Q for You: How do you cast on?

Q for You: How do you cast on?

Such a broad question! As much as we all love starting a new project — to the point where some of us (ahem) have cast-on-itis — I think a lot of knitters don’t give much thought to the actual act of casting on. I know I didn’t for the first year I was knitting. I was taught the long-tail cast on, and that seemed to be what all the patterns specified, if they specified anything at all. Then in January of last year, I took a tips-and-tricks class from Josh Bennett in SF and he had a lot to say about cast ons. He talked about whether the first row after long-tail needs to be a right- or wrong-side row (which I had often wondered about) and also about how long-tail leaves you with purl bumps at the bottom of your knitted ribs (which I had never thought to be bothered by, but he’s so right). He showed us how to do long-tail backwards and also the Italian something or other, which is ideal for 1×1 ribbing and which I’ve forgotten in the meantime, having never used it. (There’s always YouTube, right?) But he got me thinking, is the point.

(By the way, I don’t start long-tail with a slip knot. I just make my slingshot, pull down on it with my needle — as pictured — and start casting on stitches. I get really puzzled when I see someone talking about beginning long-tail with a slip knot: what’s the purpose of that?)

Those two Orlane shawls I knitted last year introduced me to the utterly fascinating garter tab cast on for top-down triangular shawls. And reading and knitting so many Brooklyn Tweed patterns, where they’re particularly favored, I’ve also become super curious about tubular cast ons. I did my first one in working on Slade, and it is some kind of beautiful voodoo is all I can tell you.

At VKLive this month, in her steeking class, Ragga Eiriksdottir taught us the German Twisted cast on. (Here’s a video of Lucy Neatby doing it.) Ragga said she liked it better than long-tail for a sweater because it’s just as stretchy but … more durable? I wish I could remember for sure, and I also wish I’d asked her whether it’s her go-to or just her favorite for sweater hems.

The thing that fascinates me about cast ons isn’t just that there are so many ways to get yarn onto the needle, but that there are so many different applications for the different methods. I’m sure lots of people have made a serious study of it, and I wish I had time to do the same. But I think it’s one of those aspects of knitting knowledge that will simply have to develop over the years — as long as I don’t just default to long-tail every single time.

So here’s my Q for You: How do you cast on? The same way no matter what, or do you have different favorites for different fabric or project types?

UPDATE: The replies made me realize there are two long-tail variations I’ve used that are worth noting. The only provisional cast on I know involves using your working yarn and waste yarn and the long-tail method. I loosely tie the two together, rest that on my needle with the waste yarn forward, make my slingshot and start casting on. (The knot does not count as a stitch.) And that amazing Rosa Pomar hat I just finished uses a braided cast on, which is basically the same thing only you start by tying together your two different colors. Cast on one stitch, rotate the yarns clockwise so the next stitch you cast on is with the second color, and repeat — rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch; rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch …

And I do use backwards loop or cable cast on for casting on stitches in the middle of a row.


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48 thoughts on “Q for You: How do you cast on?

  1. I really love this question, Karen. I was actually taught the backward loop or thumb cast on by my mom, but pretty easily fell into the long-tail because so many patterns call for it. I also long-tail with the slingshot beginning. You are also so correct about the internet. I have taught myself many different cast ons including the tubular by using videos.
    I have been knitting tons of socks and decided after trying a variety of cast ons to just go with the long-tail tightly over 2 needles; I found that if I cast on loosely over one needle, I could never get the tension right, so I just really pull tight over the 2 needles all the time so the cuff on all my socks is the same. I tried the German Twisted because sock guru Ann Budd suggested it, but I decided I still am okay with long-tail and it gives me great stretch. It is also far less fiddly.
    I also just enabled a friend by casting on 300 stitches for a scarf she has been eyeing. For that I just did a knitted cast on with a twist so I didn’t have to measure for a long- tail. I also like the old cable cast on. I like the look of both of these cast ons.
    I am curious to hear what others say about any/all cast ons!

