How to Knit Mittens (Even the Thumb!) with the Magic Loop

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Once I started knitting socks using magic loop , there was no stopping me! I started using magic loop for practically everything in the round, including mittens.

Magic loop is perfect for all you knitters who don't want to store multiple needles or constantly buy new sets of needles. You can work both the mitten body and thumb in the round with just one long circular needle — and you can use that same needle for any other in-the-round project that calls for that size, including hats and sweater sleeves.

For this magic loop tutorial, I'm making the Max Patch Mitts by Christina Danaee, but you can use this tutorial for any in-the-round mitten project. The construction may be a little different, but the magic loop technique is basically the same no matter the construction.

Starting magic loop at the mitten cuff

With a long circular needle (I recommend at least 40" long), cast on the number of stitches your pattern calls for.

Find the halfway point that divides the stitches. Pinch the cable of the circular needle between those stitches, then pull on the cable of the needle. Push the stitches down to the two needles. The cast-on stitches should be divided evenly on the two needles.

Hold the needles parallel with the tips pointing to the right, with the cast-on stitches near the tips. Make sure the stitches are not twisted.

Since we’re only working with two sets of stitches, we can use the cast-on yarn tail as our stitch marker. (If you’re more comfortable using a stitch marker, you can use a locking one and move it up each round.)

Grab the back needle (the one farthest from you). Pull the needle out so that the stitches on the back rest on the cable instead of on the needle itself.

Bring the back needle around to the front and insert it into the first stitch on the needle closest to you.

Now we’ll start Round 1. Bring the working yarn to the front needle...

...then work across that needle following your pattern.

Flip the work around so that the needle tips are on the right. The side you just worked will now be the back needle, and the working yarn will be coming from the back needle on the right.

Slide the stitches that are on the cable to the front needle’s point.

Grab the back needle and pull it until you have enough cable to bring the needle around to the front needle stitches. Keep an eye on the other side of the work, too, and make sure you don’t pull too much, otherwise you’ll lose the cable loop.

Bring the back needle to the front, inserting it into the first stitch. Grab the working yarn and pick up Round 1 where you left off.

Tip: When you bring the working yarn to the front, make sure the working yarn is coming straight from the last stitch and not wrapping around the cable, otherwise you'll have an extra loop.

Once you finish working the stitches on that needle, you can move on to Round 2.

Bring the back needle around to the front stitches, then repeat these steps to continue knitting in rounds.

Knitting a thumb gusset in magic loop

If your mittens have a thumb gusset, you can continue working those increases into your pattern in magic loop. While you don't need a beginning-of-the-round stitch marker, you will need to use a marker to mark where the gusset ends, as I did here with my red marker.

I added all the thumb stitches on the same side so that I didn't need an additional marker to mark the end of the thumb gusset, but you can divide them evenly on the two needles if you'd like.

When you finish the thumb increases and place the thumb on waste yarn, nothing will change about your magic loop except that you have fewer stitches on each needle.

Knitting the mitten body

If you divided your stitches evenly onto the two needles, you won't need a stitch marker to mark the edge of the mitten, even when the thumb stitches are on a holder or waste yarn. Continue using magic loop until you complete the mitten body.

Adding the mitten thumb using the magic loop method

Yep, the thumb can be worked in magic loop, too! That's the beauty of magic loop: You can use the same needle you used for the mitten body. The thumb is still kind of mysterious for knitters who are new to magic loop, so let's take a look at how to get started.

For the pattern I'm using, I need to pick up the thumb stitches on the waste yarn, plus pick up 3 more stitches.

First, place half of the thumb stitches on one needle, ensuring the stitches are sitting correctly on the needle. (See our post on putting stitches on knitting needles correctly for more info.)

Flip to the other side, then pick up the remaining thumb stitches with the other end of the needle.

Pick up the 3 extra stitches. I decided to keep these on my front needle, so I pulled the back needle until the back thumb stitches sat on the cable, then I picked up the 3 extra stitches with the back needle's point.

I then worked the first set of stitches across the front needle. You can place those extra stitches wherever you'd like, of course, but I just find it easier to put them all on the front needle.

Now you're all set up to work the thumb in magic loop!

Thumb decreases

If your mitten thumb includes decreases, one issue you might run into is a lonely stitch that needs a partner for decrease. For example, let's say you knit across the first set of stitches, but when it's time for a decrease you only have one stitch left on that needle.

If that happens, just push the cable until the two sets of stitches are super close together, then wiggle one stitch from the other side to join the lonely stitch. Now that the two stitches are side by side, you can easily knit or purl those two stitches together.

What I really love about the magic loop thumb is that if your pattern asks you to graft the remaining thumb stitches together, you don't have to mess with shifting them around on any double-pointed needles. Instead, you're already set up for grafting!

Have you ever knit mittens using magic loop? What challenges did you run into?

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How to Knit Mittens (Even the Thumb!) with the Magic Loop