Learn to knit

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Cast on

I am often asked this question, and the answer is that I don't have a single preference. That said, the methods I prefer do not include the 'long-tail'.

Which methods do I prefer?

The first method I ever learned was the 'knitted cast-on'. This begins with a slip knot onto the left-hand-needle. Knit into the slip knot, just as though it were a stitch, except that the loop that is formed is placed back onto the left-hand-needle. One stitch is now cast-on. Continue in this way, knitting into the leading stitch and putting the loop formed back onto the left-hand-needle, until you have the number of stitches needed. To learn a trick to make the beginning edge of the cast-on row neater, read on.


Knitted cast-on is a nice and neat cast-on, but when I want a tighter cast-on, I use the 'cable cast-on'. This method also begins with a slip knot onto the left-hand-needle. Next, knit into the slip knot - in the usual fashion - but put the loop formed back onto the left-hand-needle. So far, it is just like the 'knitted cast-on'. Here's the difference: to proceed, stick the right-hand-needle between the two leading stitches on the left-hand-needle, rather than into the leading stitch on the left-hand-needle. Draw through a loop to be put back onto the left-hand-needle. This forms a tighter cast-on and it is the only cast-on, in my opinion, appropriate for buttonholes. I also use it at the beginnings of most garments, with the exceptions listed below.

When using these methods, a common question is 'Do I twist the loop before putting it onto the left-hand-needle?' The answer is that it doesn't matter as long as you are consistent.

A third cast-on that I commonly use is the 'crochet cast-on', described and demonstrated below. I use it when I want the cast-on to look exactly like the bind off in garments without edgings. Examples would be scarves, shawls, afghans, garter stitch garments. It is not tight enough to be used at the beginnings of a garment which goes immediately into ribbing.

The final cast-on that I use a lot comes as a bit of a surprise. It is the 'e-wrap' or 'backwards loop' cast-on. Begin with the usual slip knot onto the left-hand-needle. Then put your index finger under the yarn, so that the yarn is lying over your index finger from back to front. Turn your index finger to the right and stick the left-hand-needle into the loop formed. Draw the yarn tight with the right hand and the loop then slides onto the left-hand-needle to form a cast-on stitch. This is an elementary cast-on, I know, but it has its uses. I always use it if I am casting on stitches that will go into a seam and I sometimes use it when I will want to pick up stitches later, although the 'crochet cast-on' works in this situation also. The 'e-wrap' doesn't waste yarn into seams, and it leaves nice and easy loops from which to seam and pick up.

The commonly used cast-on that I don't much like is the 'long tail' or 'thumb' cast-on, with apologies to those who prefer it. I don't find it as secure or neat as the knitted cast-on or cable cast-on. I particularly don't like that it leaves knitters ready to work a wrong side (WS) row. As one who writes patterns, I want to be able to assume that everyone is ready to being with a right side (RS) row after casting on. For those who did not realize that the long-tail leaves you ready to work a wrong side row, look at the purl bumps that are immediately formed. They need to go to the wrong side. To do this, just work your first row after the cast-on as if it were a wrong side row.

Finally, what about that slip knot? It's kind of ugly. To tidy it up, after casting on and working one row, take that tail that began the cast-on and pull it out from the first stitch. This removes a loop that is not necessary to your knitting, and your cast-on now begins more neatly.

Crochet cast on

This cast on is done with yarn, a knitting needle and a crochet hook. It serves one of two purposes.

First, it can be used as a 'provisional' or temporary cast on. You would work the cast on with waste yarn, preferably a smooth cotton, and you would cut the waste yarn after casting on. You would now work the body of the garment up from this cast on. When done, pick out the last loop formed in the crochet process. Rip the rest of the crochet cast on off in one simple motion. You will be presented with are loops or open stitches along the bottom of the garment body piece from which you would work your edging down.

Second, it is also known in Montse Stanley's knitting techniques book as the 'bind off cast on' because it is the only cast on which looks like a bind off row. That makes it a perfect choice for garments which may be designed without edgings, like scarves, shawls, afghans. Begin with this cast on, work slip stitches up the sides, an end with the bind off, and now all four edges would look identical. I also use it for garments like garter stitch vests with no edgings.

It is not an appropriate cast on for ribbed edges because it is too loose.

You need one knitting needle the size you will use for the garment body knitting.

You need a crochet hook about the same size. If doing a provisional cast on, you need waste yarn about three times the width of the garment body piece. If using this cast on as the beginning to a piece of knitting, use the required yarn. Directions that follow are for right handed knitters.

  1. Make a slip knot in your yarn.
  2. Put it onto the crochet hook and hold in right hand.
  3. Hold the knitting needle in the left hand.
  4. Carry the yarn under the knitting needle and wrap around left index finger, as if to knit continental or as if to crochet.
  5. With left middle finger and thumb, hold tail of slip knot and knitting needle tight together.
  6. Take crochet hook OVER TOP of knitting needle and draw through a loop.
  7. Take yarn between knitting needle and crochet hook and around to back of knitting needle.
  8. Rep steps 6 and 7 until you are one st short of the number you need.
  9. Rep step 7.
  10. Put st from crochet hook onto knitting needle to finish.
  11. If working provisional cast on, cut thread and begin row 1 of garment piece with main yarn. If working this cast on as the beginning to a piece of knitting, begin row 1 of garment piece.