The long tail cast-on method, as shown in MDK’s Skill Set: Beginning Knitting, is a terrific all-purpose cast on method. It’s neat and tidy-looking, and it’s got a bit of stretch, which makes it very handy for socks and mittens and hats.
Once you’ve got that mastered, it’s worth adding a couple more techniques to your repertoire, for other applications. Two other very useful methods are the cable cast on, and the backwards loop.
The Cable Cast On
The cable cast-on—so-named because the edge looks like a twisted rope—is handsome and substantial, a little bit firm without being inflexible. It’s a terrific start for garments and blankets, the sorts of places where you want the edge to be a little bolder, perhaps, and to hold its shape over time.
It also has a major benefit over the long tail method: it doesn’t need that pesky long tail, so there’s no need to worry about running short!
This method needs two needles, in contrast to the long-tail method. You’re going to create stitches by doing a bit of almost-knitting.
Start with a slip knot, and place that on your left needle.
Put the right needle into the slip knot, as if you would for knitting, wrap the yarn around the tip of the right needle, and pull it through, just like a normal knit stitch.
This is where it’s different. Leave that slip knot on the left needle, and stretch the new loop out a bit. Then tilt the tip of the right needle to the back a bit, so that you’re putting a half twist in that new loop …
and place it onto the left needle. Don’t pull it really tight, leave a little slack in that new stitch.
You’ve got 2 stitches. Perfect.
Put the tip of the right needle between the first two stitches on the left needle. Not into a stitch, but between them. If there’s a bit of slack, still, give the yarn a gentle tug to snug everything up, so that the needle is held between the stitches.
Wrap the yarn around the tip of the right needle, and pull it through, just like a normal knit stitch.
Leaving the previously created stitch on the left needle, continue as you did for the first: stretch the new loop out a bit, make a half turn and place it onto the left needle.
Don’t pull it tight, leave a little slack in that new stitch so that it’s easy to get the needle into position for the next stitch.
Repeat, until you have as many stitches as you need, keeping that last one a tiny bit relaxed.
The Backwards Loop Method
This one is very fast and very easy. Like the cable method, there’s no need for a long tail. The challenge with this one is that the stitches you make aren’t yet anchored or very stable, which can make them a little hard to knit from; as a result, I don’t recommend it if you need to cast on a lot of stitches.
It’s absolutely perfect, however, if you need to add a small number to a project you’re already working. With a top-down sweater, or a mitten thumb, there’s always a step where you have to close up a small gap by casting on a few stitches. This method is perfect for that, as it doesn’t create a ridge or lump.
Start with a slip knot.
Then just make stitches by creating a twisted loop:
You can twist it either way, whichever feels most comfortable for you.
And there are a bunch of different hand positions people use—I find it works well for me if I wrap it around my thumb and put the needle it.
There are no wrong answers here, as long as the yarn crosses over itself at the base of the stitch.
The edge that results is a little more subtle than the cable method.
First Bonus Tip!
After my warning above about the stitches maybe not being entirely stable, there’s actually a nifty fix for this: just add an extra twist to the stitch before you place it on the needle. I still wouldn’t use this method for more than about 10 or 15 stitches, but it does make them behave themselves a little better.
The edge that results is tidy and neat:
Next Month: A Second Bonus Tip!
We’ll talk more about increases in a future column, but I won’t be spoiling any surprises by telling you that the backwards loop cast-on makes a really great increase! If you need to add a new stitch in the middle of row, try one of the versions of this cast on, with or without the extra twist.