Are chain rings or the magic circle best?

Q: What is better to use when starting a project – the magic circle or chain ring? (T. Pomeroy)

A: When working in the round, whether for motifs, hats, or other projects, some patterns specify beginning with a chain and joining its ends to form a ring; others specify starting with the “adjustable loop” (also called Magic Circle or Magic Ring). Some patterns suggest using either a joined chain OR the Magic Circle. How’s a crocheter to know which to choose? Is it possible or advisable to use one method if the pattern specifies the other? These are good questions, and the answers depend on three factors: (1) the intended appearance of the finished project, (2) the fiber used, and (3) the function or structural stress expected of the center of the finished project.

Some projects will look better with no visible, open ring at the center. This would be true of a warm hat or an afghan motif with a solid center, for example. The solid center can be achieved by either starting method; a short chain circle completely filled with stitches will be as visually solid as a tightened Magic Circle. However, some motifs and projects, particularly lace projects, have a finished appearance that really depends on and needs an open circle at the center. Using a Magic Circle and not tightening it causes the stitches not to stand in proper relation to one another, giving a loose and sloppy appearance to the center. A chained circle, when an open center is desired, will hold its shape, and the designer has already determined the number of stitches needed to fill the ring, “setting up” the succeeding rounds of pattern stitching. Another aesthetic consideration is bulk: stitches worked over a chained ring will have more bulk at their base than stitches worked over a Magic Circle. If the piece is to be a flat and delicate piece of lace, it’s possible that the bulk of a chained circle will not be desired. If your project needs an open circle at its center, use a chained circle, but understand the inherent extra “3-D” effect of working the first round of stitches over a chain.

The next consideration is fiber. Some yarns are very slippery, and a Magic Circle made with very slippery yarn (nylon, rayon, silk, and some polished cottons, for example) will be very difficult to tighten securely. You don’t want your hat to gradually ravel from the center, turning, over time, into a cowl! On the other hand, many fibers have inherent “grab.” Wool, especially, has microscopic fibers that extend from every individual hair. When spun into yarn and then crocheted into a circle, these fibers reach out and “hold hands” with one another, creating friction that will help the Magic Circle to stay secure. If using a fuzzy, haloed, or woolen yarn, you can be pretty sure that the Magic Circle will stay together, once the end is woven in securely. This makes Magic Circle beginnings ideal for warm winter hats, and other projects aimed at keeping out the cold.

Finally, we must consider the amount of stress or pull that will be placed on the circle when the project enters its intended life of use. A hat stretches outward from the center every time it’s placed on a head, whereas the center of each motif in a 100-motif tablecloth receives very little stretching stress. A chained circle is both stronger (more resistant to pulling out) and bulkier than a Magic Ring. If your motif has a solid center and you want it to lie very flat and fine, then a Magic Ring will be your choice: you’ll just need to tighten it and weave the end in very carefully if using a polished or slippery yarn. However, this type of yarn may be better started with a traditional chained circle, just to keep the center together. An item made of wool or another fuzzy yarn, will have enough “grab” in its fiber to resist pulling out the Magic Ring, once the end is woven in securely. Finally, with either method, remember: it is important to leave a long enough tail at the beginning to secure the ring!

In the end, like so many other things in crochet, the choice is up to you! Consider the intended appearance, the intended function, and the properties of your chosen yarn, and use the beginning method that best suits your project. If in doubt, remember that the designer’s instructions are there as a guide—he or she is telling you what worked for THAT project, with THAT yarn. You can follow that advice, if it truly applies to your yarn, or you can do something different, if it’s appropriate for YOUR project. If you’re unsure, make two swatches, one with each method, completing the first 3 to 5 rounds of the project. Subject each swatch to the harshest, roughest treatment you expect the finished project to undergo, and make your decision based on what happens with your experiment. If both swatches are equally effective, then choose the method with which you are most comfortable, and we’ll all just keep going round in circles!