Knitting is top of our list for soothing craft activities, but if you’re not sure you’re ready for knitting needles, French knitting (or “spool knitting”) is for you!
You don’t need many specialist tools to give it a go – just some yarn and a spool tool. French knitting dolls and tools are inexpensive to pick up in local craft stores or online (we’ll show you where below). Or if you prefer you can easily make your own tool from a toilet roll and some lolly pop sticks.
Shop-bought French knitting tools come in a range of designs – mostly cute, wooden, hollow tubes with 4 pins or wire loops around the top edge. In this post we’ll show you: By winding yarn around the pins in a certain way, you create long knitted strings that run down the middle of the tool, which can then be made into craft projects and gifts.
Whether you have fond memories of spool knitting as a child, you want to find out how to French knit from scratch or you’re already hooked and want to find french knitting patterns and projects, this complete guide is for you!
Scroll to the bottom of this post for our top 10 things to make with french knitting. We’ve also got a huge round-up of our favourite craft ideas for kids if this tutorial gives you and your mini makers a taste of the power of kids craft and you want to try more projects.
Or if you’re on the hunt for easy kids craft ideas with yarn, you might also like our guide for our how to do finger knitting article! If you’re ready to graduate to using knitting needles, we’ve got a handy guide to knitting for beginners to teach you the ropes.
In this guide to French knitting we’ll show you:
- What is French knitting?
- How too French knit – how to start French knitting
- Step by step French knitting instructions
- How to cast off French knitting
- How to sew French knitting together
- Gather up our favourite French knitting dolls, patterns and projects so show you fun things to make with french knitting.
What is French knitting?
French knitting (also known as Spool knitting or corking) is the making of long tubes of knitting by winding yarn around a spool. By winding the yarn repeatedly in circles around 4 pins at the top of the spool, a long thin knitted cord is created. It’s hugely soothing to do, kids love it and you don’t need to splash out on fancy supplies to give it a go.
You can pick up the spools inexpensively online (see our favourites below), or even make your own pretty simply by sticking 4 lolly pop sticks to the edges of a toilet roll. French knitting spools can also be called a French knitting tool, Knitting Nancy or knitting dolly. Apart from that you’ll just need some yarn and a pair of scissors to get going.
How to French knit: Step by step French knitting instructions
You Will Need
- French knitting doll
- Yarn (1 ball)
How do you start French knitting?
Take the end of your ball of wool and insert it into the top of your French knitting tool. Thread it down the middle of the tool so it pops out the bottom end. Leave a tail poking out of the bottom of around 4 inches or 10 centimetres.
If your wool gets caught on the way down as you thread it through the spool, try tying it to a large needle or small stick and threading this through the centre.
Now for the fun bit – it’s time to learn how to french knit! Hold the tool in your left hand, holding the yarn at the bottom at the same time so it’s not too loose. Now take the yarn that’s coming out of the top of the spool in your right hand. We’ll call this the “working yarn”. Wrap this yarn in a clockwise direction around one of the pins.
Once you’ve wrapped the working yarn around the first pin of your french knitting doll or tool, bring it up and around the neighbouring pin, anticlockwise.
Wrap it clockwise around that pin, then (again), bring it over to the next anticlockwise pin and wrap it again. Repeat until you’ve wrapped it around all 4 pins in a circle.
Once you’ve worked your way around the circle of pins, wrap the yarn a second time around the next anticlockwise pin in the circle, so that your second loop of yarn lies above the first on that pin.
Repeat this, working your way around the circle again anticlockwise (wrapping the yarn around each pin clockwise each time), until you have two loops on each pin.
At the start of this step, your tool should look like this…
Keep hold of the end of the yarn that is poking out of the bottom of your tool as you work, and give that end a gently tug. Now you’ll only have one loop on this pin, and two loops on all the other pins.
Working on the same pin (that now has 1 loop on it), bring your working yarn from the anticlockwise position and wrap it around the pin again. So again you’ll have 2 loops on every pin now.
Move to the next pin anticlockwise in the circle and repeat this process of bringing the lower loop up and over, tugging the bottom yarn, then adding a fresh loop. Repeat this process, working around the circle in round after round, always tugging gently the bottom yarn at the end of each new stitch.
