How to knit the I-Cord Bind Off

A step by step tutorial on knitting the i-cord bind off and all the variations you can apply

Are you looking for a very beautiful, neat, and sturdy edge for a garment? Then i-cord bind off is what you are looking for. In this blog post, I’m going to provide you with step-by-step instructions on knitting this currently quite popular cast-off technique.

The i-cord bind off creates a kind of tubular edge that runs horizontally across your last row. I personally feel it looks quite elegant and it’s not even all that hard to do. It does, however, require a bit of patience (it’s somewhat slow to knit) and it’s quite the yarn eater.

a swatch with a partially knitted icord bind off on the needles

The idea behind this bind off technique is quite simple. It’s more or less transferring the basic idea behind a knitting knobby (you know, the little red wooden tubes with the hooks at the top you might have had as a child to produce long cords) to your bind off edge. Of course, you can also knit an icord with double-pointed needles.

So, let’s dive right into it, eh?

Note: Check out my free knitting school for more tutorials and tons of other bind-off techniques.

Instructions

You knit a standard i-cord by knitting 3 stitches on a double-pointed knitting needle, sliding the stitches back to the right side of the needle without turning the work and continue knitting the right side. The bind off works in a similar way, but requires a bit of preparation to make it work.

Step 1: (Preparation for the actual i-cord) Cast on 3 stitches with a knitted cast on .

Note: You can also use the cable-cast on or a backward loop cast on, but I personally like the knitted cast on most.

preparing the icord bind off with a knitted cast on

Step 2: Knit two standard knit stitches into (two of) the stitches you just cast on.

knitting two stitches as the second step of the icord bind off

Step 3: Knit two stitches together through the backloop (that should be one stitch you cast on and one existing stitch of your project you decrease here).

knitting two stitches together through the back loop

Step 4: You should have three stitches on your right needle now.

Three stitches on the needle after you finished the first repeat for the icord bind off

Slip those three stitches back to the left needle by inserting the left needle from left to right into these stitches (I am doing it through the back loop on the picture below. But it doesn’t matter if you slip them front or back).

slipping the stitches back to the left needle for an icord bind off

Repeat steps 2-4 until you reach the end of the row and you have three stitches left. (You don’t need to cast on further stitches).

Finish the i-cord bind off by cutting the yarn with a generous 3-4 inches spare, thread the tail into a tapestry needle and weave it through all three stitches left on your needles. Pull tight to secure the i-cord and weave in the tails as you normally would.

You can also knit three together and weave in the tail from there if that’s easier for you.

How much yarn do you need for an i-cord bind off?

This bind off is quite the yarn eater. As a rule of thumb, you should calculate around 13 times as much yarn as your project is wide for a standard i-cord. This factor depends a bit on the material you are using and how tight a knitter you are. I wrote a bit more about the yarn requirements for an icord bind off here.

Variations of the i-cord bind off

Now, I showed you the easiest and most efficient way to knit an I-cord (at least in my opinion). But there are actually many ways to achieve a similar effect. So, I quickly want to talk about these.

#1 Bigger or smaller i-cords

three swatches with an icord bind off with different widths: 2,3 and 4 stitches
From top to bottom: I-Cord bind off with 2, 3, and 4 cast on stitches

The first variation is quite easy. I showed you the standard i-cord bind off with casting on 3 additional stitches, which will result in a cord that is 2 stitches wide. But you can also go wider or more narrow. In this case, all the steps remain essentially the same, but you

  • cast on only 2 stitches or 4 stitches (step 1)
  • and then knit 1 or 3 stitches (step 2)
  • k2tog tbl and slip 2 or 4 stitches (step 4) back to the left needle.

You can even go for 5 stitches, but if you go wider than that, it won’t look all that pretty anymore.

#2 Binding off with a SSK

two swatched with an icord bind off - one with ssk and another with k2tog next to each other

Instead of knitting 2 stitches together through the backloop (step 3), you can also do a SSK (slip slip stitch). This will result in a slightly different edge with more pronounced horizontal “V”s.

#3 Mix with a standard bind off

two swatches with an icord bind off next to each other: k2tog and the slipped version on the right

Step 3 is basically nothing but a decrease. So you can have fun with it for different effects. One popular variation goes like this and is somewhat a bit like a normal bind off.

So, instead of k2tog tbl (step 3), you can

  1. slip one stitch,
  2. then knit one stitch,
  3. and then pass the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch.
doing the icord bind off with a slipped stitch bind off
This is how you slip the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch (step 3)

This can be an option for delicate yarns where knitting through the back loop is a bit more difficult.

#4 Knit through the back loop

icord swatches with and without knit through the back loop stitches

Another thing that changes the final outcome is the way you knit the stitches (step 2). I usually just knit them, but you can also knit them through the back loop. This will result in a slightly more condensed edge.

That being said, I do have to mention that the differences between all these versions are so small, that I’m not even sure an experienced knitter will truly be able to see the difference.

three different icord bind offs next to each other, 2,3 and 4 cast on stitches

Personally, I’d say the only difference that matters is the number of stitches you cast on – the rest is really up to your preferences and what feels more natural to you. Some people have problems knitting through the back loop. In this case, maybe the decrease with the slipped stitches or the SSK alternative might be better for you.

Still, I am a knitter who loves a little testing and that’s essentially why I presented you with all these different alternatives. After all, some small differences can sometimes have a huge impact on the final project. If you like that approach, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss any of my new tests (you’ll receive a free pattern as a welcome gift as well, so what are you waiting for).

So, that’S it. That’S how you do the I-cord bind off in knitting. I hope I was able to show you this amazing technique. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments below.

How to do the i-cord bind off in knitting

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