Tuesday Tips #2: Casting on, three ways

ball of maize coloured  yarn

I wasn’t really sure what to write about this week. Not that I don’t have any ideas; quite the opposite. Last week’s inspiration came from a conversation I’d had that week, this week no such luck. So where do we start?

To quote from Rodgers and Hammerstein (via the wonderful Dame Julie), let’s start at the very beginning. You have wool, you have needles, now you just need to start knitting. Wait – how? Do I just tie it on to the stick things and have at it?

No. Not quite. Although not far off. You do ‘tie’ the wool to the needles – after all, knitting and crochet are really just a series of rather cunning knots. We call this tying casting on, and this week I’m going to cover three simple, but highly useful methods of casting on.

Before we start, a quick disclaimer – my table is not yellow.  It’s oak!  These photos make it look awful, apologies if they hurt your eyes.  Oh, and my nails, ignore my nails.  I had a bit of an argument with a set of gels that ended with some ugly peeling.  I’m still paying for it.

Anyway!  We’ll begin with the very simplest of them all – the thumb method. This is also called the single cast on or the e-loop cast on. This is very useful for casting on where you don’t need a sturdy edge. I tend to use it if I have to cast on stitches in the middles of a piece of knitting, where that edge will eventually be a seam, for example under the arm. This method really is so easy. You only need one needle, which you hold in your left hand.

Start with a slipknot, with a shortish tail (1). (Don’t cut it too short or it’ll be a nightmare to weave in). If you are casting on in a project that’s already underway you won’t need the slip knot – the last stitch will do the same job. Now hold the yarn in the fingers of your right hand with your thumb closest to you, pointing upwards (2). Put your thumb down on top of the yarn, bring it down and towards you and back up to the starting position – the yarn should now be wrapped around your thumb (3). Slide the needle upwards between your thumb and the yarn (4), and lift it off your thumb. Gently pull down with the fingers on your right hand to pull the stitch tight on the needle (5). Repeat until you have the required number of stitches.

close up of thumb method cast on in 5 pictures

thumb method

The second type of casting on you should learn is the one I personally use most, as it’s the one I learned first – this tends to happen with most knitters, as far as I can tell! It’s called a cable cast on, and you will need two needles.

Again, start with a slipknot on your left needle. In this cast on, the method for creating the second stitch is slightly different to all the following stitches: to create your second stitch, insert your right needle into the loop of the slipknot as though to knit it (left to right through the front of the loop) (1) pass the yarn around the right hand needle and draw back through the stitch (2). Instead of slipping the stitch off the left needle, however, slip the loop from the right needle onto the left needle, creating the next stitch (3). (When you do this, insert the left needle through the stitch in the same direction as the right needle.) You now have two stitches. (4)

To make the third stitch, and all following stitches, insert the right needle front to back between the last stitch and the stitch before that (in this case, between stitches 2 and 1) (5 & 6). Pass the yarn around the right hand needle, and draw the loop back between the stitches (7). Slip the loop from the right hand needle onto the left hand needle (8). You now have three stitches (9). Repeat as for stitch 3 until you have the required number of stitches.

9 picture series of cable cast on, close up

cable cast on

The third and final type of cast on (well, final for today, there are many more out there!) is the long tail cast on. In terms of the finished item, I like this cast on best – it’s got a lot more give in it and works well with ribbing for example (and many of my items have ribbing at the bottom!). However, it does have one pretty significant drawback, which is that you cast on using the tail of the wool (ie, not the end attached to the ball), so you have to begin by estimating how much wool you will need. This is why I don’t use this method as often as I probably should – it is not an exact science, and finding yourself 3 stitches short out of seventy, having to rip it and start again tries my patience.

It is definitely worth learning, though, and if you can master the art of estimating the tail well, you will probably never use another cast on again. This is another single needle cast on.

Start with the length of yarn you will need for the number of stitches you have to cast on. How much yarn you need will depend on the weight of the yarn and the size of your needles. I’m afraid it really is trial and error! Tie a slip knot and slide this onto your needle. Holding the needle with your right hand from above, place your index finger on your stitch to keep it on the needle (1). Drape the long tail of your yarn over your left thumb in front of the needle, and the ball end of your yarn over your left index finger behind the needle (so the needle tip is pointing between the two), then grasp both ends of the yarn with your last three fingers of your left hand (2). To make a stitch, bring the needle tip towards you and then down and under the yarn under your thumb, then sliding upwards between your thumb and the yarn (3). Leaving this yarn over the needle, pass the needle backwards and over the top of the yarn over your left index finger (4), bring this yarn towards you,passing under the yarn on the outside of your thumb (5) and slide the yarn off your thumb (6). Give a gentle tug with your left hand to tighten the stitch around the needle (7). Repeat until you have the desired number of stitches.

close up of long tail cast on, sequence of 7 shots

long tail cast on

This one sounds so, so complicated, and to be fair it’s not easy to explain, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of the motion and before you know it you’ll be casting on stacks of stitches in no time at all. And then undoing them all as you haven’t left a long enough tail. No, not really!  That won’t happen to you.  Disclaimer: it might.

I hope this has been helpful. Do let me know if there’s anything that’s not clear! Next week, French seams! I’m excited already, I do love a French seam. Have a good week!

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