Knitting can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience. With a little practice, dedication and patience, anyone can learn to create fabric from yarn. The first step of any knitting project is to cast-on. Even experienced knitters who have taken a hiatus from knitting might need a refresher on how to cast on knitting. There are numerous methods to cast-on, but the most common and easiest to learn are the single cast-on and the long tail or double cast-on. You should be able to work most beginner and intermediate patterns from these casts. 

What Is a Knitting Cast?

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A knitting cast is a row of loops worked around a knitting needle. As you knit, you will cast onto one needle and then cast through that onto the second needle, moving your work back and forth from the right-handed needle to the left. There are many methods for how to cast on knitting, but the most common for beginners and most favored by seasoned knitters are the single cast-on or backward-loop cast-on, and the double cast-on or long tail cast-on. 

The single cast on is the simplest method to use and is fine for work that doesn't require a stretchy or decorative edge. It can be difficult to evenly work from a single cast, however, so the double cast is more preferable. The double cast creates a knit stitch to work from, making it more stable, springier, and prettier than the single cast. It is not much more difficult to achieve than the single cast, and once you have learned both, you will see their similarities.  

Knitting Supply Basics

Whether you are just dabbling with knitting a simple scarf or you are jumping straight into knitting a pattern, it is important to have the right basic supplies ready. When choosing yarn, be mindful of its size relative to the needles you will be using and the desired size of your finished piece. If you are working from a pattern, use the recommendations of the pattern maker for yarn weight and needle size if you hope to have a finished piece that measures as specified in the pattern.

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For most knitting projects, you will need:

  • A well-lit clutter-free space to work
  • Appropriately weighted yarn
  • Knitting needles. These come in a few different materials; choose what is comfortable for you or experiment with different ones to see what you like. Knitting needles are commonly available in wood, aluminum and acrylic.
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Marker tags or scrap pieces of yarn for marking rounds or large groups of stitches
  • Paper and pen to keep track of your work

Tip!

It can be a useful practice to begin every project with unfamiliar yarn weights or needle sizes by knitting a gauge square. Basically, you will knit a 4-inch by 4-inch square, keeping track of how many knits, purls and rows of work this requires. 

Using a gauge square will help you determine the proper tension required on the yarn and whether you will need to adjust the number of stitches in the pattern to achieve the desired finished size. Every knitter has a different hand, so sometimes things might come out bigger or smaller than the pattern says. The important thing is that you have a consistent hand throughout your work.

How to Cast On Knitting

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The most basic method for how to cast on knitting is the single cast-on or backward-loop cast on. Once you have mastered that method, you can add a few steps to create a double cast-on or long tail cast-on. Both casts will serve you well as you learn to knit.

Single Cast-on or Backwards-loop Cast-on

Begin casting on by creating a slip knot. A slip knot is made by creating a loop of yarn and then pulling the tail of that loop through itself, creating a second loop with a knot around it. A slip knot should be adjustable by pulling on the tail end of the yarn.

  1. 1
    Slide your slip knot onto your needle and tighten it snugly to the needle.
  2. 2
    Hold the needle in your dominant hand, with your fingers draped lightly over the needle
  3. 3
    Securely hold the needle between your thumb and forefinger
  4. 4
    With your off-hand facing you, palm open, loop the working yarn (that is the yarn attached to the ball) around the back of your thumb
  5. 5
    Bring the pointed part of the needle under and through the loop around your thumb
  6. 6
    Remove your thumb from the loop while keeping the needle in the loop.
  7. 7
    Tighten the loop around your needle and slide it down the length of the needle enough that it won't slip off
  8. 8
    Continue casting from the second step until you have reached the desired number of stitches

Tip!

If you need a stretchy edge, try casting onto two needles held together as one, or a needle that is twice the size of the needle you will ultimately work with. This will create a looser cast that will be exactly as stretchy as a knit-purl sequence. Once you have done the cast-on, remove the extra or larger needle as you work. Once you are ready to cast back onto the dominant hand, use the appropriately sized needle to continue working.

Double Cast-on or Long Tail Cast-on

This method of how to cast on knitting requires that you leave a long tail while you cast. The tail should be about a foot for every 10-20 stitches, depending on how bulky your yarn is.

The double cast method creates a springy, knit edge that is perfect for most projects:

  1. 1
    Begin with a tail long enough to accommodate the desired number of stitches
  2. 2
    Drape the tail over the back of the index finger and thumb of your off-hand
  3. 3
    Secure the tail between your index and middle fingers
  4. 4
    Hold the working yarn around your thumb and across your palm, secured by your ring finger and pinky
  5. 5
    Holding the needle in your dominant hand, bring the tapered end of the needle over and around the yarn across your thumb and index finger
  6. 6
    Draw the needle toward you, dragging the yarn across your palm
  7. 7
    Slide the needle under the working yarn and up through the loop around your thumb
  8. 8
    Bring the tapered end of the needle toward your index finger then around and under the yarn in front of your index finger
  9. 9
    Bring the needle back toward your thumb
  10. 10
    Insert the needle down through the loop around your thumb
  11. 11
    Release your thumb and tighten the yarn
  12. 12
    For the next stitch, rotate your thumb clockwise, catching the working yarn around the back of your thumb

Your needle now has one cast on it and is suspended between the tail and working yarn, in the center of the space between your thumb and index finger. Repeat the cast-on from step 4 to continue working loops onto your needle.

Other Methods for Learning How to Cast On Knitting

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Once you are comfortable with the basic methods for how to cast on knitting, you may want to check out some more advanced casts. Each has its use and character and as you become more comfortable knitting, you will be able to decide which casting method is right for your project.

Cable Cast or Knitting On

This flexible cast can be created using either knitting needles or one knitting needle in your off-hand and a crochet hook in your dominant hand. You will need to know the knit stitch for this one, so it is best to wait to learn it until you have a solid handle on knitting. Once you know it, cable casting can make excellent edging for buttonholes and fabrics that require a solid edge.

German Twisted Cast-on or the Old Norwegian Cast-on

This method is similar to the double cast-on but is a bit trickier. There is an extra twist in the thumb loop and the stitches are stiffer to snug up against the needle. When done with proper consistent tension, this cast will be bouncy and beautiful.

Invisible Cast

The invisible cast is a provisional cast that is meant to be removed from the work later. Once removed, the live stitches of the knit work are exposed as a beautiful decorative edge. Using provisional casts can be a bit tricky because you have to be careful in how you work from them, so that when you remove them the fabric remains stable. You must be proficient in how to cast on knitting and in basic knit stitches to be successful with invisible casts.

Conclusion

Knitted textile

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Casting on knitting may take some practice to get just right. Once you have done it a few times, it will begin to feel more natural. With the right tools and the right attitude, knitting can be fun and productive. Be mindful of your tools, your yarn, and the way you hold your hands so that you can create consistent tension. An even cast is a crucial first step in creating attractive knit work.

If something doesn't seem right, take the time to figure it out and go back to fix it early on. If you take your time, you will be able to achieve a consistent cast. Try watching videos and working from diagrams until you have mastered how to cast on knitting. Remember, even experienced knitters sometimes need to brush up on casting!

Featured image by Surene Palvie via Pexels.

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