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Casting on

There are many different ways to cast on. I use one of the very simplest, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Take a circular needle, and a ball of yarn. Work one end of the yarn free, enough to give you some slack. Take one end of the yarn and tie a simple knot, and slip it loosely over one point of the circular needle. (This will be the needle that you hold in your left hand – or it is for me, being right-handed.)

With the other point of the circular needle in your right hand, knit a regular plain stitch through the loop of the knot on the left needle, and then slip it onto the left needle alongside the loop of the knot.

Now, using the tip of your needle which you’re holding in your right hand, pass it in between the two stitches on the left needle point to emerge on the other side, loop your yarn over it, and draw it back towards you, pulling the yarn with it through to this side. (In effect you are knitting a stitch.)

You will now have the 2 stitches you have already created on your left needle point (or one knot and one stitch, to be accurate), and the stitch you have just made on your right needle point.

Slip the new stitch onto the left needle point to sit alongside the others. You now have 3 stitches.

Repeat for as many stitches as you require, always slipping your right needle in between the most recent 2 stitches you have created when you create a new stitch.

(Incidentally, if you’re anything like me you’ll make stitches of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some will be big and lumpy, others will be tiny. Don’t worry – it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It just looks untidy because that’s all you’ve done so far – but trust me, once you’ve knit a few inches of ribbing your cast-on row won’t be noticeable at all. The important thing is just to get them done.)

I keep track of how many stitches I’ve cast on by using stitch markers. After every 50 stitches I tie a loop of differently-coloured yarn onto my needle, so I always know how many stitches I’ve done.) I lose count easily, and there are few things more frustrating than losing your way after several hundred stitches (“325…326…327… Wait – was that 327 or 328? Or 329? How many? Oh bugger…”)

Marking off every 50 stitches gives you an at-a-glance reference, and takes all the stress out of counting. Afterwards, you just slip the loop markers off on the next row as you come to them, and if you keep a couple to one side you can use them to mark the seam stitches on the body. (Waste not, want not…)

Now, as you cast on the stitches they’ll start to bunch up and twist, corkscrewing round on themselves to an extent that you’ll wonder if you can ever get them all the right side up again. I’ve found that there’s nothing much you can do about this. The best thing to do is not to worry about it, just let it happen, and wait till you’ve got all your stitches cast on; then you just have to secure one end and patiently pass the stitches through your fingers as though you were telling rosary beads, straightening them out as you go.

The stitches will resist – they really won’t want to be straight, and sometimes you have to repeat it a couple of times just to be sure you’ve got them all aligned properly. But you really have to do this, or else your knitting will have a twist in it and that would be a Very Bad Thing – you’ll end up with a figure-8 Moebius-strip gansey instead of a nice tube.

When you’ve got your cast-on stitches straight, all you have to do is carefully bring the two ends together, and you can start knitting in the round as usual.

Remember, if you’re knitting a ribbed welt of knit 2/purl 2 ribs, you should cast on 10% fewer stitches than you need for the body. So if your body is 400 stitches, you should only cast on 360 at this stage. (You increase the rest after the ribbing.) But, of course, if you are knitting a ribbed welt, it is also vitally important to remember to cast on a number of stitches that is divisible by 4 (for however many knit – knit – purl – purl ribs you need).

18 comments to Casting on

  • Sue

    You’re describing a cable cast on!

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Am I? I’ll take your word for it! Thank you.

    My problem has always been that I just knit ganseys and once I learn something I’m happy to stick to it. So this is the first way I was taught to cast on, and it works fine for me, so I’ve never wanted (or needed) to learn other techniques. I guess I’m a little unusual in that I’m interested in knitting ganseys, but not in knitting—there’s an awful lot I don’t know!

    Best wishes
    Gordon

  • Nigel

    I just had to rip out a few centimetres of my cast on rib. It twisted horribly. I have re-read the instructions and will try again! 🙁

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    Depends what you mean by twisting. My cast-on rows always corkscrew wildly round the needles, looking when I’ve finished as if the yarn is a spring through which I’ve inserted the needle; in the end I found it was easiest to let it happen, keep casting on, and then, when I’ve got the right number of stitches, anchor one end and untwist the rest, working back along the needle (easiest with another person to hold one end so you can slowly unscrew the rest).

    Gordon

  • Nigel

    When I’ve knitted in the round before it hasn’t been so many stitches. I didn’t anchor an end, I just thought it would untwist as I passed it through my hands and carried on knitting. Oh well, I have a free weekend to start again!

  • Felicity

    Thank you so much for this website/blog. I haven’t made a gansey yet, but reading about them and the traditions of the old knitters is piquing my interest in trying one.

    BTW,sometimes I like to use a crochet hook in my right hand to put the stitches onto the left needle. Have you tried it that way, Gordon?

