I-cord – A Simple Technique With Many Uses

textile art with i-cord
Textile Art
by Valerie Gross


Elizabeth Zimmerman, the famous knitter of the 50s and 60s had a unique approach to seamless garment construction, and a way of helping knitters incorporate their ideas into knitting. She also developed innovative techniques including I-cord, which she described as “idiot cord”, because of its simplicity. 

I-cord is a narrow cord or tube that has a variety of uses including belts, purse handles, edgings, applied decoration, or embellished with beads. I use I-cord combined with other media in textile art projects. Let’s look at how to make a basic I-cord, as well as some of its uses.

Basic I-cord

I-cord is made from yarn. Although the number of stitches is variable, usually 3 to 5 stitches are cast on, and commonly worked on double pointed needles (dpns). It is possible to make I-cord on straights, and if you are interested in giving it a try, check out this post. Knitting spools can also be used to create I-cord, and you may have used one as a child. I prefer to make I-cord on dpns, which is just as quick as using a spool, but you have more control over the size and tightness of the cord. The method described here uses double pointed needles.

Using your preferred cast on method, cast on the desired number of stitches (I’m using 3). Knit one row, then without turning your work, slide the stitches back to the right end of the dpn. The yarn is now on the left side of the row. Pull the yarn tightly across the back of the stitches, and knit another row, making sure that the first stitch is knit firmly, so there are no loose stitches. As the yarn is pulled tightly before working each row, the knit fabric rolls in on itself creating a cord or tube. Repeat the process until the desired length and bind off.

I-cord Cast On

This is a lovely way to create a finished edge that looks like piping. Make a 3-stitch I-cord with the number of rows that equal the number of stitches cast on. When you’ve reached the cast on number, bind off the I-cord, but don’t fasten off. Leave one stitch remaining on the needle. Now insert the needle through a stitch (through one strand) in the next row of the I-cord. Wrap the yarn as if to knit and draw strand through the cord, similar to picking up stitches. Continue in this way until you reach the required number of stitches. Make sure to work each stitch through the same I-cord row so the cast on is even.

Applied Edging

This method forms an edge similar to the I-cord cast on, but is worked by picking up stitches from the fabric and incorporating them into the I-cord. Check this post from Interweave on two ways of making this type of edging.

Sewing on I-cord

Decorative lengths of I-cord can be used to form closures on garments or other applied decoration to the fabric surface. For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a rug with I-cord applied to canvas backing or crocheting lengths of I-cord. 

As an embellishment, I-cord is usually sewn to the knit fabric or other surface. Plan out the arrangement of the I-cord on your surface. Pin the lengths of I-cord to the fabric in the chosen design. You may choose to baste the cord in place before the final sewing. Sew the cord in place by stitching through to the back of the fabric, making sure the stitches aren’t visible on the right side. A simple running stitch, spacing the stitches close together would work well. Try not to pull or pucker the knit fabric.

Textile Art

For awhile, I’ve been using I-cord along with paint on canvas to create wall art like the one pictured above. I simply use an art compound, gel gloss that dries clear to hold the I-cord in place on the canvas.

Making I-cord is really one of the most simple knitting techniques with a variety of uses including edgings, ties, and applied decoration. If you need a break from knitting the usual suspects, try I-cord and make something truly original.

I-cord projects