Hot Tip: Relax your cast-on

Hot Tip: Relax your cast-on

Raise your hand if your cast-on stitches tend to be too tight to work into, or the cast-on edge of your fabric looks less than perfect? We’ve talked before about how to keep your tension from being too tight when knitting colorwork — as in, Mary Jane Mucklestone’s sage advice to keep the stitches on your right-hand needle spread to their natural width as you go. My pal Veronika Jobe of YOTH Yarns (currently touring the eastern US) points out the same goes for your cast-on. Generally speaking, when stitches are bunched tightly on the right-hand needle, it can lead to tension problems. If you snug every new cast-on stitch right up against the one next to it (as in the top photo), they’ll have a stranglehold on the needle. Without any “float” — or padding — between them, there’s no way for the stitch to make way as you attempt to insert your needle tip into it. Instead, place each new stitch on the right-hand needle about a stitch-width from the one before it (see second photo), keeping them as evenly spaced as possible, and creating a uniform row of stitches along the underside of the needle (bottom left photo). Not only will that make it easier for you to work your first row, it will leave you with a nice clean edge on the finished fabric.

These photos are of a long-tail cast-on, but some version of this advice will apply to pretty much any cast-on style you might be doing. (See also: Q for You: How do you cast on?)


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23 thoughts on “Hot Tip: Relax your cast-on

  1. This “lesson” has taken me a surprisingly long time to learn. Thanks for highlighting it. BTW–I have to chuckle at your “ABC” needles! Darla ‘ s work?

  2. Good morning, Karen. I always cast onto a needle size one up from the one specified by the pattern. If I’m casting on for ribbing (which is usually one needle size less than the body), I use the body’s needle size. Sometimes I do the same when casting off (go up a needle size), depending on how stretchy the bind off needs to be. Thanks for a consistently interesting blog. Have a lovely day.

  3. The way I learned it from my grandma (for german long tail cast on, mind) is to hold two needles to cast on, then pull one out for the first row.

    • I do this too, but now I wonder. Casting onto two needles makes each stitch bigger. But it’s not the same as making the edge longer. Know what I mean?

      • I learned the two-needle method as well, and generally i find that the extra yarn in the loop helps add length as you knit into the cast-on row. if that makes sense

      • I use the Old Norwegian cast on (aka German Twisted). It is similar to long-tail but it adds space between each stitch so that they naturally sit as in photo 2. The stitches themselves are all the same size as your knitted fabric and the edge is very even and pretty.

        I love your blog! It is my favorite knitting site – and the only one that I read daily. Thank you so much for writing daily – so interesting!!

        • I agree. I learned the Old Norwegian cast-on this winter and have been using it a lot. Stretchy, but not too, and looks good. When I cast-on for crochet I go up 1 or 2 hook sizes, keeps the edge more even with the work and makes it easier to do the first row.

          • Sounds interesting, I also do long tail cast on with two needles to make the edge not too tight. It depends on the size I am casting on (and what needles I have available) I sometimes use a smaller needle as the second needle.

            I will have to look into the Old Norweigan/German Twisted. Where did you learn this from/do you suggest anywhere to learn it?

  4. This took surprisingly long for me to learn as well. However I found keeping a space between the stitches also makes it much easier to count them!

  5. I’ve been leaning towards knitted-on cast-ons – they seem to stay looser naturally and I don’t have to estimate tail length, which I never get right!

  6. I learned what is sometimes called the “thumb method” of the long tail cast on when I was a young teen, and have used it ever since. The outcome is essentially identical, however because I am knitting a loop off my left thumb, I am able to cast on with exactly the same tension as the subsequent knitted rows. Plus, it is much easier on my aging arthritic thumb. When i taught knitting classes at an LYS, I taught the conventional long-tail cast on because it seemed heretical to do otherwise, but i found that students who had trouble getting the hang of it could easily knit off of their thumb. I just purchased the book CastOn, Cast off, and have been intending to work my way through it to master some new ones…some day, soon, I promise.

  7. Mine is always tight too. I have just learned to cast on and bind off using a needle 2 sizes larger than I plan on knitting with. Helps immensely and I don’t have to be so concerned with making sure they are spread out. Though I do make sure that I do that with colorwork.

  8. Your needles look exactly like all my wooden needles. I wonder if we have them customized in the same way. :)

  9. My go-to cast on is the cable cast on (like a knit-on cast on but you insert your needle between the previous stitches instead of into the previous stitch). Anyway, the thing that will loosen your tension and keep it even is to insert the right needle for the next stitch *before* tightening the new stitch. Makes for an efficient motion while forcing a nice natural tension.

  10. I use the long tail cast on and keep it as you suggested, nicely spaced. I used the two needle method when I first got back to knitting but I think I’ve cast on so many hats that I have the “feel” of it now.. I also enjoy using different cast ons as suggested by different patterns just to try something new but in the end I haven’t seen any big benefit and end up back with the long tail.

  11. I knit so tight as well. A friend of mine and I we knitted the same project on the same needles and my rows were half as high as hers…
    Btw did your cat manage to adorn your knitting needles? Mine try to do that as well…

  12. I use 3 methods that always give me a loose casting. One is the thumb method mentioned above. The other two are the knotted cast on or the crochet cast on, which always yield loose stitches. Lily Chin shows a grateful method of crocheted cast on directly onto the needle.

  13. I use two needles held together while casting on and then remove one. Works beautifully.

  14. Pingback: Make Your Cast On Looser for Knitting Success – Knitting

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