Repeat round after round and soon enough you’ll create a string or tube of knitting that starts to poke out of the bottom of the French knitting tool.
Keep going for as long as you want your knitted tube to be.
How to you join wool in French knitting?
Before you read this step: You can skip this step and the next one if you don’t actually need or want to change the colour of your yarn. If so, go straight to the next section: “How do you finish French knitting?”.
If you do want to join a new colour or piece of wool though… read on!
Who says French knitting needs to be in all the same colour wool? Create stripy cords, or use up lots of small scraps of yarn and just add a new scrap when one runs out, with this easy method for changing colour in French knitting. Once you get to the end of your working yarn, and you have about 10 centimetres of working yarn left, take end of the working yarn, and the end of your new piece of yarn, and tie them together with a knot. Trim the two loose ends of the knot so they’re quite short (about 2 or 3 centimetres).
Once your yarns are secured with a knot, keep French knitting the working yarn in the first colour until you reach the knot, and then keep French knitting once you get to the new colour yarn – as you go, make sure that the two loose ends of yarn are buried in the middle of your French knitting tool as you knit. If they get tangled up in a loop on one of your pegs, pull them gently back into the middle. After you have knitted a few stitches, the loose ends will gradually become fully enclosed within your tube of knitting and you can keep knitting in your new colour.
How to do you cast off French knitting?
To cast off your French knitting, simply cut your working yarn, leaving a thread of about 8 centimetres.
Thread your new end through each of the four loops on your pins, pulling each loop off its pin as you go.
The end of your cord is now secure and you can pull the knitting out of the knitting tool.
Congratulations! You have finished your first ever spool knitting!
How do you join French knitting together?
There are two ways to join two pieces of French knitting together – end to end or lengthways to form rows of knitting for chunkier projects. They both require a large needle and some spare yarn (preferably in a colour that matches one of the pieces of knitting for an invisible join). You can either:
Method 1: Sew their ends together of two French knitting cords – so they are attached end to end.
To do this, thread your needle on to some yarn (if you still have the tail end of the knitted cord, use that), and then slip the needle through the end stitches of both cords. for best results, bring the needle through the stitches of both ends a few times, working around the edge of the cord as you go, for a secure join. To finish the join, knot the thread to one of the end stitches, cut it to form a short length (about 1 cm), then tuck this into the cord so it is completely hidden.
Method 2: Sew them together, lengthways – along the long edge.
This method is used to create spool knitting rugs and chunkier sections, formed of several rows of French knitting. To do this, place the two lengths of knitting side by side, lengthways, and thread a needle with some yarn. Tie the end of your joining yarn to one stitch at the end of one of the rows, then bring the needle up, through and down through an end stitch of the adjacent length of French knitting.
Now bring the needle back up through an upper stitch in the lower length of knitting, and again up and through a lower stitch on the edge of the upper piece of knitting. Repeat to create a row of small stitches, all along the length of the two pieces of yarn, so they are secured together with a row of tiny stitches.
To finish, knot the joining thread to one of the end stitches, cut it to form a short length (about 1 cm), then tuck this into the cord so it is completely hidden.
French knitting dolls and kits
Knitting doll spools
- Buy it now (Etsy, £10.67)
Cutest Knitting Nancy dolls ever? We think so. Head over to Live Past Vintage on Etsy and treat yourself to some vintage craft stash.
Galt Toys French Knitting kit
- Buy it now (Amazon, £9.94)
We’re big fans of Galt craft and science kits for kids – discover easy and quick-to-knit projects with a chunky double-ended French knitting tool, and step by step guides for how to create a beaded necklace, plaited headband, flower headband, bow bracelets and flower accessories. This kit includes eight 10g balls of wool, a double-ended French knitting spool, knitting hook, 60 pony beads, ball chain necklace, bodkin and instructions.