  2. My cast on is called “Chinese waitress”. I don’t know why and wish it had a more knitterly name. Anyway, it uses a crochet hook and knitting needle to produce a cast on with no right/wrong side and with a neat centered edge. I use garter at for shawls; “CWCO” for everything else. If I should ever again knit a sock, that cast on would be magic loop.

    • It’s so called supposedly because the person who first introduced it to a wider Western audience of knitters was a woman who learned it from a waitress in a restaurant in Beijing (I think, maybe another Chinese city). You’re not alone in wishing it were called something else. There was a bit of a huff on Ravelry discussion boards at one point about its name.

  3. I too was a long-tail gal until I recently discovered the German Twisted version. What a difference for top down socks! There are so many options in so many aspects of knitting. The other day while starting a pair of socks with 2 different needles (I use 2 circs), one wood and one carbon, I wondered if it would make a difference in my stitch gauge, but really how could it, they were both the same size? Then I saw this post – http://www.knitdarling.com/2014/needle-material-affects-on-gauge/. I just love the fact that knitting is more than just sticks & string, but knowledge too. The more we have in our arsenals the better our knitting will be. Thanks for introducing me to yet another CO Karen. Garter Tab. And sorry for the ramble. It’s only 8am here in DC and I’m still on my first cup of coffee!

  4. I’ve read about reasons for the various cast-ons, but I guess I just haven’t put too much thought into it! I usually use the long tail (with a slip knot!), knitted cast on, or the backwards loop. I have a little reference book that details some other cast ons if I need them.

  5. Hi there. Your cast on experience looks like mine, but I was taught the knitted cast on at first, decades ago (a method I never use unless asked by the designer). When I started knitting again last year, I discovered that casting on isn’t “just” casting on. Today, I mostly rely on the designer when she gives instructions, or this book : “Cast On, Bind Off – 211 Ways to Begin and End Your Knitting”. I should take notes on my experiences, though.

  6. It depends on the project. For 1×1 rib, especially hats, socks, mitts, sweaters I’ll go with the tubular CO. If it’s going to go straight into garter stitch I like the German/Norwegian (?) Twisted Long Tail, if I need something very stable I use cable CO, if I’m casting on in the middle of the row, usually backwards loop/e-loop, if I’m teaching someone to knit (and cast on) I usually go with the knitted cast on, and for most anything else I usually go with standard long tail since it’s fast for me, stretchy, and easy to work into. I learned i-cord cast on recently but that has limited application. Having a provisional cast on method in your bag of tricks is also useful. But yes, tubular CO — love it. And its partner, the tubular BO. Those two really make clean, professional edges and now all other edges attached to ribbing just don’t satisfy me.

    If you’re curious about more cast ons, the Ravelry user oftroy maintains a blog with lots and lots of different methods, and she sometimes makes video tutorials as well (not long ago I directed her to some Chinese cast-on methods and she made video tutorials of those and put them on Youtube).

  7. I generally do a long tail cast-on, but I did try tubular cast-on for a few hats I made before Christmas and that was fun for a change (although it was also more time-consuming).
    Thanks for the post — you’ve got me thinking what new techniques I might try out this year. Last year I finally learned two-handed colourwork and what a useful addition that’s been!

  8. i’m a long-tail cast on girl, almost always. because i mostly knit hats, it seems to work best for me. but when i’m making a pattern that calls for another type of cast-on, i always use it.

  9. I used the backward loop cast-on for everything for a few years. Then I made the Selvedge Cardigan by Amy Christoffers with a tubular cast-on and I thought it was very fun and I loved the results. I recently learned Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast-On, by Jeny Staiman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n8E3I6Cg2k) for a ribbed piece and I really love the way it looks to, nice ridges for the ribbing. I have found that I still like the speed of the backward loop, but if I can scrounge up the patience really researching cast-on is worth the time.

  10. I have always wondered which cast on is best for what kind of project. It seems like most patterns don’t tell you what you should use. Love the idea of not using a slip knot.