    • Gordon

      Hi Felicity,

      Well, for me I think it’s the combination of a beautiful garment you can’t buy in the shops, plus the connection to a tradition going back to the distant past, that make stem so appealing. So I can certainly recommend giving them a go!

      I’ve never used a crochet hook. I think I’d run the risk of putting my eye out! As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not really a natural hand-eye-coordination kind of person, and so I tend to find a technique that works for me and stick with it. Margaret’s tried to show me other casting-on styles – Channel Islands, two-or three-yarns together, etc. – but these seem like the work of the devil and I will have none of their heathen ways!

      • Felicity

        Hi Gordon,

        If I have permission to edit what I said about using the hook:

        I like to use a crochet hook to reach between the first two (already knitted) stitches on the left needle in casting on the way you describe in your lesson above, the thing some of us call a cable cast on. Otherwise I keep the crochet hook away from my knitting and out of trouble.

  • Ramona

    Such a delightful and inspiring website! I’ve learned so much! Let me share something I recently discovered on Ravelry’s Forum/Techniques (http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/techniques/2561516) Kudos to it’s creator: PineSlayerDee
    This is a home-made knitted tool which both prevents twisted cast-ons AND helps keep track of the number of stitches cast on. Simple and brilliant… as is this site !

    • Gordon

      Hi Ramona,

      Great to hear from you, and thanks for the positive words. And thank you also for sharing that idea from Ravelry, which I hadn’t seen before. Very interesting! Mind you, you’re dealing with someone for whom purl stitches are about the last word in devilish complexity, so I might need a long run-up (and a stiff dram of the water of life) before giving it a go!

  • Felicity

    Wonderful timesaver! And you could make the knitted tool really pretty, as she really has, or use a narrow ribbon strung with stitch markers and slip the marker on at ten, twenty or fifty stitch intervals, no? As for me I seem to be addicted to counting and checking my stitches as to whether they face forward, are they smiling back at me or quarreling amongst themselves for space.

  • Sandra

    That’s fantastic, the swatch idea from ravelry. I find it helpful to knit a few rows back and forth before I join to provide some substance–the gap is easily seamed after a few rows in the round. Same principal as the ravelry hang-on swatch. I’m so looking forward to trying a Gansey sweater for my husband!

  • Jenny near Seattle

    Gordon, I’m finally finding the time to explore all the links on your website including trying to borrow your mystery book, The Cuckoo’s Nest. But alas, it is not to be found in the local library. So I will most likely purchase it from amazon as an ebook and into my Kindle.

    I’ve never done your cast on technique before, the cabled cast on, as most knitting books describe it. One reference book says it is “a very firm, INELASTIC edge. But in Alice Starmore’s book of Fair Isle Knitting, she describes it as a firm ELASTIC edge. Which is it?

    I use the long tail cast on or the Channel Island cast on. Thanks, Gordon.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jenny,

      No, sorry, I was soundly rejected by the publishing world some 5 years ago or so with a different book (one that I dare say deserved not to be published) but I found it a bruising experience and so opted to go down the self-publishing route with Amazon ebooks for a while. The response to some of these books has been very positive from readers, and as a result I’m exploring the possibilities of finding a (real) publisher now for another Victorian murder mystery, set in Wick. Watch this space but don’t hold your breath!

      I’m not sure i can answer your question—it’s the only cast on I’ve ever used, and it seems to work—It seems to be as stretchy as the ribbing will allow, and I’ve never had any problems with it. But I’ve never thought about its elasticity or otherwise! On the whole I should say it’s pretty elastic. I shall have to go and quietly stretch a few ganseys to see…

    • Gordon

      PS – if you hold off a week or two, The Cuckoo’s Nest and another of my books will be on a free promotion over Easter from Amazon, so you can snap it up for nowt!

  • Jenny nr Seattle

    Thanks for the book tip, Gordon. I swim regularly with a writer at our local city pool. I shall ask her if she knows of publishers that cater to mystery writers. Our best man at our wedding, Daniel D Victor, is a mystery writer. His latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Final Page of Baker Street,” came out late last year. There, I’ve got two sources to make inquiries on your behalf.

    I shall do a test of your cast on and check it out for myself. As of last night I’ve got my yoke design charted for my next Hebridean gansey.

  • Joan

    I will cast on and then not join up the ends right away — I do the rib for a few rows back and forth, then I find that the stitches will lie flat and do not do the Moebius strip. But it does require a tiny bit of sewing in the end to finish the bottom.

    • Gordon

      Hi Joan, that’s a very neat idea. After I’ve cast on I end up clamping one end of the Moebius strip between my knees and unwinding from there, but half the time I end up with a kink! My problem is, I don’t really do sewing, so I fear the cure would be almost as bad as the disease for me.. (Yes, I’m a coward)

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