I-Cord. French Knitting in the USA

I-cord in action as spider legs

I-cord in action as spider legs

I am about to publish my first knitting pattern. I’ve asked my Mum to proof read it and she said it was “fine, but what’s I-cord”. Hmmm, there are plenty of places to learn how to make I-cord on the internet and I’ll link to some good ones from this blog entry, but for such a simple thing, I found I had a lot invested in I-cord. Who knew there’d be so much to say?

French Knitting in Lancashire in 1978

When I was a little girl, My Mum would make long thin knitted cords sometimes. I don’t remember what she used the cords for, but I do remember how she made them. It was called French Knitting and it caused quite a stir in our house as it involved my father hammering four small nails into the top of a wooden thread bobbin. My father using a hammer was a rare sight and it fascinated my sisters and I. The nails were arranged to form the corners of a small square and they stuck out from the bobbin by about half an inch. It was a funny looking thing and I was delighted to discover that this bobbin thingy has a name, it’s called a Knitting Nancy and here are some pictures:


Mum would knot some yarn around one of the nails,feeding the cast on tail through the central hole in the bobbin and then loop it around the other three nails, then she’d loop around the nails again. With a crochet hook she would pull the lower loop up and over the upper loop. After a few more turns around you would see the cord emerging from the bottom of the bobbin. A four stitch diameter piece of circular knitting which was tugged down through the centre of the bobbin by pulling on the cast on tail.

I-cord and it’s Creator – Elizabeth Zimmerman

I-cord is a much less cumbersome way of creating the same hollow knitted cord. It’s circular knitting on a very small scale, using only two double pointed needles.

The I-cord method was invented by Elizabeth Zimmerman the woman who changed the way we knit. I was amazed to discover she was British, I suppose I thought only an American would be so revolutionary. Here’s some more about her:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Zimmermann – Zimmerman biog

EZ understood the simplicity of knitting in the round and advocated it’s use for many, many things, not just sweater collars and socks. Her book “knitting without tears” is a classic which many knitters find inspirational.

How To Make I-cord

I’m not going to pretend that I can offer any greater insight into this simple process than others who have spent a great deal of time and care to make beautiful presentations of how to make I-cord. Thanks go to them and here are some excellent links:



and for what it’s worth, here’s my twopenneth on the subject:

Cast on 3 stitches onto a double pointed needle

If you don’t knit first, this gives you a slightly rounded bottom to the cord, with the tail coming out from the side a little way up, like this first photo.

Rounded End I-cord, good for spider legs

Rounded End I-cord, good for spider legs

If you knit a row first you will get a much flatter end to the i-cord and the tail will be right at the bottom, like the second photo.

Square bottom i-cord, great for sewing flush to things.

Square bottom i-cord, great for sewing flush to things.

*Slide the stitches to the other end of the needle, without turning.

Bring the yarn from the back left hand side of the work and knit those three stitches.

Repeat from *

One Last Thing

I have heard or read somewhere that I-cord is so called because it’s how an idiot would knit. of course the cord is shaped like an I as well which may be the real reason for it’s name. I find it an interesting coincidence that the English should call it “French” knitting, of course the English traditionally think the French are idiots (and vice versa).


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3 responses to “I-Cord. French Knitting in the USA

  1. iheartfilm

    My grandmother used to knit all the time before her eyesight took a turn for the worse. She made me all kinds of great things, although nothing as amazing as some of your stuff. Great blog.


    • nattyknitter

      Thanks for your lovely comments. A lot of people have associations between knitting and older female relatives, it means it’s a very nostalgic medium. Sort of like black and white photography but less artistic.

  2. Pingback: Pumpkin Head – Hints and Tips «

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