns, scroll a bit further down. I'm going to show you this version first, though, as it is a lot easier.
- Cast on 3, 4, or 5 stitches with a longtail cast on.
- Slide the stitches back to the right end of your needle.
- Knit across one row with plain knit stitches.
- Now, don't turn your project around like you normally would. Instead, slide the stitches back to the right end of the needles (that's the reason why you need dpns).
- Keep the working yarn in the back (make sure you didn't accidentally wrap it around) and knit across all stitches. Keep a high tension for the first two stitches so you close the gap on the back.
- Repeat steps 3+4 until you reached the desired length.
The instructions are the same no matter if you cast on 3, 4, or 5 stitches. The more stitches you cast on, the wider your i-cord will be. Five stitches are the maximum and you really have to keep a very high tension and give the yarn a good tug before the first stitch.
As you can see, it’s really foolproof. Since you are not turning the project around, it might actually be easier than knitting flat. Just remember to pull a bit at your i-cord every couple of rows. This will let the little bit of slack you create on the backside settle in for a much neater appearance.
I-cord on circular needles/single-pointed needles
You can also knit an i-cord without dpns. It’s a bit more time-consuming. So I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan to create longer cords. All in all, it’s still feasible, though.
Step 1: Cast on 3, 4, or 5 stitches just like you did before.
Step 2: Knit across the first row.
Step 3: Slip all stitches back to the left needle purlwise (so point to point) one at a time.
Step 4: Knit across.
Repeat steps 3+4 until you reached the desired length.
The trick really is just slipping the stitches back instead of sliding them to the far end. That way, you can knit the i-cord on circular needles or single-pointed needles as well. Be aware that as you slip, you might loosen up the stitches a bit. As a result, your cord might look less neat.
You can also knit the i-cord purlwise. The instructions are almost the same and it’s just as easy to knit:
Step 1: Cast on 2 or 3 stitches.
Step 2: Purl across.
Step 3: Slide the stitches to the right end of your dpns.
Step 4: Important (!) bring the working yarn around the back and then to the front, and purl across.
Repeat steps 3+4 until you reached the desired length.
It’s really important that you don’t bring the working yarn directly to the front. That would create floats on the outside and that’s not what you want. Because this is a bit more awkward and leaves a bigger gap, purl i-cords stop looking neat past 3 stitches.
A four-stitch purl i-cord will look a bit wonky and have this one wider stitch on the back. It’s still okayish, but not perfect. So, decide for yourself if that’s something you can live with or not.
Tip: The i-cord can also be used as edge stitch/selvage.
Once you’ve realized that an i-cord is really nothing else but a very small diameter tube, you can get creative. You can basically apply any pattern you want to these 3 or 4 stitches. You could do a moss stitch (also known as seed stitch) or any other stitch pattern that works with so few stitches.
But the repeats can also span more than one row for really fun effects. There are two I’d like to highlight:
If you want to create a little spiraling i-cord, then cast on 3 stitches. But instead of knitting across, you always stick to the following repeat:
- *k3, p1*
That way, you create a little purl stitch that moves around the central axis with every turn and it looks a bit like a tiny little spiral. To write this out for you:
- Row 1: knit three
- Row 2: p1, k2
- Row 3: k1, p1, k1
- Row 4: k2, p1, k1
- Row 5: k2, p1, k1
Slipped stitches are a great technique to reinforce heels and can also be used to knit double stockinette stitch (which doesn’t curl in on the edges!). But if you combine these slipped stitches with an i-cord, you can create a nice little corkscrew curl. Here’s the repeat:
- Row 1: Knit
- Row 2+3: K1, Sl1, K1
- Repeat those three rows over and over again.
Personally, I keep losing track when knitting those curly icords. So, you really need to take your time and concentrate on your knitting. But it can be a very nice addition to my beautiful pumpkin patch pattern where you also have to knit little vines – maybe less suitable for drawstrings or so.
10 thoughts on “How to knit an i-Cord for beginners”
I was delighted to find your knitting information recently, as I needed a refresher on that simplest of projects, an I-cord to replace the belt loop on my favorite cashmere bathrobe…also known as my COVID19 wardrobe! In looking over your site, I noticed a few minor phrases and little things that could be corrected with some light editing from a native English speaker. I would like to propose a barter/trade arrangement if you’re willing…I am trying to research my family’s history in Alsace. I got back to 1382, and my French has worked well so far…until I found some documents and other information in German, as the mountains and the river alternated as the international borders and changed from time to time. Strasbourg is the closest major city, Mulhouse/Colmar region. I was hoping to return to the Alsatian region after my last visit to France in September 2019, and a little pandemic had other plans for me, and the rest of the world.
I’d be happy to help you with a little English text polishing in exchange for a bit of German translation. I do hope you’re not offended by my offer, your English is excellent, and honestly, already better than many Americans! The knitting content you offer is WONDERFUL, and has inspired me to pick up my needles for more than mending. I think we might have skills that could be useful to each other, and I’m always happy to make a new friend.
Please, keep up the good work! Cheers,
Nanette in Los Angeles, California
I really like these thorough instructions and illustrations! I want to knit a felted bucket hat and knit a cord around it AFTER I felt it. How should I attach the ends together?
well, you can start with a provisional cast-on and then use a kitchener stitch to attach the ends.
Hi Norman !
Am so delighted to have just discovered your tutorial videos on
how to knit a bookmark and an i-cord .
Am a beginner and have just learnt how to knit and purl, so
wanted to make an easy, attractive bookmark.
After a lot of searching online, FINALLY ( two days later ! )
suddenly, your bookmark appeared on my screen.
FANTASTIC ! Just what I need and am looking for.
THANK YOU, so much, Norman – for your kindness and
generous heart, in explaining so patiently/clearly,
as well as putting on really good close up photos of what you
You are an EXCELLENT teacher and so enjoyable to watch and
Am so excited and will begin the i – cord first, and then
later in the week, want to knit your bookmark pattern.
Thanks again, and hope you are keeping well and happy !
With my very good wishes sent to you,
from a very wet, windy North London,
How can I add a clip at the beginning and an O-ring at the other end to hang on a backpack?
Probably easiest to leave a long enough tail and crochet around each of them.
Beste , ik heb dus een i-cord-afsluiting gebreeen, maar nu moet ik de steken terug opnemen volgens patroon en moet ik averechtse tr breien en er moet 1 naald kettingsteken uitsteken op de rechtse kant , ik hoop dat ik het juist uitlegt en mij kunt helpen. Mvg dorine
My danish is not exactly brilliant. I can only understand a word here in between English and German. So I am not sure I can help you there.
Hallo Norman, das ist niederländisch und heißt übersetzt in etwa:
“Lieber , also ich habe einen I-Cord Abschluss gestrickt, aber jetzt muss ich die Maschen wieder nach Muster aufnehmen und ich muss links und 1 Reihe Luftmaschen muss auf der rechten Seite herausstehen , ich hoffe ich habe es erklärt richtig und du kannst mir helfen.”
Thank you for your wonderful work, more than once I’ve looked on your website or YouTube channel for simple, yet detailed explanations for knitting. You really do a fantastic job, covering every aspect of this art. You’re my reference when I need help because I know I will understand easily written explanations and I can watch your video and work alongside.