Tips and Tricks:
Magic Ball Knitting

Rarely do we use up every inch of yarn that we buy for a project. Eventually, most knitters are overwhelmed with leftovers. Here's a fun way to use them up and create a beautiful knitted item at the same time. It's called "magic ball" knitting.

Get on the Ball

Begin by going through your stash and picking out yarns of a similar color or texture scheme. It helps if the yarns are all of the same gauge, but it's not entirely necessary.

Once you've picked your yarns, assemble them around you. It helps if you're on the floor so you have lots of space to move.

Take your first skein, pull out a random length of yarn (I usually use between two and three feet), and cut it. Wind this yarn into a ball.

Then pick a second skein, pull out a slightly different length of it, cut it, and tie it to the end of the original strand. Wrap this new strand around the same ball. Essentially, you're tying together pieces of yarn to create one long piece.

Continue picking different yarns and different lengths, and adding it to your ball. Eventually you'll have a large ball made up of random combinations of assorted yarns. This is the magic ball!

Needle in a Haystack

You'll want to choose a needle size that will match the average gauge of the yarns in the ball. If there's a big difference, you have two choices.

First, you can use larger needles to achieve lace-like open areas where the yarn is finer. Or second, you can use smaller needles for a tighter fabric that will have periodic bulky spots.

Even then, it may take some trial and error with your ball to determine the needle size you like best.

Using the Ball

Here's where the fun begins! Magic ball knitting works best when you use a straight stockinette stitch. This helps ensure that all the loose ends stay on the back side of the work, keeping the front flat and colorful.

If you like the look of "eyelash" yarn, you can always use lots of short strands and display the reverse side of the knitted item -- with all its loose ends -- as the front.

Earning Your Stripes

If you want to produce a striped effect, use even lengths of yarn. For true randomness and to avoid striping, vary the length of the yarn pieces you use.

The longer the strand, the larger the band of color you'll have in the knitted garment. Adding a small amount of bright contrast here and there produces a lovely effect similar to that of sunlight glowing from behind a cloud.

What to Do, What to Do

What can you do with magic ball knitting? It depends almost entirely on how much yarn you have and your patience for tying all those pieces together.

Some ideas include:
  • Pillow cases, or inset squares within a larger pillow cover
  • Sweaters and vests (designer Kaffe Fassett has created beautiful garments this way)
  • Small bags or purses (this works especially well if you can reinforce the bag with lining, which will help preserve the shape of the knitted pieces)
  • Hats (knit in the round using stockinette stitch)
  • Scarves (only if you like the "eyelash" effect of all the loose yarn ends)
  • Any small detail for a larger piece of plain fabric, such as an afghan (to hide the loose ends, it works best if you stitch the square onto the larger piece of fabric)
Add your comments!

Reader comments

"About 20 years ago I used this technique to make a sweater-coat. The background was all pinks and the flower motif (from Kaffe Fasset) all blues. I started off with my own stash, but as the sweater grew I needed more yarn so asked the women in my knitting group if they had pinks or blues. Sure enough the did, and now my finished sweater is a reminder of my friends the knitters. I still wear it; still get comments on the street and shopping. One point: in knotting, I left about 3" tails and knitted them in as I worked." uletas, 9/29/03

"I have used a variation of the magic ball with two strands of fingering yarn. I got about 5.5 st/inch. Don't let the two strands end in the same place, overlapping colors look nicer. Sometimes I used a really long length of one color, or a multicolored yarn, with shorter pieces of other colors. I didn't make a ball, I just pulled the color I wanted next out of the skein and knit it up. I hope this is clear. I I used this technique to make a Christmas stocking in a Southwestern blanket pattern. The color groups were basically turquoise/green/blue for the background and hot pink/red/orange for the patterns. It came out great. The colors blended together in a soft, nice way (they were close in value anyway (I think that's the right term). I want to make a simple vest using the same technique. BUT it's hard to rip out because reconstructing the color sequences is almost impossible. A simple shape would be best." Hoffish, 8/2/2001

"Many years ago I read about a woman who had made a large afghan using the same technique as Magic Ball. She used a very, very long circular needle and began knitting in the round. She literally used up bags of stash with no regard to size, color, etc. of her yarn. When she was finished with her afghan she laid it flat and stitched both ends together. This would have made a very warm afghan as it was now doubled. The biggest benefit of this - all the tied ends were on the inside of her afghan." LindyB, 8/2/2001

"I have used the Magic Ball technique with crochet and DMC floss to make tiny miser bags for coins. If the tails are long enough you can add beads to it for decoration." mbriz, 7/30/2001

"I made myself a huge magic ball from lots of different yarns in blues, greens, and teals. Took it with me on a trip to the States late last year (I'm from Australia) and freeform knitted and crocheted with it on planes and while waiting around at airports......great way to work with a mass of colours, without having to keep diving into your bag all the time for different balls of yarn!! You can see a close-up photo of part of the fabric I created with this magic ball at (it's the green/blue piece - second last photo in the right hand column)." Prudence, 7/29/01

"Have used the magic ball theory for a long time. Another good use of this ball is to make hats or caps for children. Knit a lot for Caps For Kids and they just love those 'crazy hats.'" lpmo, 7/27/01

"Regarding the using of leftover yarn in a project. I have an ongoing towel ... from kitchen cotton and sugar and cream ... yarn i make dishcloths with. It's now about 6 feet long ... and will end when its big enough for a towel to fit on the lounges by the pool. I just put them all in a bag, and make a BIGGGG ball out of it. I never look to see what color is coming out next, so it really becomes a Varigated and one of a kind! When it's big enough, I will just start another one... I'm always knitting a dishcloth." Madamedefarge2, 7/29/01

"i was ALWAYS taught that knotting yarn knitted into a garment was a DEFINITE NO NO!!!!! don't you agree?????? however i have been winging it by knitting lenghts of colors as i would if adding another skein of yarn while knitting as always. it is kind of a unique effect." ginimac, 7/29/01

"About 10 years ago we did a project similar to this at Minnesota Knitter's Days camp. For our project we each received a wooden 14 inch ruler, and cut the strands all 14 inches. Our teacher that year was Cheryl Oberle; she has a collar/scarf pattern and a jacket pattern using this technique." czylla, 7/27/01

"I've been doing 'magic ball' knitting for years. As I finish a project, any piece of yarn long enough to get 2 knots in it goes into a large tin canister I keep by my knitting chair. Every once in a while I go through and tie it all together and wind it into balls. I like to use it for double strand mittens. It's funny, but all the years my kids wore them, not one mitten got lost (maybe they never took them out of their pockets). And you never have to worry about odd mittens. I also knit strips about 10 inches wide in garter stitch and then sew the strips togeter to make afghans. I don't worry about them going on picnics or to the beach. One thing I do to keep the yarn in equal sizes is that as I'm attaching and rolling the ball, if I come to sport or fine yarn, I just use two or more strands. I usually wind bulky and heavier weight together. It just seems so wasteful to throw away those little scraps! One year at a craft fair I did, I took about ten pair of the mittens to see if they would sell. A pastor at a local church wanted to buy them for a mission. I donated all ten pair." rhoornbeek, 7/27/01

"Thank you for the the idea of the leftover yarn. I usually take all my leftover cones of yarn to the community center. I do not know what they do but they tell me they wait for more." ellkeb, 7/27/01