If you learned to knit years ago and wonder why you’ve never heard of magic loop, that’s because it is a recent invention. A booklet titled “The Magic Loop” was published in 2002, and the technique has since become very popular.
Simply put, magic loop is a technique enabling you to knit small items such as socks or mittens in the round with a circular needle 40-47” long. Circular needles short enough to span a sock do not exist; imagine trying to knit with, say, an 8” circular – the tips would be too tiny to grasp. With magic loop, you put half the stitches on one tip and half on the other, with the cable forming a loop between the two halves. There are several advantages to magic loop: sliding the stitches onto the cable when you put your work down makes them unlikely to slide off the tips; when decreasing, such as for the crown of a hat, there is no need to switch to dpns, as you would have to do if working with a shorter circular needle; and you can knit two socks or two mittens or two sleeves at the same time, making sure they are identical and finishing both at the same.
How does it work? Cast on half the stitches you need and place a marker. To keep from accidentally losing the loop, you can use a large bead instead of a standard circular marker. Cast on the remaining stitches and slide the stitches on to the cable. Grab the cable at the marker and pull the cable out in a loop. Half your stitches will be on one side of the loop and half on the other. Hold your needle tips facing to the right, with the working yarn (the yarn connected to the ball) coming off the back needle. Slide the stitches on the front needle’s cable onto the needle tip and pull the back needle out to get enough slack to be able to use it to knit the stitches on the front needle, sliding the back stitches further down the cable. When the stitches on the front needle have been worked, slip the marker and turn your needles to again face the right; the half row just worked will now be on the back needle. Repeat the process of sliding the back stitches onto the cable and the front stitches onto the needle tip so that you can knit across the second half of the stitches, completing one round. Place a marker to note the beginning of round, or just note that the yarn tail and the working yarn will be in the same place when a round is completed.
Any small item knit in the round can be knit by magic loop. Sock patterns are especially easy to convert to this method – instead of dividing the sock stitches onto 3 or 4 dpns, you will have the sole (bottom of the foot) stitches on one needle tip and the instep (top of foot) stitches on the other.
Try it and see how you like it. Some people much prefer magic loop, while others much prefer using double points. The only way to know is to try it, and it will give you another tool in your knitting tool belt. And speaking of adding tools, there is a third alternative, using two shorter circular needles, which I have never tried. Once I do, and add it to my knitting tool belt, I’ll report back!