  11. I’m another one who uses long-tail probably 90% of the time, and pretty much only use other cast-ons when a pattern calls for them specifically. Since many of my projects are bottom-up sweaters knit in-the-round (i.e. hundreds of stitches to CO), I usually do my cast on by pulling from two balls so I don’t have to measure my ‘tail’ or risk running out of yarn. I just start with a loose bow in the two ends (which doesn’t count as a stitch) that I untie once I’m ready to join the round.

    I am just learning to think more critically about what bind-off methods I’m using (thanks in large part to Liat Gat’s KnitFreedom newsletter), I guess my next step is to start applying the same thinking to my CO!

  12. Left to my own devices, I do either a basic knitted cast-on, which is how I learned, or a cabled cast-on, which I especially like for hats because it looks really good with ribbing and is firm yet still flexible. However, I use other cast-ons if the pattern calls for them, and/or if it seems to make sense to me — long-tail, tubular, backward loop, provisional, etc. I especially like using the long-tail cast-on when I’m creating an edge that needs to be stretchy.

  13. I’m going to contribute (even though I have nothing earth shattering to add) so that I don’t feel badly when I lurk here all day! I’m hoping for many awesome ideas and suggestions from these comments! I’m a big user of the long-tail cast-on as well (also do the slingshot start). It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s relatively stretchy and I generally like the look of it. That said, I have been far less satisfied with it of late. That row of purl bumps on the bottom of my ribbing has started driving me MAD! I do like the German Twisted cast-on when I am moving right into garter stitch as it blends right in and is still easy to do and stretchy! My last couple of projects have been recent patterns by Jared Flood and he seems to be in the mood for the tubular cast-on of late and I agree that this is a gorgeous start to projects! Though a less happy start for me when I am using a fluffy, single-ply yarn. Apparently I am still slightly traumatized by my recent tubular cast-on attempt with the Blue Sky Alpaca Suri Merino! I’ve never tried the Italian method but have seen many top down sock projects on Ravelry that use it so will have to check it out. Hate the knit or cable cast-on! I think they look fine (no better or worse than the long-tail cast-on but find them incredibly tedious to actually do!). Beyond that, I will be trying what I read here so much obliged on your timely post! Should you also feel like discussing cast-off’s, I would be one happy camper! As a tight knitter, finding the perfect cast-off that looks tidy but is stetchy enough has plagued me from the very beginning of my (short) knitting career!

  14. I cast on long tail by default, sometimes with a slip knot, sometimes not. But , that said, if I am knitting something where the cast on and bind off will be more aesthetically pleasing if they match, or another good reason, I am all for pulling out my books or a video to cast on a different way.
    I do not use backward loop unless absolutely instructed to do so, I don’t like how my knitting style leaves this particular cast on sloppy.

  15. I can’t wait to read these posts! I, too, was taught the long-tail cast on method but have run into other instructions while reading hat patterns. I’ve watched several You-Tubes. Who’da thought there’d be so many? I found two cast-on books at the library and began to get the possibilities. The big questions for me is when? and why? to do particular cast ons. But so fun to learn new information!
    Oh, and no slipknot for me, either. I just begin. But then maybe that explains why I have “gap” trouble at times after joining the row in the round. Hmmm…

  16. I used to be a long tail cast on girl, but now I’m a fan the tubular cast on and Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast on. I don’t mind all the extra steps so I can get a professional-looking edge.

    My long tail cast ons also kept stretching out bad (couldn’t figure out how to fix it) so that’s another reason why I mainly use the tubular cast on and JSSCO.

  17. When I started seriously knitting in the 80s (before PCs and the internets), I used the long-tail CO (without a slipknot–and I agree: why?). I didn’t even know there were different ways to CO. Now, I use different ones depending on the project. Lately, though, I’ve been using the Chinese Waitress CO for everything. It’s stretchy, looks the same from both sides, and has a sort of i-cord quality.

