Cast On’s: When and Why

You’re probaby familiar with the saying, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” While there are many important steps to any knitting project, the first step- casting on- is certainly one of them!

Your cast-on does more than just create stitches. It can create smooth, uneven, stretchy, tight, removeable, and even double-sided or circular beginning. There are as many different ways to cast on as there are knitters- and there’s a special use for each. Let’s look at a few of the most common, how they’re done, and when to use them.

Long Tail Cast On

Personally, my go-to cast on is the long tail method. It’s extremely versatile, not to mention fast and relatively easy. It creates a straight edge with a comfortable amount of give. Unless your pattern calls for a specific cast-method for a special reason, the long-tail cast on is your best bet.


  1. The Long Tail Cast On is so called because you’re going to need a long tail- the more stitches, the longer. To estimate the length, remember this: one arm’s length will cast on about 30 stitches- more if you’re using small needles, less if you’re using big ones. Always estimate high! You don’t want to run out of tail halfway through a big cast on (ask me how I know). Make a slip knot at the top of your long tail and place it on the needle, pulling it snug but not too tight.


2. Hold the needle in your right and hold both strands of yarn (the tail and the working yarn) in your left hand. The tail should be wrapped around your thumb and the working yarn around your index finger to create two distinct loops; your other fingers can hold the bottom of both strands to put a little tension on them. Hint: if you’re having trouble finding this position, make a “gun” with your left hand.

3. Now move the tip of the needle in your right hand as follows:

  • Under the front leg of the loop on your thumb, from below
  • Around the top leg of the loop on your index, from front to back
  • Back through the loop on your thumb, from above to below

If you watch carefully, the steps mimic those of a knit stitch- you go into one loop, the yarn wraps around the needle, and you pull the new loop through the old on.


4. Let go of the yarn and pull gently to tighten the new stitch onto the needle. You’re going for a “happy medium” tension here: loose enough to slide easily back and forth on the needle, but snug enough that it doesn’t fall off.

Repeat until you have the desired number of stitches. With a little practice, this cast-on method can be done in one fluid motion. Beautiful results, fast and easy!

A Long Tail Cast On, front and back.

Knitted and Cable Cast On’s

The knitted cast on and cable cast on are very similar, so we’ll show them together here. Like the long tail method, they’re very simple and versatile. They tend to go a little slower, and you don’t want to get them too tight as they don’t have a lot of give. But they’re a good trick in certain tricky knitting situations- we’ll see an example in a minute!


  1. To begin a knitted cast on, leave a tail long enough to weave in (6 inches should do it), make a slip knot and place it on the needle. Hold this needle in your left hand and the empty needle in your right.

2. Insert the right hand needle into the stitch as if to knit, yarn over, and pull the new stitch through. DO NOT drop the first stitch off! You’re just knitting into it and leaving it on the needle.

3. Now insert the tip of the LEFT needle into the NEW stitch through the back (it should twist the stitch slightly). Transfer this stitch from the right needle to the left needle. Repeat until you have the correct number of stitches.


The Cable cast on is just like the knitted cast on, except for where you insert the right hand needle. Instead of going into the first stitch knitwise, you’re going to insert it from front to back BETWEEN the first and second stitch. Then you’ll pull up a new loop and transfer it to the left hand needle just like we showed above.

The knitted cast on and cable cast on can be used almost interchangeably. The knitted cast on (in my experience, at least) is a little faster and stretchier, while the cable cast on is firmer and less holey.


The difference between a knitted cast on (left) and a cable cast on (right).

Knitted and cable cast on’s aren’t just for the beginning of your projects, either! Because they’re worked into an existing stitch and use only strand of working yarn, they’re a great way to cast on stitches in the middle of a row. You may have experienced this when creating buttonholes or the underarms of top-down sweaters.

To cast on in the middle of a row, simply turn your work and begin either cast on method as described above. When you’ve cast on the required number of stitches, turn your work again and complete the row. Easy!

Provisional Cast On


Provisional cast on’s are so fascinating- they use a scrap piece of yarn and a crochet hook to create a removeable edge. You can now continue knitting for as long as you like. When you need live stitches on the bottom edge again, you unravel the chain to expose the bottom of the first row. Place these loops on a needle and continue! Provisional cast on’s are commonly used to create seamless loops (infinity scarves are a good example), or when you plan to add a border or join two pieces along this edge.

Provisional cast-on’s are a little more complicated (too complicated to tack onto today’s already long post!), but we’d love to show you in person! Visit us in the store for a quick demonstration.

If you’d like to see some more creative cast on’s, we suggest searching “Judy Becker’s Magic Cast On” or “Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast On” on YouTube. You’ll be amazed what your cast ons can do!

That’s all for today (finally). We wish you many great beginnings!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suze Elmore
    Mar 29, 2017 @ 20:27:32

    Thanks so much for this. I’m glad it is in the blog so I know where to go if I’m not close by the store.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: