Great Beginnings: Start Your Knitting Project Off Right, Pt. 1

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Great Beginnings: Start Your Knitting Project Off Right, Pt. 1

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Technical editor and yarncrafting expert Kj Hay returns to share her expertise on starting your knitting project on the right foot. Join us tomorrow for the second half of this series or click here to check out Kj’s earlier blog posts on crochet.

“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” — “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music.

When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you knit you begin with casting on. Thankfully to begin knitting, there is no need to learn every one of the huge number of cast on methods. It is wise to begin by learning one general cast on method, and forge ahead with your first few projects. After you have completed some projects about which you are deservedly proud, you may be in the mood to learn some new cast on methods.

Videos, illustrations and written instructions for a few of the most commonly used cast on methods are available in the Lion Brand Learning Center.

  1. Knitted Cast On
  2. Backwards Loop Cast On
  3. Long-Tail Cast (see below)

Long-Tail Cast On

The last of these methods, long-tail cast on, is possibly the favorite method for beginners and experienced knitters alike. This method uses two strands of yarn; a long tail and the strand of working yarn connected to the ball. New stitches are made by drawing loops of the working yarn through loops from the long tail. In this way a foundation of loops and a row of stitches are formed at the same time. There are actual a number of different ways to work a long-tail cast on. The approaches differ in manner in which the strands, and needle(s) are manipulated and can produce slightly different results. The most common approach is demonstrated in this Lion Brand video:

A long-tail cast on requires more motions than many other methods, but with a little practice it can be performed very quickly and provides a good beginning edge for almost all knitted projects.

Determining Length of Long-Tail

As you work a long-tail cast on, the tail is being used up. Once the long tail has been used, you cannot cast on any more stitches. Estimating the length for the long-tail can be challenging and has defeated many an experienced knitter. Here are some methods for determining the length for the long tail.


  1. Cast on 10 stitches using long-tail cast on method.
  2. With one hand, hold end of tail close to last stitch cast on. With other hand, hold slip knot. Slide all stitches from needle. Draw your hands apart to unravel stitches.
  3. Measure the length of yarn between your hands. This is the length of tail needed to cast on 10 stitches.
  4. Divide number of stitches you want to cast on by 10, multiply the result by measurement from step #3, and round up to nearest whole number. This is the length of tail you need. Add 10″/25.5cm or more for a beginning tail.

If you would like to do a little less math, perform steps #1 and #2. Divide number of stitches you want to cast on by 10, and round up to nearest whole number. Use length of yarn between your hands to measure out this whole number of lengths from the end of the yarn.

Two Strand Method

Two separate strands can be used for long-tail cast on. The strands can come from two separate balls of yarn, or one strand can come from the outside and the other from the center of a center-pull ball.

  1. Hold both strands of yarn together as if working with one strand. Make a slip knot and place knot on needle. The slip knot does not count as a stitch. After finishing first row of knitting, remove knot from needle and carefully untie.
  2. Separate the two strands and cast on desired number of stitches. After all stitches are cast on, cut strand of yarn that formed loops around the base of the new stitches (strand that was wrapped around your thumb), leaving 10″/25.5cm or more for a beginning tail.

How to Proceed after a Long-Tail Cast On

When working the first row following a long-tail cast on, take care to work with the working yarn and not the tail! If you work with the tail, you will run out of yarn very quickly. Wind the tail into a small butterfly to reduce the chances of accidentally working with it.

Look carefully at the loops wrapped around the base of the cast on stitches. On the side of the piece facing away from you as you cast on, the wraps look like purl bumps. Because of this, some knitters prefer to work the first row following the cast on as a WS row. However, this is not strictly necessary. Whether the first row following the long-tail cast on should be worked as a WS row depends on the look you want for the lower edge and the pattern stitch that will be worked. If it is very important that the first row following the cast on is a RS row and that purl bumps from the cast on appear on the WS, there are different long-tail cast on methods that place purl bump-like wraps on the side facing you as you cast on.

Come back tomorrow for more long-tail cast on tips.

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  • Thanks for very easily understood instructions.

  • thank you for the great hints regarding how to figure out how much yarn you need for the long tail cast on. I hate waisting yarn by having too much left after I cast on and really hate to waist time ripping out and casting on a second time.

  • I usually hold the tail in my left hand, pull the yarn from the ball down the length of my arm to my elbow. I can cast on about 15 stitches with this amount. So I divide the number of cast on stitches by 15.

  • Added a link to your blog today from mine with an article about knitting!

  • I figure about an inch per stitch when casting on size 10 needles. You can adjust according to needle size. Just remember: it is always better to have too much of a tail than not enough!

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