Make your own personalised wall decor
- Buy the kit now (£34.99, Etsy)
Who says French Knitting should be just for kids? We love these stylish wall cord lettering kits from Mindful Crafts Design
SES French knitting set
- Buy it now (Amazon, £8.18)
This fun wooden spool knitting doll captures the old-school joy of Knitting Nancy dolls. Use this nifty tool to make the make the most beautiful spool knitting creations with ease – it comes with yarns to start playing around with straight away.
Avenue Mandarine Knitting Nancy
- Buy it now (Amazon, £10.58)
This sweet spool knitting starter kit is the perfect way to get into French knitting.
French Knit Butterflies Kit
- Buy it now (Amazon, £6.99)
This specially designed knitting reel tool will help kids make their own colourful yarn butterflies. Suitable for ages 5 and over.
- Buy it now (Rex London, £7.95)
This is the tool we’ve used in this tutorial. We brought it as it was cute as a Christmas stocking filler last year and writing this tutorial for you was the perfect excuse to crack it open and have a go.
French knitting patterns: 16 things to make with French knitting
1. French knit monogram brooch
Twist and wind your French knitting into a personalised brooch! Handmade Charlotte shows you how with her tutorial for a DIY French Knit Monogram Brooch.
2. Finger knit a Spring basket
Turn your spool knitting into something that’s pretty and practical with this fun DIY basket idea from Imagine Childhood, via Flickr.
3. Twist it on to wire to make a heart garland
Mimos for Littles on Etsy have this brilliant idea for how to show off your finished spool knitting. Or if you’re not sure you can pull it off, we won’t tell anyone if you buy one of their ready made versions!
4. Make French knitting knotty coasters
We knew French knitting was addictive but we didn’t realise it could look so stylish. Head over to My Poppet Makes to find out how to make these Celtic knot coasters.
5. Make super sweet bow hair clips
We love this cute and quick idea for how to whip up speedy hair accessories by twisting your French knitting into tiny bows. Thanks to to Les Fil-Feuilles for this idea.
6. Spell out messages
We love this simple but effective idea for creating messaging from i-cords or French Knitting – as discovered on Molly Moo Crafts.
7. French Knit Christmas Ornaments
Ok so it may be February when we’re writing this, but it’s never too early to get making your own festive decorations and we love this idea of twisting your French knitting into candy canes and Christmas wreaths from Dartmoor Creative.
8. French Knit your own stars
This is a really simple but effective idea – we found it over at Knitting Ideas and it’s an easy one to recreate at home.
9. French knit a plaited necklace
If you don’t want to let the kids have ALL the fun and want to give French knitting a go too, why not try twisting your finished cords into this plaited necklace? Idea from The Crafty Mummy.
10. French Knit an Earmuff Hairband
Penelope Bulnick over at The Instructables has come up with this awesome way of using your French Knitting! Keep your ears warm and show off your knitting in style with this DIY tutorial for how to make an earmuff hairband.
11. Spool knit a cactus
Head over to My Material Life to find out how it’s done!
12. Knit a rainbow wall hanging
Whip up a batch of rainbow-coloured French knitted tubes and stitch them together to make a rainbow wall hanging. We found this happy-making idea over at savlabot.com
13. French knit a bracelet
Twist your French knitting into a bracelet and finish with a chunky button! If you’re not sure how to go about it, head over to Etsy to buy this ready-made bracelet from La Mauvaise Graine on Etsy.
14. Knitted bows garland
The second bow-themed make in this round-up, but we’ve included it anyway (even though the idea is actually a crochet pattern from Etsy, it would be easy to adapt with French knitting!
15. Make beautiful table toppers
We’ve spied these French Knitted Wire Standing Hearts on Etsy (£8.50 – available from Create Expectations UK in a range of colour ways) and love this clever idea for displaying French Knitting. It’s easy to make your French knitting hold it’s shape – simply insert wire through the middle of the tube to give it a mouldable, 3D effect, but we don’t blame you if you can’t resist treating yourself to these ready-made French knitted hearts either.
16. Grow your own flowers with French knitting
Once you’ve mastered the trick of inserting wire to bend and twist other shapes, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can make out of French knitting. We’re coveting these personalised French knitted Flower nursery decorations (available from Lily Mae Crafty Makes – £10, Etsy).