All knitting patterns start with two words: “Cast on.”
If the pattern doesn’t specify a cast-on method, which one should you use? I have thoughts.
Editors’ Note: YouTube abounds with video tutorials on how to work each cast-on. We’ve linked (in red) to videos from Jen Arnall-Culliford’s YouTube channel.
This standby is my favorite all-rounder. It creates an attractive edge that’s stable and easy to knit from, with good stretch. I use it for pretty much everything.
Tips, Tricks, and Notes
- To keep it stretchy, don’t cast on over two needles held together—that’s a myth! Just make sure you leave space between the stitches as you snug them up on the needle.
- Unless you’re working with a super-bulky yarn, you’ll never run short on the tail if you give yourself about an inch (2.5cm) per stitch. And you’ll be fine with half that many inches of tail for socks or lace on small needles.
- The edge has two distinct sides: a knit side and a purl side. If you work your first row/round in alignment with the edge, then it’s very smooth; if you work opposite to the edge, you get a tidy little purl ridge.
- There’s a purlwise version of the long-tail cast-on, which can be combined with the standard to create a ribbed edge.
In the MDK Shop
Twisted German/Old Norwegian Cast-On
Long-Tail on right, Twisted German on the left.
This slightly fiddlier version of the long-tail method creates an edge that’s stretcher and more substantial. I love how it looks in a sock, but it can be a bit too much for garment and other not-really-needing-to-be-stretched-out edges.
That having been said, if you find there’s just not enough give in your long-tail cast-on, this is the one you need.
A sturdy and stable edge. It’s more visible, in that it creates a quite distinct edge. Excellent for garments, less so for lace or socks, where you need the edge to be able to stretch.
It’s called the cable cast-on because the edge looks like a twisted rope, not because it’s for knitting cables.
The cable and knitted-on methods are very closely related. The knitted version is fast and easy to do, and is often taught to newer knitters, but it’s not a good general purpose method. The edge it creates is a frustrating combination of inflexible and weirdly loopy. That loopiness, however, makes it the best choice when the edge is going to form part of a seam, or have stitches picked up along it.
Backwards Loop or E-Wrap Cast-On
Often the first cast-on a knitter learns, this method is very easy to do, but the edge it creates is annoyingly difficult to work from. The edge is very slight and barely visible. It’s best when you need to cast on a small number of stitches in the middle of a project—for example, over the gap of a mitten thumb, or to create an under-arm for a top-down garment.
This one creates an edge that exactly matches a standard bind-off. Brilliant for projects like a chunky weight cowl where the top and bottom edges will be visible and easily compared.
Note: There is another method borrowed from crochet, sometimes known as Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast-On, also known as a pinhole cast-on. It’s used to start small rounds, like the center of circular shawls, or elements of toys, or top down hats.
Tricksy but beautiful: this matches the edge you see in most commercial knitwear. It’s essentially invisible, in that there’s isn’t an actual edge, just an elegant flow of stitches.
A terrific method with a very specific application: it creates two back-to-back sets of live stitches. Most often used for setting up a round, as in the toe of a toe-up sock, it also works brilliantly as a provisional method: work from one side of the stitches, and slip the second side to a holder until you need them.
This cast-on is related to the Turkish and Figure 8 cast-on methods, which produce similar edges, but I find it more stable and therefore a little easier to work from.
Another specific one: only use it when a pattern calls for it. A provisional cast on creates an edge with live stitches on both, so you can knit from both directions of the piece. A common use is for a cowl worked lengthways: knit from one side of the provisional edge, and then when the knitting is complete, you can return to the live stitches on the other side, and work a grafted join, to make it seamless. There’s not a single method here—my preferred ways to make a provisional CO are either through the use of Judy’s Magic Cast-On, or working the crochet cast-on with waste yarn, and joining the working yarn for the first row.
Cheat Sheet! Clip And Save!
Here’s a handy guide for when to use these common cast-on methods.
If you’d like to literally clip and save it, here’s a printable PDF Chart you can download.
This Could Come in Handy