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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

Long-Tail Cast-On

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.
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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.

Cable Cast-On

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.

Knitted Cast-On

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.

Crochet Cast-On

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.

Tubular Cast-On

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.

Judy’s Magic Cast-On

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.

Provisional Cast-On

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

Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

 

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.

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41 Comments

  • This is a really handy explanation. Thank you Kate 😀

  • This is very handy, but it doesn’t mention the use for backwards loop I will always remember learning from Kay Knock-Out-One-More-Seamless-Blanket Gardiner: when you will want to pick up the stitches later.

    • Hi, I would love to know what the Seamless Blanket pattern is!

      • I think that might be the No-Sew Mitered Square Blanket in a letter from Kay (2006!) Easiest way to find it is to search by that title (the magnifying glass at the top). Brilliant, but “epic” tutorial.

  • Thank you Kate for such clear concise explanations of each method. I’ve already downloaded the .pdf to keep handy as a reference. Perfect!

  • Ooh please can we have a matching chart for bind offs? Just spent this morning trawling google and learning a new one as the one I knew clashed with the cast on edge (at the end of a buttonhole band). Would be amazing to have such a summary for binding off! As this one is fab, thank you.

  • The loopiness of the knitted cast on can be fixed into a beautiful edge by knitting or pulling through the back loop on the first row. It is my go to cast on.

    • Thanks for this! Knitted on is my favorite cast on, but it does tend to be a bit sloppy. I don’t know why, but I never took to long tail. Tubular is my favorite looks-wise but can be a PITA.

  • I love this and have it bookmarked as well as downloaded for future reference!
    I have one question regarding the long tail cast on:
    “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.”
    I don’t understand what it means to work ‘in alignment’ or ‘opposite’ the edge. Could you explain a bit more for me? Is this just knitting or purling the first row? How does that affect working in the round?
    Thank you!

    • Hello! When I say “in alignment”, I mean knitting on the knit side, and purling on the purl side. For example, if you use the long tail cast on for knitting flat, when you turn to work the first row, the purl side of the cast on is facing. If you knit over that, you’ll get a little ridge; if you purl the first row, the cast on edge will be smoother and tidier. Equally, if you use the long tail method for working in the round, you’ll see the knit side of the cast on facing. Does that help?

      • Thank you, Kate, for taking the extra time to clarify this. That’s very thoughtful and kind of you, and it does help!

      • Thank you for the clarification – I had the same question. Great info, and thanks for the clip & save chart!

  • Great Cheat Sheet! It will definitely come in handy. Thank you!

  • One of my favorite knitting books is Cast On, Bind Off by Cap Sease. Every possible option is in there, along with great pics, descriptions, when to use, and how to match cast on and bind off edges. Highly recommend!

    • This book is the greatest a knitting library essential! I often check it for the details of a favorite CO or BO or to find a new one.

  • Can someone please tell me how to Log in easily? I have a hard time figuring out how to do it? Am I stupid? What am I missing?

    • I have this same problem but I have conquered it. Look them up on the internet and then go into your account and there you will see a place to log in. What I dont know is why it keeps logging me out? Anyway, its easy enough to fix it.

    • You have to click on the little person icon at the top of the page and go to my account. Then you have to search again for the article you want to bookmark after logging in.

  • Oh, so very helpful!!! Thank you!

  • Bookmarked! I always wonder and second guess my decisions: now I have a plan.

  • I recently discovered the I-cord cast on which made a beautiful neckline for my pullover. The neck matched the I-cord bind-offs on the sleeves and bottom edge.

  • I’m such a stick in the mud that I almost always use long tail cast on and purl the first round

  • Concise, brilliant, and a chart! Thanks Kate.

  • This is regally great! What are your thoughts about the Chinese waitress cast on?

  • Please add “ Chinese Waitress Cast-on” https://www.knitfreedom.com/blog/chinese-waitress-cast-on/

  • Your knitted cast is suffering bad tension……my personal favourite is the tubular cast on

  • I’ve never managed to do a tubular cast-on. My stitches at the bottom edge always “do the splits”. I could practise and fiddle about varying needle size and technique, but I really like the long tail method and want to get knitting, so I just go with one I can do neatly. Your tubular cast-on looks lovely!

  • After knitting a shawl which specified it, I’m a total convert to using a crochet cast on in situations where you need to add stitches to an existing piece of knitting. It doesn’t suffer the annoying extra loop of yarn that I always get from backward loop, and makes a neat edge that is easy to pick up from.

  • This is great, thanks so much! I loved Golden Apples/oftroy (blog http://blog.goldenapple.info/) extensive list of cast ones and bind offs. Her YouTube videos are still up but the website is down. Anyone know what’s up? I fear the worst.

  • Very helpful for this new knitter…..thank you!

  • I have been using the Long Tail caston for several years but this spring I determined to learn the Old Norwegian. I took the trouble to find decent directions and it wasn’t difficult to master.
    I now much prefer it to Long Tail and will never go back.
    I used Cable Caston, per instructions, in ribbing and it was the absolute worst. Not only was it difficult and slow – 146 stitches for a pullover sweater – I ended up with a mean, inflexible, skinny edge where each stitch overlapped the other of the pair and was tedious to straighten out in the first row. I know there’s a better way to cast on ribbing. Can anyone remind me what it is?

  • Great tips

  • Thank you!! Printed, Clipped, and Strategically Placed. Any chance you would consider doing something similar for bind-offs? That’s where I get stuck…a shawl edge that doesn’t stretch, a garment edge that gapes. It is an art!

    • A helpful and interesting article, but I suspect we all have our own favourites. I’ve never had a problem with cable cast-on, which is my go-to. For ribbing simply use alternate cable cast-on, works a treat. Tubular cast-on looks amazing but is hard work. I’ve never taken to long tail, too inexact and wasteful when it comes to estimating yarn requirement (just my pennyworth!).

  • Thanks so much for the neat ‘n easy chart. Will have to try the crochet cast-on mentioned.
    But, one thing I learned relatively recently, I’m ashamed to say, is the power of The Back Loop. So many problems can be solved this way, including the mess Backward Loop Cast-on creates, due to No Tension At All. I learned it as my first cast-on and hated it. It almost put me off knitting. But, if you jam the needle into, not the loop created by the thumb, but the back of the loop, it creates just enough tension that one can knit that first row without everything trying to unravel itself.
    Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions.

  • Brilliant Kate. I’m a huge fan of yours! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and creating this incredibly practical guide. Big thanks to MDK with awesome knitterly content week after week!

  • which cast on curls the least?

  • Another useful cast-on: if you need to cast on at the end of a row in garter stitch, use cable cast on in PURL, not the usual knit cable cast on, which ends up with an edge that looks like stockinette.

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