Socks knitted two at a time on yarn bowl with book

Conquering the dreaded ladders in magic loop knitting

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It’s time for an update on my sock knitting. If you are following along, you will know that I am learning how to knit two socks at a time, using the magic loop method. In the previous sock post, I showed videos of how to cast on two socks onto a long circular needle. Hands down, the tricky part of this is casting on and knitting the first few rows. After that, knitting two socks at once is no different from knitting a single sock on magic loop. Promise. This week, I saw a post in a Facebook group of somebody knitting six pairs of socks at once, and I thought to myself, I could do that! It’s really not as complicated as it looks.

The toddler socks have been steadily growing in the past few weeks.

Sock knitting is slow work because the needles are so small. I am happy that I chose to do a test knit in the form of worsted weight toddler socks. This way, I get to try out all the different elements of two at a time sock knitting without worrying about wasting too much time knitting less than perfect socks.

Ladders in magic loop knitting

One of the problems that many knitters experience with magic loop knitting is ladders, or enlarged stitches, in the columns where the stitches of the sock are split into two halves. The two stitches that are next to each other but on separate parts of the cable or needles will be stretched as you knit, resulting in yarn excess between the two stitches. When you knit the first stitch of a half of a sock, that extra slack makes it challenging to achieve a tension of the first stitch that matches the overall tension of the sock.

Ladders can show up as horizontal bars that look like a ladder (hence the name), or the excess can be incorporated into the first stitch, resulting in a column of enlarged stitches. I absolutely had this problem! It took me quite a few inches of sock knitting to find the right approach, but I got there in the end. I chose to simply continue knitting until I got it rather than frog and start over again and again. We have to allow ourselves to be imperfect when we practice a new technique.

When YouTube fails you

There are plenty of YouTube videos addressing ladders in magic loop knitting, but I quickly came to realize two things. One, they were giving conflicting advice, and two, the experienced YouTube knitters could not remember ever having this problem. Most of them could not even recreate ladders when they tried. I was beyond frustrated, and I tried every trick they proposed for a few rounds, but halfheartedly because I wasn’t really sure what the core of the problem was.

Here is some of the advice I came across:

  • Pull the first stitch tight
  • Don’t pull the first stitch tight, but pull the second stitch super tight
  • Pull the first two stitches super tight
  • Be very sure to not pull the first stitch too tight, as the previous stitch must be the size of the needle
  • Keep the last stitch on the back cable and the first stitch on the needle close together by pressing the back cable close as you knit the first couple of stitches on the needle

Confused? I was.

Light bulb moment

It was a video by VeryPink Knits that made me realize what is going on. Staci emphasizes how ladders can happen with either too much tension or not enough tension. Light bulb moment!

Ladders are a tension issue, and tension is unique to the knitter

Ladders are a tension issue. But every knitter has a different tension. We each have a unique style of knitting, and our tension may even change, depending on what needles and yarn we are using.

Advice that works for a loose knitter will not work for a tight knitter and vice versa.

Once I understood that only I could figure out how I avoid ladders in magic loop knitting, it became a matter of trial and error. I shifted my focus from solely being on the offending columns to also considering the tension of all of the other stitches. And I got rid of the ladders!

It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually, I managed to get rid of the over-sized stitches in the ladder columns.

The solution to ladders for this particular tight knitter

I am a fairly tight knitter, and for most projects that is just fine. The stitches move freely on the needles (at least on steel needles) and I feel relaxed, yet somehow I often need to go up two needle sizes to get gauge. Sometimes I have to adjust a pattern to get it to work, but rarely do I need to force myself to loosen up my stitches. Well, it seems for magic loop socks, I might have to do just that.

I found that to get all the stitches the same size, I needed to tighten up the ladder columns, and loosen up everything else. So, I now knit the first two stitches crazy tight, pulling the previous stitch on the back close, and pinching it in place while I knit the first two stitches. Then I loosen up. As I form a new stitch, before I slide the old stitch of the left needle, I give the yarn a little outward tug with the right needle to make the new stitch larger. The combination of tightening the first two stitches and loosening all the others works for me, but it will very likely not work for you. Apparently, we will each have to find our own way.

If you are a tight knitter and would like to loosen up a bit, take a look at this video from Sheep and Stitch.

Summing-up

Okay, so what have we learned? Ladders in magic loop knitting are the result of uneven tension. The two stitches that are separated by the magic loop need to have the same tension as all the other stitches. If they instead end up tighter or looser this will show up either as excess yarn between the stitches forming an actual ladder, or as a column of enlarged stitches. Take a look around YouTube for some suggestions. Still, remember that at the end of the day, you need to figure out what works for you and your tension.

Recommendation on circular needles for magic loop knitting

If you want to try out magic loop and perhaps even two-at-a-time sock knitting, then I have a bit of advice on the knitting needles. You will want to use circular knitting needles with a super flexible and strong cable with a good join that doesn’t snag. My absolute favorite circular needle set is ChiaoGoo Twist Red Lace, because they have the best cable on the market. I love these needles so much. You will see the signature red cable in half my photos. If you want these amazing knitting needles AND support Knit with Henni at the same time, then use my affiliate links below to buy your own set. There’s no extra cost to you.

Affiliate links for my favorite circular knitting needles

The first one is half a set of 5-inch needle tips (US sizes 2-8), the second one is the full set of 4-inch needle tips (US sizes 2-15), and the third one is the full set of 5-inch needle tips (US sizes 2-15). I prefer the 5-inch ones to have a little more needle to hold on to, but it’s a matter of personal preference and what you are using the needles for. All sets include a few different cable lengths. The needles are also sold separately, if you are not quite ready to invest in an interchangeable set.

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