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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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

32 thoughts on “I-Cord Knitting: "I" is for "Ingenious"

  1. EZ named i-cord? Is that really why i-cord is called that? Huh!

    When I was a kid, our grandmother attached our mittens to i-cords that were threaded through the sleeves of our coats so if we took the mitten/s off, we wouldn’t lose it/them. I thought it was called “idiot cord” because if you kept one mitten on, someone could pull the other, thereby making you punch yourself in the nose! 😉

    I’m no idiot, so I’ll join you in calling it ingenious cord!

  2. Can you tell me were i can get the pattern for “noodles” the preemie baby hat and booties? My niece had a preemie a few weeks ago and i would like to knit this for her. thanks

  3. KarenK: Hi! I don’t have a pattern for either of those hats. I took an existing baby hat pattern (just use any cap pattern from any baby book, etc.; try the book Itty Bitty Hats–it’s wonderful!) and added the I-cord “noodles.”

  4. I figured the “idiot” in I-cord came from making the cord for idiot mittens (the ones you thread through the sleeves of childrens’ coats so the mittens won’t get lost!).

  5. I often use the “I-Cord Bind-Off” method for finishing an armhole or neckline…or even add to a hemline if I don’t like the way it is laying. It does not involve creating a separate I-cord or dpn. Found the instructions somewhere awhile ago:
    after picking up stitches onto left-hand needle
    1. K2, slip back on left needle
    2. K2, SSK, slip back onto left needle
    3. Repeat step 2 until 7 st remain
    4. K2, VDD (slip 2 knitwise, K1, pass botho slipped over for double decr), K2 = 5 st remain, slip back on left needle
    5. K1, VDD, K1 = 3 st remain, slip back to left needle
    6. VDD = 1 st remain, fasten off

  6. A more efficient quicker way of applying I cord is;

    keeping the working yarn in front, purl across to the stitch being joined, purl 2tog, then transfer 4 stitches from the edge stitches being cast off to the working dpn. Slide. Purl to the st being joined, purl 2tog, transfer remaining 3 sts to right hand dpn, slide. repeat until no edge sts (ones being cast off) remain on dpn. Transfer 4 more sts. and repeat until one edge st. remains plus the I cord sts. Graft ends together.


  7. Elizabeth Zimmermann would never have styled herself as ‘Ms’ – she referred to herself as a wife. She was Mrs Zimmermann.

    ‘Ms’ is a rather silly, even childish political device. The titles ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ are both diminutives of ‘Mistress’ so are therefore the same.

    ‘Ms’, to many of us, stands for ‘Meaningless’.

    As for I-cord, it was called that in C15th England but wasn’t formed by knitting, rather by two finger-loop cord.


  8. Such a great little video–I ‘m not a new knitter but some knitting techniques are very new to me- I love learning from these videos–this is so simple–thanks

  9. Step 2: Slip the stitches back to the *left* hand needle (or I’m really more confused than I thought). Nice video though. I’d love to see a close-up of a longer stretch of applied i-cord, and maybe some samples using different numbers of stitches?

  10. I am currently working on my first ICORD for a tote that I felted…first felting project. I am not sure how long to make the ICORD straps, not sure how much they will stretch or if they will, especially once I start using it. Also do I make one really long ICORD or two not so long cords?


  11. THANK YOU!! I am a visual learner and I have seen several I-cord demos but not this particular style. I have wanted to use this application but could not figure it out. I wanted to use it as an edging on several items and I think I can finish them now.LOL I really enjoy the videos. Thanks again.

  12. Actually Ms Z called it I cord because you do the same 3 (or more) stitches until your brain stopped working… or you felt like an idiot. That is a little different than actually being an idiot, yes?

  13. I use i-cord for an earring-holder, too. It only takes a couple of feet of cord, tied in a loop so it can hang next to my bathroom sink. It’s made of really sticky wool, so that the earrings never fall out, and as a matter of fact I’ve managed in this way to hang on to way more pairs than I used to!

  14. I am glad you use the word ingenius as the other word description has been used to judge and demote other people who may not know something and promoted a judgmental inhumanizing term into a very derogatory image. I would appreciate your not continuing this insensitive adjective
    than you

  15. No, no, no! EZ didn’t name it Idiot Cord because any idiot could do it. It was already called that long before. Remember the 4 nails in an old thread spool on which we sorta frame-knit cord for … whatever …. It was a kid thing to make that had absolutely no usefulness, other than maybe connecting our mittens. stuff was Idiot Cord, because only kids or idiots would make it. EZ figured out how to knit it properly and how to make it useful, and she thought the name was demeaning, so she abbreviated it to I-Cord. She did love her abbreviations, didn’t she? LYS, WIP, DFD, DRU, BSJ, etc.!

  16. Thanks Kathleen. It was good to see you repeating it a few times in the video. Now I think I got it and wont even have to take my knitting in front of the computer!

  17. I love this cord! And I just finished a gorgeous Irish knit jacket for my granddaughter that needs a cord through the hood! Thanks so much for the “idiot proof” instruction as well…. :o)

  18. For the lady who referred to the title of “Ms” as silly…it came to be used years ago when women first flooded the business world (I was there) and we had absolutely no way of correctly denoting their marital status in correspondence. Every man is a Mr. but women were a real problem! So it was easier to refer to women as “Ms.” in business correspondence unless corrected by the woman herself…true story!!

  19. Your tutorial on knitting an applied I-cord is absolutely fantastic! I can’t wait to use it. I made a sweater with a small cap sleeve and didn’t know how I should finish the edge, now I do. Thank you so much.

    Henny Leef,
    Ontario, Canada

  20. mary.fisher –
    I disagree with you on the usage of Ms. being silly. I think you misunderstand its usage. It is the POLITE form of address when you do not know whether or not a woman is married. It’s not an outdated term at all. Many modern-thinking, professional women title themselves this way, too – in order to let others know that they are not married (and independent). I’ve been married now 5 years, but being a single, successful business woman in San Francisco I always preferred to be addressed with “Ms.” I’m in my 30’s so I don’t think it’s as ancient a convention as you think. In fact, many 20-something year-old corporate women in my firm also appreciate the term and use it (far more often than not, in fact). In the business world, using a formal title in front of someone’s name is still the most polite form of address. Anything less is unacceptable. “Ms.” serves an important purpose here. Why should men get a title, but single women should not? If anything, it’s an empowering thing – not the other way around.

  21. In regard to the name “I-cord”.
    Sometime between “Stay Lace” and “I-cord”, it became known as “Idiot String”, probably starting with children making it on a spool with 4 mails on top. Elizabeth Zimmerman thought “I-cord” was a nicer name (which it is).

  22. Some time ago you had a cabled yoke (shown in white) long sleeved “tunic” women’s sweater that was your “knit along” feature. I copied the pattern (didn’t save it as a download!) and now that I really want to get the yarn for and make this sweater I cannot locate the pattern! It doesn’t seem to be among the “free patterns” on this site. Can you help me out? Thanks!

  23. I grew up with “I-cord” being called horse reins (also called a Colonial Corker or Knitting knobby) & as a little kid (I am now 61) my dad made me one using a wooden thread spool & 4 or 5 small round headed nails & using a bent bobby pin to pull the yarn over the nails. I would make miles of the stuff & then sew it together in circles or ovals to make floor mats 🙂 It is great to see it put to better use.