  18. i have to admit, i’m getting a headache. there’s so much to learn….i do the long-tail cast on and do my socks with two needles so they’re stretchy. i’ve done the twisted-whatever when called for, but need youtube cause i can’t remember….i keep promising myself i’ll get the book re: cast ons. WHAT IS THE TUBULAR CAST ON???? like i said, i’m getting a headache–i’m certainly ‘not in kansas’ anymore…..

  19. I have to admit that unless I’m doing ribbing, I nearly always fall back on good old long tail. However, if I’m making a sweater with ribbing (which I very often am) I always go for tubular CO and BO. I’ve tried the kind of tubular CO in which you knit four rows of stockinette in waste yarn on smaller needles and then switch to working yarn and pick up the purl bumps every other stitch. It looks amazingly neat and makes a very stable edge. It can be a bit of a pain in the backside though, especially if you’re impatient to cast on, and I’ve gotten nearly identical results with June Hiatt’s Alternating Rib (this technique probably goes by other names elsewhere). It’s not quite as firm as the other kind and you’ll be in hot water unless you use needles a couple of sizes smaller than the rest of the ribbing, but it looks nice. I haven’t tried her Alternating CO for double rib yet – it’s a little daunting-looking – but I aspire to, one of these days.

    That said, one of the (many) reasons I prefer top down construction for nearly every kind of sweater is that I can use a sewn tubular BO on every ribbed edge (hem, cuffs, neckline and button bands). For me, it’s neat and firm (yet with the ideal amount of stretch), every edge matches perfectly, and it looks equally good on single and double and twisted rib.

  20. Cable cast on and I have a very solid, long term relationship, but the Chinese waitress is eyeing me from the far side of the room!

  21. I use the slip knot to teach students, they have the yarn on the needle and it isn’t going anywhere. Once they master the long tail I show them the sling shot. (Which I learned from a student!)

  22. These replies made me realize there are two long-tail variations I’ve used that are worth noting, and I put this at the end of the original post as well:

    The only provisional cast on I know involves using your working yarn and waste yarn and the long-tail method. I loosely tie the two together, rest that on my needle with the waste yarn forward, make my slingshot and start casting on. (The knot does not count as a stitch.) And that amazing Rosa Pomar hat I just finished uses a braided cast on, which is basically the same thing only you start by tying together your two different colors. Cast on one stitch, rotate the yarns clockwise so the next stitch you cast on is with the second color, and repeat — rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch; rotate the yarns clockwise and cast on a stitch …

  23. In general, I use a long tail cast on without a slip knot. It’s second nature to me, I don’t have to think about it, and when I make something like socks, I am pretty good at estimating the length of the yarn tail. I keep thinking I should branch out. These comments may have inspired me!

    I’ve used the garter tab for shawls before. Right now I’m working on Jared Flood’s Terra shawl (which is one of the first patterns, I think, he designed for Shelter) and it uses the provisional cast on.

    I’m mostly a rule-follower, so I tend to use whatever the designer suggests. Especially if the designer is one that I “know” and admire through their blogs and work. I feel that these designs generally have a lot of thought put into them, including the cast on. I might be more inclined to change a cast on edge if the pattern was a pamphlet I picked up at a charity shop, perhaps because I feel no loyalty to a Patons pattern written thirty years ago?

  24. I also used to stick with the long-tail method, and would try several times until I got just the smallest leftover tail so as not to waste precious yarn. Lately though, I’ve been studying my pattern and how it starts before researching the best cast-on method. I recently knit Checks and Balances by Boadicea Binnerts and found *the name escapes me* a cast on method that made the ribbed edges look like they never end!

  25. When I first learned to knit, I used the backward loop cast-on, because that’s what my mother taught me. But knitting that first row is so awful that as soon as I learned long tail, I switched to that for almost everything. The only thing I don’t use it for is ribbing, where I use the cable cast-on. But I do the slip knot for the long tail as that’s what I was taught. For provisional cast-on though, I use the method with the crochet hook, again because that’s what my knitting instructor at the LYS taught us. I’ve never heard of the other method you talk about, Karen. I find it quite intimidating, as a new knitter, that every time I think I’ve got one part of knitting licked, I find out there’s so much more to learn. Sigh.

