Spiral Rib Leg Warmers

For many of us, the mere mention of leg warmers conjures up vivid images of ripped sweatshirts and really big hair. Having grown up in the eighties, I love Olivia Newton John as much as the next person, but that doesn't necessarily mean I want "Let's Get Physical" to be my theme song for 2010. However, I'm not so curmudgeonly that I can't appreciate new takes on old trends.

So, instead of acrylic and rainbow stripes, these 21st century leg warmers are super soft merino and naturally subtle colors. Hand dyed by Manos del Uruguay's cooperative of local craftswomen, this 5-ply Merino is perfectly now. A South American rural community sustaining itself through its traditional crafts sounds like a very beautiful future to me!

The Materials

The Pattern


6 stitches = 1 inch in spiral rib pattern

Finished Size

8 inches in circumference unstretched / 16 inches in circumference stretched and 30 inches long

NOTE: This size is for extra small to small women. To make bigger sizes, simply add a multiple of 4 stitches. Each additional 4 stitches will add 2/3 inch to the final unstretched circumference and 1 1/3 inch to the final stretched circumference. (Please note that if you increase the size, 2 skeins probably won't be enough yarn to make your leg warmers quite 30 inches long. You can either make them a little shorter or buy an extra skein.)

To Make

With US #7 needle (either 12 inch circular or double pointed), cast on 48 stitches.

Place a stitch marker and join for working in the round, being careful to not twist the stitches.

Rounds 1-3: *P2, k2, repeat from * to end of round.

Rounds 4-6: K1, *p2, k2, repeat from * to last 3 stitches, p2, k1.

Rounds 7-9: *K2, p2, repeat from * to end of round.

Rounds 10-12: P1, *k2, p2, repeat from * to last 3 stitches, k2, p1.

Repeat Rounds 1-12 until piece measures 30 inches from the cast on edge.

Bind off loosely in pattern.

Make another leg warmer identical to the first.

Weave in the ends and you're done!

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35 Responses to Spiral Rib Leg Warmers

  1. CitricSugar says:

    I love these!!! The stitch pattern is gorgeous and subtle. Thank you for making legwarmers cool again!

  2. MFP says:

    So to make for a child, I’d just subtract a multiple of four and/or use smaller yarn & needles, right?

  3. AEK says:

    Thanks so much for this pattern! It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I knitted two pairs of legwarmers but they keep falling down to my ankles. These look like they would be snug enough to stay up. I really look forward to making these!

  4. salidou says:

    thank you for this pattern ! I find them superb !

  5. accoutrements says:

    You make legwarmers look hot! Thanks for the pattern. Can’t wait to try it out.

  6. Jessica says:

    Just wondering – when I cast on 48 stitches and then join for working in the round I have a total of 47 stitches which does not allow me to do the last k2 at the end of round 1. Am I supposed to cast on 49 and then join so I have an even number? I am still new to this knitting stuff so I am just wondering if I’m missing something. Thanks for your help!

  7. purl bee says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I’m not sure why you are ending up with one less stitch when you join into a round, are you knitting two together when you join the round (you don’t need to)? You certainly could cast on an extra stitch for a simple fix to correct the problem you’re having, but you might also want to check out the video for large diameter circular knitting at KnittingHelp,com for some insight into the usual way to start the round. You can find the video at this link:
    Hope this helps!

  8. Tina says:

    Lovely! I’m not a very talented knitter, but I will try to make these. I love easy but still beautiful patterns (not just garter stiches)!!!

  9. KnitPurlGurl says:

    So simple and cute! Great pattern!

  10. MUU says:

    Love the leggings!
    I would like to put some sort of standard ribbing on the top and bottom to keep things from slipping downward.

    Is this even necessary? How would I do this?

  11. Josie says:

    Hi Whitney!
    I knit the spiral legwarmers for my daughter using the Manos del Uruguay yarn you suggested. (I ordered the yarn from The Purl Bee!) I absolutely loved knitting with that yarn, and the legwarmers turned out great. I decreased the original cast on a bit to accomodate my daughter's skinny legs. I posted a picture of her wearning them on my blog.

    Thank you for the great pattern, and thanks for the wonderful, inspiring blog!

  12. purlbee says:

    Hi Josie -

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love your purple version and the idea that a real ballerina is wearing them!

    Keep the “FO”s coming!

  13. egb91011 says:

    I love these legwarmers but they are the “longest” project I have embarked on thus far! I am getting so antsy to get them finished and am so close to finishing the first one! I will be posting pictures once I am finished!

  14. Andee says:

    I love these and have never used dpn needles before and am not quite sure how many are in a “set”. The question may be silly, but other patterns I looked at called a set 3, 4 or even 5. I have 2. I have a circular needle but it is too long and am not capable of the magic loop technique either. Any answers would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  15. purl bee says:

    Hi Andee-

    Usually double pointed needles come in a set of 5 and in general you need at least 4 to knit in a circle. You can also use a shorter circular needle. This pattern calls for a 12-inch circular.

    The links below the “Materials” section of this pattern link directly to the needle options that will work for this project.

    Good luck and thanks for your question!


