Cast Ons Part II April 26 2017

This time around we’re going to talk about Questions 3 and 4 from the previous cast on post:

3. Do I need a provisional cast on?

4. Do I need a centre-out/circular cast on?

For both of these questions we’ll be dealing with projects that can’t be started with a simple straight edge cast on, which can be a daunting prospect sometimes! For example, a circular shawl that starts from the middle or a toe-up sock. Another example would be a cardigan or a long rectangular stole worked sideways from a central point.

Provisional cast ons

Let’s start off by defining what is meant by a provisional cast on. Casting on provisionally means you start your knitting by creating two sets of stitches, one of which is worked and the other of which is held to be used later in the piece. The provisional cast on is used in toe-up socks, and in pieces that have a knitted on edging added at the end. It is also very useful if you’re not sure if you have enough yarn for a sweater: use a provisional cast on for the sleeves, work the body and yoke, and then go back to finish the sleeves with the remaining yarn.

In the last post I mentioned using this cast on for a turned hem that is knit closed instead of being sewn down afterwards – in this instance you would provisionally cast on the stitches for the body of the sweater (or the sleeve), knit the hem and the turning ridge, then work until you had the same length of sleeve as the inside hem. You would then take another needle and pick up the provisionally cast on stitches (the second set) and then k2tog one stitch from the working stitches and one stitch from the provisional cast on all the way around to close the hem.

There are many, many ways to do a provisional cast on, and the choice of cast on to use will be driven by what you’re working on. For example, for a rectangular lace stole that is worked from the centre out in two halves, you could use a provisional cast on with waste yarn. This can be done with the knitting needles only or with a crochet hook.

The knitting needle only version uses a scrap of waste yarn in a cast on that uses the waste yarn as a kind of life line – you end up with one edge where the stitches are held in place by the waste yarn running straight along the bottom. (written tutorial here and a video here).

With the crocheted version, you use a crochet hook and the waste yarn to crochet over the knitting needle, essentially creating a row of stitches that are then worked. When you need to go back and work the other set of stitches, carefully pull out the crocheted chain and pick up the live stitches as you go (written tutorial here or video tutorial here).

These provisional cast ons are also useful for turned hems and for situations where you’re not sure about yarn requirements or length – provisionally cast on with one of these techniques and you can easily come back and work in the other direction when needed.

Toe-up socks are best done with a slightly different technique. Both of the cast ons above  result in a tiny gap in the fabric right at the tip of the toe, which some people find annoying and which is a potential weak spot. But don’t worry – Judy Becker has come up with the solution! Judy’s Magic Cast-On (written version here and video tutorial here) allows you to cast on for the toe of your sock provisionally (so there’s no gap or seam) and then lets you start working in the round immediately.

The result is stitches flowing invisibly over the toe with no seam or gap. Judy’s Magic Cast-On (sometimes abbreviated as JMCO) can also be used in other situations where you need a provisional cast on detailed above. In those instances, you would work flat instead of in the round.

Centre-out or circular cast ons

To be fair, there aren’t too many instances in which you want to cast on in the middle of a piece and work outwards in the round. I can think of three obvious ones: circular shawls, blankets (either in one piece or as modular units) and top-down hats.

The fact that this type of cast on is relatively uncommon is not a bad thing, as it can be quite tricky to execute well! The standard circular cast on is one popularised by Elizabeth Zimmerman – Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast On (photo tutorial here or video tutorial here). This cast on uses a crochet hook to cast on the initial round of stitches. If you’ve ever crocheted a granny square and used the magic circle cast on, this is the same. In essences, after crocheting the required number of stitches, you transfer them to a circular needle or dpns. The tail left from the loop at the beginning of the cast on is pulled tight and closes up the hole in the centre.

An alternative to Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast On is the Disappearing Loop Cast On (photo tutorial here or video here). This cast on is the same in principle, but doesn’t use crochet for the first round so all the stitches are the same from the very beginning.

I don’t know about you, but I am not good with things that are fiddly. So my favourite way to start centre-out knitting is by cheating. TECHknitter’s blog refers to this technique as the Umbilical Waste Cord Method (photo tutorial here) which describes it very well (although it isn’t terribly appealing!)

For this cast on you start with some waste yarn and work a length of i-cord – the length worked is up to you, but at least 2-3 cm is a good starting point.

When you’ve got your i-cord well established, split the stitches on to 2 dpns and begin working with your working yarn as follows:

Set up round: Leaving a long tail, work 1 round of i-cord.

Round 1 (increase round): *K1, M1; repeat from * to end. 

Round 2: Knit.

You now have twice as many stiches, which can be distributed over multiple needles for working in the round.

Repeat these two rounds until you have the number of stitches needed to work as directed in the pattern.

At some point you’ll need to cut the cord so to speak, and get rid of the piece of i-cord sticking out from the front of your work.

Thread a yarn needle with the tail from the working yarn from that very first round, and pick up each loop from that first round one at a time as you remove the waste yarn.

At the end of this process you’ll have a hole in the middle of your work, with the cast on tail run through all of the live stitches.

Pass the tail once more through the first stitch only, and pull carefully to close up the middle hole. Ta da!

This cast on results in the same finished look as the more fiddly versions, with much less effort and stress (at least for me)!

Hopefully you’ve now got a grasp on a few more cast on techniques to add to your arsenal. Happy knitting!

- Rachel porpoisefur