Cast Ons Part I January 31 2017

In January, we’re all excited about new beginnings: new year, new projects, new inspiration abounds! In this blog post, I’m going to talk about cast ons, and how to pick the perfect cast on for your new project.

Because let’s be honest: how many times do you stop and think about what type of cast on you’re going to use? How many times do you use the same cast on that has served you perfectly well before or just use the one given in the pattern without really thinking about whether it’s appropriate for the project at hand? It’s ok to say “never”, and hopefully the rest of this post will give you a starting point for thinking about what to do for your next new WIP.

Most of the time, using a tried and true start will work out just fine, but there are some questions to ask yourself before you tie that first slip knot that will help your project be a success.

  1. Do I need a strong, stable edge?
  2. Do I need a super stretchy and elastic edge?
  3. Do I need a provisional cast on?
  4. Do I need a centre-out/circular cast on?

For this post, we’ll cover the first two questions in more detail, and save the trickier Questions 3 and 4 for the next cast on instalment.

Strong, stable edges

Some projects need structure built in to the piece to help it maintain its shape. Bags jump to mind, as do heavily cabled jumpers that are going to be quite heavy. Likewise, jumpers and tops knit out of yarns that have little or no elasticity (think cotton, silk, flax). This also includes projects during which you have to cast on in the middle of the piece to add additional stitches (necklines of top-down sweaters worked in the round, some lace edgings). You could also include items with turned hems in this category, although the type of cast on you’d use for a turned hem isn’t the same as what you’d use for a strong edge!

Let’s start with the most straightforward of strong, stable cast ons, which is likely one many of you are familiar with: the long-tail cast on.

Long tail cast on video – knittinghelp.com (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/long-tail-cast-on)

The long-tail cast on is super versatile and good for all sorts of projects. One thing to keep in mind is that the manner in which it is worked means you are basically working the first row of the piece - I always like to work the second row as a wrong side row if working flat.

For instances where I need to add stitches in the middle of a piece, I like the knitted on cr cabled cast on.

Knitted on cast on – knittinghelp.com continental version (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/knitting-on-continental), english version (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/knitting-on-english)

Cabled cast on – knittinghelp.com continental version (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/cable-cast-on) english version (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/cable-cast-on-english)

These both give a strong edge that won’t sag or stretch out of shape - perfect for a sweater knit sideways in which you have to cast on extra stitches for the body once the sleeve is finished. If you need to add stitches to a lace edging, I’d recommend the knitted on cast on done loosely – it has a bit more give and will allow more room for blocking.

Some patterns call for turned hems, which are also a strong stable edge. However, in this instance, you want a cast on edge that is going to be stretchy, so it can stretch and move with the rest of the garment once it is sewn down.

Turned hems can either be sewn or knitted closed. For a turned hem, I like to use the backwards loop, sometimes called the thumb, cast on – this is the easiest of all easy cast ons, and can be done quickly. It also creates an edge with easily picked up loops for knitting your turned hem closed (or tacking down if you prefer to sew the hem closed.

Backwards loop cast on – knittinghelp.com (http://www.knittinghelp.com/video/play/backward-loop-cast-on)

The only downside (apart from creating an edge with almost no structural strength) is that working the first row after the cast on can sometimes be a bit tricky, and likely will not be terribly even. Perfect for hiding inside the hem of your sweater!

Elastic, stretchy edges

Some items require edges that will stretch and contract as needed, say over your head as you pull on a new hat, or along a sleeve cuff so you can push your sleeve up and have it stay where you put it. You could use the cast ons discussed above in these cases if you make sure to keep lots of slack in the cast on edge, but my favourite stretchy cast on for everything from hats to cuff-down socks to sweaters is the tubular cast on.

Somewhat fiddly to start, the tubular cast on creates a beautiful round edge to ribbings – perfect for hat brims, sleeve cuffs and hems. Even better, it can be paired with the tubular bind off for perfectly matched cast on and cast off edges.

The tubular bind off begins with your hands in a similar position to the long tail cast on, but after casting on the required number of stitches, you work two set up rows. On each set up row, one stitch is knit and the next is slipped – you are essential knitting half the stitches on the first row, and the other half on the second row, creating an edge that is a type of seamless double knitting. On the third and following rows/rounds, the stitches are worked in rib – either k1, p1 or k2, p2 (the second requires some rearrangement of the stitches).

There are a number of ways to do the tubular cast on, but my favourite is Ysolda Teague’s method, which doesn’t require waste yarn (great if you’re like me and decide while you’re out and about that you must use the tubular cast on NOW but you don’t have any waste yarn). She’s got a great video on how to do the tubular cast on here (http://blog.ysolda.com/tutorial/tubular-cast-on/), which includes rearranging the stitches for k2, p2 rib, and joining to work in the round.

There are almost as many ways to start your project as their are colours of yarn in the world, and picking a cast on suited to your project will help ensure that you are happy with the finished object. And it’s always good to have a few more arrows in your quiver, so go out there and try a new cast on!

- Rachel of Porpoisefur