The outset

Cast-ons really get knitters worked up. Some of us are convinced that the only proper way is how we learned as children, or that other people’s ways must be better. The toes of some of us curl in glee when we learn a new one (happily, there’s always a new one to learn).

In this post we thought we’d discuss a few common ones and their advantages and disadvantages. None of them is the perfect one for everything, and knowing several for different circumstances is a useful skill for your toolkit. You’ll find videos of all of them at this link. Where it matters, there’s separate Continental and English videos. So why not grab some needles and some yarn and do a bit of experimentation along with us? You might find your toes gleefully curling.

First of all, there’s cast ons that are worked with two needles, where the cast-on tail and the working yarn start the first row at opposite ends of the row.

Most Irish school-taught knitters seem to have learned the knitted cast on (knittinghelp calls it knitting-on). It’s got the advantage of using exactly the same movements as a knit stitch, so you don’t need to learn a separate action. It’s got another property, though: it’s loose. When you knit the first row normally, you get a slack floppy edge, which may not be what you want.

One remedy for this is to knit the entire first row through the back loop. This works. In fact, it works too well: you get a very firm, inelastic edge, and in a hat or the top of a sock, this isn’t what you want. The picture below shows the right hand half of the stitches knitted normally and the left hand half knitted through the back loop, so this picture is one row into the work.

But the looseness of this cast on isn’t always a disadvantage. It’s an excellent cast on for lace, because the floppiness gives you plenty of room to block hard with little risk of your cast on tearing (yes, it can happen; no, we don’t want to talk about it).

A variant of the knitted cast on is the cable cast on. It gives you a very neat corded edge, it avoids the floppiness of its relative, and because it uses a little more yarn, it’s more elastic.

If you want an all-purpose cast on that will give you a flexible hat or sock edge and a pretty edge, this is a good one. It’s the one that we teach most often in classes at This Is Knit.

The long tail and the twisted German cast ons are worked with one needle, and they both need to start some distance into the ball of yarn. They both involve putting the loops onto the needle and knitting the first row at the same time, so they’re neat and elastic.

The long tail cast on is the preferred method of one of our heroes, TECHknitter. She’s got a post about the long-tail at this link which is long but well worth reading, especially for its advice to start your cast on without a slip knot. (Knots are nasty little things. Shun them.)

Since you work both long tail and twisted German towards the cut end of the yarn, it can be tricky to estimate how much tail you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is at least three times the length of your finished cast on. There is nothing more miserable than running out of tail as you cast on the 197th of a 200 stitch cast on, so if you’re facing into a long cast on, here’s a useful trick: tie the ends of two balls together loosely and use both to cast on with. When you’ve knitted the first row, snip off the ball you’re not knitting with and untie the knot (knots: nasty). It’s pretty much impossible to run out on the cast on if you do it this way.

The twisted German is a slightly more involved sort of long tail. The extra involvement gives you an even more elastic edge, and this one makes a lovely edge for things that need to stretch lots like hats and socks. There’s a comparison shot of the two below.

The twisted German on the left is thicker and more substantial than the long tail on the right, and it’s rather obvious how it gives you a row already knitted. If you don’t want a purl ridge along the bottom of your stocking stitch, purl the first row after a twisted German cast on.

The meatiness of the twisted German has another advantage. You know how patterns worked in the round tell you to join without twisting, and somehow we manage to twist anyway, only realising it several heartbreaking rounds later? Twisted German to the rescue!

See how obvious the underneath of the stitches is below the needles? If you can see your cast-on edge that clearly, it’s much easier to spot when your cast on is twisted, and much easier to avoid the twist in the first place.

One final tip for working off a cast off when you’re knitting in the round. If you knit the first five or six stitches with both the tail and the working yarn, you’ll help avoid a gap at the join, and you won’t have to weave in the tail separately later on. Just snip it close after a few rows, and you’re done with it. You can weave in like this when you’re working flat, too, of course, but only if the two ends are together at the start of the first row (with long tail or twisted German, that is).

So what’s your favourite cast on? Why do you prefer it? Leave us a comment to tell us!

4 comments

  1. sheknitupthat’s avatar

    I’m so lazy! I used the knitting-on cast on for everything until J showed me the cable cast-on and now I use that for everything :D

  2. Deirdre’s avatar

    I tend to use the Cable Cast-on for most things, What I’ve found though is that I prefer the reverse edge of it so when I’m working socks I knit a row without joining before joining in the second row, Thereby getting the side I like out, also I find it helps a bit with how tight the top is as well.

  3. thisisknit’s avatar

    That’s a brilliant tip Deirdre – I must try that on the next pair of socks :)

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