  26. Such a fun question! I tend to favour the long-tail cast-on (though with a slip knot – comfort zone, I suppose?), though it depends on what I’m knitting. If I want a firm cast-on, I go with the cable cast-on, if I’m casting on for ribbing I use Ysolda’s method for tubular cast-on (though I don’t both for socks or mittens, because that ribbing is usually hidden). I love the garter tab for shawls that use a garter tab.

    I really like when a pattern recommends a certain cast-on, especially if it’s one I haven’t tried. Learning new techniques is half the fun.

  27. My default method is long tail, around my left thumb. No slip knot. For socks or top down polo neck sweaters where a ribbed section is required, I like the super stretchy cast on method.
    It’s very interesting to read others’ responses.

  28. I tend to use a “knit on” cast-on in general (slightly different than the cable CO), but LOVE the German Twisted cast-on for socks and hat brims. (Also looks neato!) I just learned the backwards loop cast-on for a sweater and it was revelation! Though I’d have to look at a tutorial to do it again.

  29. Wow, I clearly have not been thinking of my cast on methods enough! I thought that I always did a long tail cast on, but without a slip knot – the slip knot part totally through me for a loop, I didn’t even know it was a thing! Now I’m not even sure if what I do is a long tail because I hold my working yarn in my right hand… no sling shot… mystery. I think I’d better get to googling.

    So thought provoking!

  30. Long Tamil is my usual cast on, but I don’t shy away from a new type of cast on when called for. Provisional cast on, long tail with another piece of yarn drives me insane. I’m getting ready to try a provisional crochet cast on which seems a bit saner to me (for the Pretty Little Things socks). Great question!

  31. I’m relatively new to knitting having picked up needles just a year ago after learning as a child/teen, so I don’t have countless projects under my belt. But I always do a cable cast on. I prefer the finish and the elasticity, but I am knitting only hats and sweaters. Perhaps for other applications there’d be a better way. I also think the yarn has a lot to do with it. I am knitting with Louisa Harding’s Amitola at present and they actually recommend cable cast for this particular yarn. Something to do with not be able to undergo all the “twisting” required by other methods. Anyhow, I am sure I will be looking into it a bit more closely now!

  32. I was taught the long tail cast on with my left thumb, and it’s what I default to. I looked at several videos, and this one is the closest to how I do it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2uxqtvWCBk I’ve never used the sling shot method, but I have successfully worked with the cable cast on, knit cast on and the crochet provisional cast on. I like the provisional cast on best for designing on the fly, because its flexibility leaves room for design changes. I have enough interest in the subjects of both casting on and binding off that I bought the book (mentioned by a previous commenter) Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor!

  33. Like Laura, I use the long tail cast on with my left thumb. I’m a long-time knitter (over 50 years) and it has served me well. I’ve also used cable cast on, crochet provisional cast on and a few others, but the thumb long-tail is my go-to favorite.

  34. Last night at my Guild meeting we had a “castonathon” I decided to just learn one of the methods offered, they were teaching Judy’s Magic Loop, Provisional, Cable and Twisted German, I choose Twisted German and stuck to it till I had it down smoothly, gives a nice stretchy CO, and “I think I got it”.

  35. I know I’m late to this party, but I HAVE been trying to expand my cast-on repertoire!

  36. I always do a knitted cast-on because that is what I learned. BUT – I am thinking this would be a good area for me to expand my learning, because for hats especially (bottom up) I don’t love the knitted cast on.

  37. My cast on depends on what I’m making. I recently did a hat that called for a tubular cast on, and they edge is so pretty and stretchy! I think I’ll be using that for socks as well from now on. I love learning new methods! I think the first cast on I learned was a knitted cast on, then long-tail.

  38. long-tail cast on unless specified otherwise or judy’s magic cast on (it is magic) wherever that can apply (provisional, socks, tubular).

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