When learning a new craft, it’s easy to want to rush through the basic steps and dive right into that first major project. You think to yourself I see so many people do this it can’t be that difficult, can it? Then you hang yourself up on simple details, get frustrated, and throw your tangled ball of yarn and needles in the corner and forget about it for a month.
Always get the hang of the basics before diving in. Practice makes perfect. Beethoven didn’t start right out with creating Fur Elise, he had to learn the basics of music first. And the first step to any knitting project is casting on your stitches. Well, what in the world does that even mean? Casting on means getting all your beginning stitches onto the needle, and there are actually a few methods of doing so. Try them all and see which one works best for you.
The Easy Way: I know what you’re thinking. Oh, this is the easy way, so why should I read any of the other ways, I’ll just always use this one! Well in the words of Admiral Ackbar: it’s a trap! Don’t fall into it. This method is one I reserve only for times I need to add more stitches in the middle of a project, such as mittens. (I’ll post a mitten tutorial at a future date). While the method is definitely easy, it can create uneven stitches and be difficult to get started with if you base your entire project off of it. Still, it is a necessary method to know when doing certain projects, so here it is:
Make a slip knot and place it on your needle – this is how every casting on method begins.
Take the longer strand of yarn (the tail gets ignored) and twist it into a loop.
Place the new loop on the needle and pull tight. Try to resist the temptation to pull it too tight as that will cause your stitches to be very difficult to work with.
Repeat until you have enough stitches on your needle.
Easy, right? Why wouldn’t you just do that all the time? Well, I’ve found that when you begin a project using this method, the stitches stretch out when you insert your needle into them trying to do your first row and it takes longer and makes you frustrated. That’s why I reserve this method for times when I need to add stitches in the middle of the project.
The two-needle way: I must make a confession, here. I’ve never actually used this method. In fact, I didn’t even know about it until I cracked open the “learn to knit” instructions page on one of my pattern books. I’ve always used the way my grandmother taught me, so this is a weird and wild thing for me to discover. Unlike the easy way and the way my grandma taught me, this cast on method goes onto the left-hand needle instead of the right and you make use of both needles. Here’s the play-by-play:
Make a slip knot and place it on your needle (this time to the left!).
Insert the right-hand needle into the left side of the stitch going front to back and wrap the yarn over the right-hand needle.
*Going from the left side of the stitch with the needle is referred to as “as if to knit”
**Wrapping the yarn around the needle is referred to as “yarn over”
Pull up a loop through stitch and place the new loop on the left-hand needle.
Insert right-hand needle between the last two stitches.
Yarn over and pull up a loop.
Place the new loop on the left-hand needle.
Repeat the process of pulling loops up between the stitches and placing them on the left-hand needle until you have the desired number of stitches.
Easy enough, but I’m not sure how easy they are to work with once you get them all on the needle. I only cast on a few stitches for the purpose of this tutorial, and I didn’t much care for the way they seemed cramped on the needle. But if you try this out and work your first row and love it, then by all means keep doing it.
The way my grandma taught me: This is my tried-and-true method for casting on stitches, as I mentioned earlier. This method is a bit different in that you will be carrying the tail throughout the process, so you have to start with a looooooong tail. The length of the beginning tail will be determined by how many stitches you need and what size needle you’re using.
Make a slip knot and place it on your needle. Make sure you have a nice loooooooong tail.
Hold the needle in your right hand, and wrap the yarn over your left hand like so:
Make sure the tail is over your thumb and the longer strand (coming from your ball) is over your index finger. Spread your thumb and forefinger apart, and trap the yarn ends in your other fingers.
It looks and feels funny at first, but I promise when you get the hang of it, it’s quite fun. It looks a little like cat’s cradle when you have the proper grasp on the yarn.
Take the needle and move it up under the front yarn coming off your thumb (this is your tail).
Keeping the tail over the needle, move the needle back and over the front of the yarn on your index finger. Be sure to steer clear of the back strand of yarn coming off the index finger.
Grab that section of yarn you just went over and pull it toward you through the gap.
Now you essentially have a loop wrapped around your thumb, you want that loop on your needle. Remove your thumb from the loop and press down on the tail under the loop with your thumb.
As you press down with your thumb, the tail will slip back around your thumb as it was in the original starting position. This is a good thing.
Pull tight (but not too tight!)
Tilt your left hand back again so it looks like the starting position. Repeat these steps until you have enough starting stitches on your needle.
Now I know that that was a lot of detailed pictures and it feels really complicated. But seriously, give it a try. A good try. Once you get the hang of it, your needle will be flying under and over your strands of yarn and your left thumb will be smoothly circling in and out of the loops, pressing down to tighten and returning to the original position as if on its own. I’ve done this so often that I can cast on without even looking or thinking about it, merrily counting the stitches as I binge on Netflix. I pause now and again to double-check my count. I find this method to be super fun and it really does feel like you’re doing cat’s cradle.
I know some of you may wonder how do I know how long to make my tail?! And the answer is trial and error. Especially when casting on for a large blanket, it’s tough to say what length to start with and there really isn’t a set formula. I usually wind up with a super-long tail even when I’m done casting on all my stitches, and when this happens I just trim it to a reasonable length. Sometimes you’ll run out before you’re done casting on and have to start over again, moving your slip knot further up the yarn. It can be frustrating but stick with it because it really is a great foundation for your project because it keeps those beginning stitches from stretching out. And no, you won’t run out of yarn by using this method. I typically wind up with a good bit of leftovers once my project is done and I always use this method.
And that’s it! You’ve just learned three methods of casting on your stitches to start your project! Now you can graduate to learning your knit and purl stitches. I promise it’s not that hard. Try starting some sample squares using each of these cast-on methods to see which one you like to work with the best. My preferences aside, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Basically, as long as you get the right number of stitches on your needle, you’re doing a good job.
Pat yourself on the back and grab another cup of coffee, you’re well on your way to becoming another knit-tastic individual.
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