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Have you ever knitted all the pieces of a sweater project, sewn them together and then, with the almost-completed garment in your hands, awaiting your decision, rebelled at the thought of adding the ribbed, gartered, seed-stitched or other type of finishing touches? Sometimes the thought of one more ribbed edge is enough to send even the most accomplished knitter screaming off into the darkness!
The whole concept of edgings changed for many people with Elizabeth Zimmermann's ideas about knitting in general and potential edgings, in particular. EZ loved using I-cords in every imaginable way, and today, we'll cover a few of the reasons to love I-cord.
First, please take no offense, but I-cord is short for "idiot cord." Anyone can learn to do this. In fact, you may have learned it as a child if you spool-knitted.
Several headless nails (brads) gently tapped around the hole of a wooden thread spool used to be a common way for children to keep busy while their mothers crafted or worked. Wrapping the yarn around the nails and flipping the old loops over the new wraps with a short needle or hook were all the skills needed. The resulting tube poked out below the spool and could be lengthened by a swift tug. By churning out yards of the resulting cord, reins for broomstick horses could be made quickly. Belts, headbands and necklaces, too, could be made, and stripes could be easily added with a new color for special effects.
EZ took this basic idea and multiplied the uses for the simple tube exponentially. Her clear directions for making the magic cord used double-point needles instead of a wooden thread spool, which is a good thing since the spools disappeared from fabric stores a couple of decades ago. Although it is easiest to use dpns (double-pointed needles), you may use any needles you prefer, with slight adjustments.
If this process is new to you, take a few minutes to learn about I-cord. With any yarn and two dpns of the appropriate size, use a simple loop cast-on to place four stitches on one needle. It's best not to use long-tail, knit-on or cable cast-on here. With the tail of the yarn on the right side, slide the four stitches to the right side of that needle. You'll see the yarn from the ball at the "wrong" end of the cast-on. Please resist the instinct to turn the work; at no time will you be turning the needle when you come to the end of this tiny four-stitch row.
With the stitches on the right tip of the left needle, knit four stitches. Slide them again to the right end of the left needle, and tugging the first stitch gently, knit the four stitches again. Repeat for as long as needed to make the length of cord you want. Now do you better understand the name? I thought so. You can use the cord to sew onto pillow edges, make drapery tiebacks, use for belts on backs of children's dresses and much more.
Knit these four stitches over and over, tugging the yarn on the first stitch to bring the working yarn around the back of the tube, which forms the cord. Two, three, four or five stitches are commonly used for I-cords. More than that will cause a wider gap in the back of the cord, which may not close as neatly as you'd like.
Have fun and experiment; however, you may find some new twists that are more fun! You may also use seed stitch, purls or many other combinations. The many books of Elizabeth Zimmermann offer more suggestions; other writers have taken up the expanding possibilities of these ideas too. For example, google "I-cord" and see how many results it offers.
When you have made the cord the length you want, simply place the end of the yarn into a sewing-up needle and bring it through the four stitches, tightening gently. You can then bury the end of the cord in the center of the I-cord tube. I sometimes make a simple overhand knot near the end to make a firm closure.
For really interesting effects, the I-cord can be applied to edges of garter stitch, stockinette stitch or any other knitted or crocheted fabric after that fabric has been made. Here's where your imagination can truly take flight! To prevent the curling side effect of stockinette stitch, which confounds many knitters, three rows of I-cord, layered one atop the other, have the same effect as a couple of inches of ordinary ribbing.
One of my favorite uses for attached I-cord is for finishing children's cardigans. I have developed a pattern that uses this method for the buttonholes and edging. I've made a slew (an unspecified number ranging into dozens) of these for baby gifts, and they are always well-received. I'll show you how to make these very refined buttonholes on a swatch, below.
Begin by picking up stitches to attach the I-cord. There are two methods to use here. The first uses a needle about three to four sizes smaller than the one you used for the body of the sweater, and you should pick up a stitch for every row. If you'd like to have a less-dense I-cord, use the same needle that you used for the body, but pick up only three of every four stitches along the vertical edge of the piece. If you are applying I-cord to a horizontal edge, pick one for one. On diagonal pieces, use your best judgment and experience. You may pick up all the stitches you need for the entire bands and neckline at once (my preferred method) or pick them up a few at a time.
Cast on the four stitches onto the right tip of the needle you used to pick up the stitches. Make sure the working yarn is coming from the left end of the four stitches. Now knit three stitches, slip the fourth one purlwise and knit the first picked-up stitch. Pass the slipped stitch over the just-knit stitch, and pop the four stitches back to the left-hand needle beside the picked-up stitches, which are patiently waiting their turn.
To make a very cool buttonhole with I-cord, work to the place you want it, and make a few rows of unattached I-cord, with the number of rows depending on the size of the button. I used four rows in the sample below.
In order to make the sweater-side of the I-cord look professionally finished, let's do a quick little maneuver next. I did this for a total of four sts in the sample.
With the tip of the right-hand needle, slide the next two picked-up stitches onto the right-hand needle. As you would when binding off, pop the first one over the second. Add another picked-up stitch and leapfrog again.
Place the remaining stitch back onto the left-hand needle and resume the attached I-cord as before. I used a contrasting color for the I-cord in this sample. If you use the matching color for your swatch, the effect will be more pleasing, although many possibilities await those who love to play with yarn and colors!
Voila! Here's the buttonhole. Space the needed buttonholes as usual and have some fun working with this magic tube. You may add more layers of I-cord without needing to pick up stitches on subsequent rows, following one line of loops along the top of the first cord. It looks smashing in contrasting colors.
I have used I-cords on so many projects in so many ways I have lost count. I hope you have as much fun with this technique as others have enjoyed, from EZ to knitters all around the world.