We talk a lot about shawls here – lovely things like Swallowtail and Aeolian and Ishbel. When you first come to knit one, though, the very start can seem puzzling. So we thought it would be a good idea to do a post on how to do the garter stitch tab start that so many of them share.
To begin with, you cast on a very small number of stitches. We’re going to be working on a garter stitch tab three stitches wide, which would turn into a three-stitch garter border on a shawl, with five stitches in between the two garter bits. Of course, the number of stitches and rows that you work here may differ in any particular pattern, but the principle will be the same.
The very start is provisional, which just means that you’re going to set things up so that you can knit away in one direction and then come back later and knit away from the same place in the other direction. Any provisional cast on will do (they’re really all the same), but one we like is this one.
Take some waste yarn – something non-sticky and non-hairy, like cotton – and tie a knot in the very end (we’ll explain why in a moment). Crochet a small number of chain (seven is easily enough), cut the waste yarn and fasten off the chain.
Now let’s consider the shape of a crochet chain. One side of it has a line of interlocking loops, just like a cast off edge in knitting – we’re not interested in this side.
The other side (the one we’re interested in) has a line of little bumps running along it.
Starting with the end of the crochet chain closest to the knot, poke your knitting needle under one of those bumps, a stitch or two in from the end.
Wrap the working yarn around the needle, and pull a loop of it back under the crochet chain bump:
Continue like this – needle under the bump, wrap the working yarn, pull a loop back through the bump – until you have four new working yarn stitches on the needle:
Then knit along your new row of stitches, knitting the second and third stitches together (casting on one stitch more than you need and decreasing it away immediately ensures that you have the right number of loops to pick up later on):
Work ten rows of garter stitch in total, which will give you a little strip of garter stitch like the one below. Knit the first stitch of every row rather than slipping it if that’s your usual habit – you want the little bumps along the edge that you get when you knit the edges.
Turn your little garter stitch strip so that you’re facing along its long edge, and poke the tip of your needle under the first edge bump you encounter…
…wrap the yarn around the needle and pull a loop through under the bump. You now have a new stitch on your needle, bringing the total up to four:
Repeat this procedure at each edge bump along the garter stitch strip, getting five new stitches in total (one for every two rows of garter stitch that you worked earlier):
Now you’re back down at the provisional cast on, and you need to retrieve the stitches from it. The easiest way to do this is to take another needle and poke it through the loops at the cast on:
Then knit these stitches.
At this point you’ve completed your garter tab cast on, and all you have to do is remove the crochet chain. The chain will rip back only in one direction, towards its beginning – this is the reason for the knot right back at the start, because the knot tells you which is the beginning of the chain. If the chain sticks at any point, though, you can just snip it. Because you’ve already knit the stitches from the provisional, nothing bad can happen if you do need to snip the chain.
And when you’ve removed the crochet chain, you’re left with a cast on like this:
You’ve got three stitches from the top end of the garter stitch strip, five picked up from the side, and three retrieved from the provisional cast on: in other words, you’ve got stitches emerging from three sides of your little garter triangle. It’s clever, it’s easy to do, and when you knit away from it, you won’t even be able to see where it happened!
And then you can start literally thousands of neck-down shawls. Can we see, please?