When you need to cast on a permanent, clean edge to build your knitted piece on, there are two main methods. You can either knit them on using the English Cable Cast On or you can use a long tail cast on. I love the long tail cast on because it is extremely fast once you get a good rhythm going. When I have an idea in my head, I can’t wait to get to work on it, so this is my go-to cast on. It has one draw back. You need to estimate the length of the tail needed to yield the correct number of stitches. I have often thought that my guess-timation was going to see me through only to end up 15 stitches short on a 200+ stitch cast on. There is really not much else you can do except start again. There are two good ways to prevent this, however. The first way is to give yourself one inch per stitch. With finer yarn and needles, you will probably end up with quite a bit left over, but you won’t run out. I haven’t tested this with super bulky yarn on huge needles yet, but I would reckon that it would work up to 6mm needles. The second method is to take both ends of the yarn ball and use one for the tail. This way you’ll never run out, but you will have an extra end to sew in, which really isn’t that big of a deal. So let’s get on with learning this versatile and fast cast on!
It begins with a slip knot. First, measure out approximately one stitch per inch from your yarn ball for your long tail. Make the slip knot here. Here’s a quick description of how to make one, if you haven’t come across it before: with the tail of your yarn hanging off to the right, make a loop by crossing the tail end over the yarn. The yarn tail should be sitting on top of the loop. Now bring the yarn tail under the loop and pull it up, making the second loop. Do not let the end come through or you will lose the second loop. Tighten the knot and adjust the size of the loop by pulling on the yarn tail.
Step 1: Place a slip knot onto a needle and hold the needle in your right hand. The yarn tail will be on the side facing you and the yarn coming off the ball will be away from you. Put the yarn tail over your thumb and the yarn from the ball over your index finger, as shown in the picture. Keep both strands in the palm of your hand and close your remaining fingers around them. This is IMPORTANT. Do not let one of the strands loose or you will not be able to carry on. You must hang on to both of them.
Step 2: Insert the needle into the loop on your thumb, going in a direction from the base of your thumb towards your thumbnail. I’ve shown this step from underneath so that it would be easy to see the direction that the needle has to move.
Step 3: Wind the yarn that is over your index finger around the needle in a counter clockwise direction. This is easiest done by just sticking the needle underneath the yarn and the winding will just happen on its own.
Step 4: Simultaneously bring the loop on your thumb over the tip of the needle while bringing the needle down into the loop of your thumb. When the loop is over the needle, remove your thumb and return it under the tail yarn. This will feel a bit like you are flicking the thumb loop up and over the tip of the needle.
Step 5: As you are returning your thumb underneath the tail yarn, you can gently pull the yarn until the new stitch fits the needle. Don’t over tighten or your first row will be murder to knit. Tighten it just so there is no air between the yarn and needle. It should slide easily.
At this stage, many who are new to the long tail method will take their left hand away. There is no need. Just return your thumb to its original position after each stitch and use it to gently fit the stitch to the needle. A question that is often asked at this point is “Does the slip knot count as a stitch?” Yes, it does.
Step 6: Repeat Steps 2 to 5 until you have the right number of stitches. Try to get a rhythm going. It will not only make casting on much faster, but it will make the tension of the cast on much more even. Play with some scrap yarn until you feel it’s flowing nice and smooth, like learning a new dance step.
I will have more cast on methods coming soon. Everyone will need to know a good provisional cast on, a garter tab cast on and a nice, stretchy cast on, at some point, so stay tuned! Later we can get into some fancy schmancy cast ons that will make you look like a real pro.