applied i-cord

How to Knit an Applied I-Cord

Applied i-cord is a method of adding a rolled trim to the edges of your knit projects. It creates a nice round edge suitable for necklines, armholes, button/zipper bands, and hems on sweaters. It also creates a neatly finished edge on things like blankets and pillows.

The Applied i-cord is sometimes called attached i-cord. It is added to your project after you’ve finished knitting and seaming the main piece(s). In this video, I show you how to do it:

Prevent Puckering

This section is going to get a little math-geeky. Don’t worry, I sum it all up in a neat little table at the end. Just try to understand the broad concept. 

Understanding stitch and row gauge will help you to knit a neater applied i-cord edge. Most stitch patterns have more rows in 4” than stitches. This means that the stitches are wider than they are tall. Basically, knit stitches are typically short and wide. 🙂

When you are applying an i-cord up the side of a piece, the i-cord stitches are pointing in the same direction as the knit stitches. In this case, you don’t need to make any special adjustments. You’ll pick up 1 i-cord row for each row of knitting. 

When you are applying an i-cord across the top or bottom of a piece, the i-cord stitches are perpendicular to the knit stitches. This means that you might need to do more than one row of i-cord for each column of knit stitches in your work to keep the work from puckering.

For example, let’s say our project has a gauge of 24 sts and 32 rows in 4”, and we are working across our bind off edge (it would be the same for the cast on edge). 

To figure out how many “extra” rows of i-cord we need to fit in, we need to:

  1. Divide the number of rows by the number of stitches, then
  2. Reduce that to the lowest common denominator:  32/24 = 4/3

So we need to do 4 i-cord rows over 3 bind off stitches in order to prevent puckering in our work. To do this, knit 2 i-cord rows as normal (pick up 1 i-cord row in 1 bind off stitch two times), then work 2 i-cord rows in the next bind off stitch. Repeat this the whole way across your bind off (or cast on) edge.

If that was a lot to take in, don’t worry! I got you!

Here’s the easy way to do what I just explained…

Use a calculator to divide the number of rows by the number of stitches in your gauge. Use the pattern gauge if you didn’t record your specific gauge.

Then use this table to find the decimal closest to your answer and use these instructions when working across a cast on or bind off edge:

This is a guideline for preventing puckering. Be sure to look at your work as you go and make adjustments on the fly if you are not happy with how it’s looking. Trust your gut! 

This is what happens when you don’t pick up enough stitches across the top or bottom. On this swatch, I picked up one i-cord row for each knit column across the top. This caused the top to bow. On the bottom, I picked up extra i-cord rows and it is straight.

Necklines & Armholes

The last section applies to necklines and armholes, but they deserve a section all their own because they’re oval shaped. Working inside the oval, around the curves can be a little tricky. 

I don’t have any clever formulas for this. You need to pay attention to your work and make adjustments on the fly, keeping in mind what you learned in the section above.

One thing I like to do to keep my i-cord evenly spaced around a neckline or armhole is to divide it into sections. Use stitch markers to divide your opening into 8 even sections.

I do this by folding it in half and placing a stitch marker in the stitch at each fold. Then fold each half in half (so the stitch markers come together) and place a stitch marker in the stitch at the fold. Repeat this until you have 8 evenly spaced stitch markers around your opening.

Now do the same number of i-cord rows in each section. 

If your pattern tells you how many i-cord rows to do, divide it by 8 to figure out how many go in each section. It’s ok if you have to squeeze an extra stitch in some of the sections to get the proper number of total stitches. 

If your pattern doesn’t tell you how many i-cord rows to do, knit one section and then do the same number in all the other sections.

Working Around Corners with Applied I-Cord

There are a couple of popular ways to work i-cord around corners:

  1. Work to the corner then knit one round of regular i-cord. You will not pick up a stitch on the main piece. Just slide the stitches to the other end of the needle and knit them. Then continue by picking up the stitch on the other side of the corner and resume the applied i-cord as normal. This is the method I used on my Stag Head Pillow.
  2. Work to the corner, then pick up 3 rows of i-cord in the same stitch. Then continue by picking up the stitch on the other side of the corner and resume the applied i-cord as normal. 
  3. Combine the 2 methods above by working to the corner, knitting a row of regular i-cord, then knitting another row of applied i-cord in the same stitch as your last row of applied i-cord. Then resume the applied i-cord as normal.

Connecting the End of an Applied I-Cord to the Beginning

If you are applying the i-cord to a single edge and don’t have to connect the beginning and end, do the normal bind off, or whatever bind off makes sense for your project. However, if the beginning and end of your i-cord are going to meet, you will want to seamlessly join them.

There are several ways to connect the beginning and end of your applied i-cord to create a seamless finish. I’m going to teach you the one I like best. I demonstrated this in the video and I’ve included written directions below.

Basically, you use Kitchener stitch on the ending edge and graft on the beginning edge. Here’s how:

  1. Cut a long tail (about 12”) and thread it on a darning needle.
  2. With the working yarn coming from the bottom stitch, insert the darning needle purlwise into the first stitch at the tip of your needle and pull the yarn through. Leave that stitch on the needle.
  3. Insert the darning needle, from right to left, under both legs of the right-most stitch (V) on the cast on edge and pull the yarn through.
  4. Insert the darning needle knitwise into the first stitch at the tip of your knitting needle and slide that stitch off the needle.
  5. Insert the darning needle purlwise into the next stitch at the tip of your knitting needle and leave that stitch on the needle.
  6. Insert the darning needle where the yarn is coming out of the cast on edge, under both legs of the next stitch (V), to the left of the stitch you just worked, and pull the yarn through.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you get to the last stitch.
  8. Finish by repeating step 4.

If Kitchener stitch confounds you, another acceptable way (IMHO) is to bind off the end and graft the beginning to the end with the tail. This will create a slightly bulkier join than this method.

A Few More Applied I-Cord Tips

  • Most i-cords are done with 3 or 4 stitches. The number of stitches you cast on will be the number of stitches in your i-cord.
  • Always work with the wrong side of your work facing you.
  • If possible, start in an inconspicuous spot, but not directly on a corner.
  • When picking up stitches for the applied i-cord, I recommend that you pick them up the same as you would for pick up and knit. However, I have found that on some projects, it looks better to pick up under 2 strands on the bind off and cast on edges (rather than working into the stitch as you would for pick up and knit). It’s a minor difference, but the latter suggestion is a little less bulky.
  • There are other methods of doing an applied i-cord. One very similar to this method is to knit 2 together through the back loop (k2tog tbl) where I tell you to slip, slip, knit (SSK). The difference is that k2tog tbl will twist that stitch, whereas SSK will not. You can’t tell the difference unless you very closely inspect it. Alternatively, some people prefer to bind off a stitch rather than do SSK or k2tog tbl. Use whichever stitch you are most comfortable with.
  • Some people use single point needles to do an applied i-cord. Instead of moving the stitches to the other end of the needle after picking up the new stitch (as demonstrated in this video), they slip the stitches back to the left needle to work the next row. It’s more time consuming, but if you don’t have the right size double pointed needles or circular needles, it’ll work.
  • I-cords are usually knit, but they can be done with purl stitches, as well.

An Alternative I-Cord Edge for Scarves

You might be asking yourself why I didn’t mention scarves at the beginning of this tutorial as a project suitable for applied i-cord. Good question! 

To make an i-cord edge on scarves, I tend to (sl, k, sl) at the beginning of each row and (k, sl, k) at the end of each row to create i-cord edges as I knit the scarf. Always hold the yarn in front for these slip stitches so that the float is in the center of the resulting i-cord.

This method adds an i-cord edge to your scarf as you knit each row. It’s quick and easy, and it’s finished when you bind off your scarf. 

This edge uses 3 stitches on each end of the row, so you can either:

  • Replace the first and last 3 stitches of the scarf pattern with these stitches, or
  • Add 6 stitches to your cast on and do the i-cord edge outside the pattern instructions.

Because you are slipping each of those 6 stitches every other row, you need to work your i-cord border loosely. Each stitch will be 2 rows tall. If you work this edge at the same tension as the rest of your project, the edges will bow.

Now What?

If you’re still reading this, give yourself a pat on the back! That was a loooong tutorial! 

We have several projects in the Knit Along Club that teach you how to do the applied i-cord. Click the links below to learn about all the techniques you will learn in each of these knit alongs:

Stag Head Pillow uses an applied i-cord around the outside

Flow includes instructions to modify the pattern to use an applied i-cord around the neckline and armholes.

Cinnamon Girl Cardigan includes instructions to modify the pattern to add a zipper and use an applied i-cord to hide it.

Goat Whisperer’s Reversible Cabled Scarf uses the alternative i-cord edge.

There’s no better way to learn a new technique than trying it in a pattern. Check out these projects and cast one on today! If you liked this tutorial, you’ll love the detailed lessons in each knit along!

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