  16. Andee says:

    Thank you! I guess I just have to practice more. My circular needle apparently is 12'' but the cast on stitches don't cover the circumference so it is hard for me to join/stitch in the round. I'll get it eventually.

  17. KRB says:

    I was thinking, to knit bigger sizes and not be left guessing as to how long to make the leg warmers, you could put both warmers on the needles at once and knit that way. Liat's KNITFREEDOM blog has info on how to knit socks 2 at a time, and I believe the master herself, Elizabeth Zimmerman, has this technique in one of her books.

    The best parts are that you never run out of yarn before knitting both, AND there's no second-sock blues.

    What do you think? Any tips for how to do this for your readers?

    Thank you for a lovely pattern!

  18. purl bee says:

    Hi KRB,

    Good idea! I've never done two-in-one knitting, but it looks like Knitty also has a great tutorial:

    Enjoy your freedom and thanks for the great tips!


  19. Maggie says:

    I finished making one of these today, using the recommended yarn and size. Unfortunately it turned out a little too big. Before I begin the second one, should I re-knit it, or can I felt it slightly to shrink it? Thanks!

  20. purl bee says:

    Hi Maggie,

    I'm sorry to hear your leg warmer is too big! This yarn will felt; I would recommend watching the process very closely if you decide to take this route.

    Another option would be to pick up stitches along one or both ends in order to knit some ribbing, which might do the trick of keeping the leg warmers in place!

    Thanks for asking and good luck!

  21. Ashley says:

    How would I make these for a 12-year old kid? Should I use smaller yarn and needles?

  22. purl bee says:

    Hi Ashley-

    I have a feeling these might fit a 12 year old. They are 8-inches in circumference and they stretch to fit around the calf. But if you'd like to make it smaller simply decrease the number of stitches by a multiple of 4 keeping in mind that the gauge is 6 stitches per inch. For example if you wanted them to be 7-inches around: 7 (inches) X 6 (stitches per inch)= 42, rounded up to the nearest multiple of 4= 44 stitches to cast on.

    Please let us know if you have any more questions and thanks for writing in!


  23. Devon says:

    I found this pattern searching “leg warmer knit patterns” and 80s. I was asked to make something for our silent auction at our Waldorf school that would appeal to tweens/early teens. What a great, easy, and fun pattern! I did want them to look more retro and choose a very hot pink in Berroco Vintage yarn. Usually I don't like acrylic, but in this case the acrylic-wool blend is just right for the 80s look AND washable for a teenager hard on clothing. Knit one 24 inch long with adding a 1.5 inche rib at either end in a weekend easily. Will definitely work for a youth ages 12+. Two skeins will work with suggested cast on with a bit left over for a ear warmer, I think. Showed the one to some mothers this morning who now want to bid for themselves – too funny. Just have to finish the other by this weekend! Thank you, thank you!

  24. Caitlin says:

    I love the way these look! I'd love to try this project out myself but am not sure about the yarn to use. If I'm not using the yarn listed, what weight would I need to stick with? Sport? Worsted? Sock? Any advice would be great. Thank you!

  25. purl bee says:

    Hi Caitlin-

    You should use a worsted/ aran weight yarn. You can see our selection here:

    Thank you!


  26. Sara says:

    Hey Molly,

    I'm new to circular knitting and the 48 stitches I've cast on to my 12 inch circular needle don't reach all the way around the needle – I'm finding it impossible to join for this project. Am I missing something?



  27. purl bee says:

    Hi Sara-

    It sounds like you're casting on too tightly. Try casting on very loosely.

    Hope that helps!


  28. Aimee says:

    I'm really hoping to make these for my daughter for ballet – but I'm having the hardest time finding 12'in. US 7 circular needles (and I'm trying to avoid doing this on DPN's…circulars just seem to be so much easier to stick in my purse for some on-the-go knitting)…any recommendations??

  29. purl bee says:

    Hi Aimee-

    We sell size 7 12-inch needles here:

    Thanks so much for getting in touch!


  30. Aimee says:

    Perfect – thank you!! I've got my needles now…just wondering if you have a recommendation for the best way to join after casting on? Do you have a favorite method?

  31. purl bee says:

    Hi Aimee,

    Some people do special things to join their work into the round, like casting on an extra stitch and then working the first two stitches together. However, I just cast on the number the pattern says and then work the first row also how the pattern says. This does leave a bit of a gap, but I never have a problem fixing it when I weave in the cast on tail.

    Thanks so much for asking and please let us know if you have any more questions!


  32. Lindsay says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for posting this pattern, I just finished my leg warmers last night, and I love them!! They were the first project I have knitted magic loop style.
    I love your blog.
    Thank you!!

  33. Rachel says:

    I am using two circular needles, is it still going to turn out okay?

  34. Megan says:

    Put seems like lots of people have made theses and no one complains of them falling. Do they stay up pretty well because the whole thing is ribbed? I am making them for someone else and want to make sure, thanks!

  35. purl bee says:

    Hi Megan,

    Yes, that's right! The stitch pattern is essentially a rib, which tends to pull in and keep the leg warmers snug around the leg. Just make sure you consider the final stretched circumference when you decide how many stitches to cast on.

    Thanks for your question and please let us know if you have any more!


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