'With 3.75mm needles cast on 91sts.'
And there it is. The first line of this new and thrilling knitting ride, open to all sorts of possibilities, trials and probable tribulations but potent with expectation and hope. And it is here that I urge you to practise restraint and take some time to think about your shiny new project while you consider just how you are going to cast it on. I know that it's all too tempting to just turn automatically to your favoured cast on method - I do it myself - but here is the very best place to make a significant decision about the type of cast on you choose that will make all the difference to the outcome of your project.
There are many different types of cast on, all with properties that are suited to particular types of knitting or garments. For example, the first cast on that I learned is the Cable Cast On which creates a very neat edge, perfect for starting the rib on a cuff or bottom edge of a sweater due to it's stable nature. It has enough stretch to make it useable but not so much that it will make your ribbing flare, but it's also a nice clear edge to pick up stitches on should you need to.
Cable Cast On
1) Make a slip knot - this is your first stitch. Put the right needle through this first stitch from front to back as you would to make a normal knit stitch.
2) Draw this stitch through, but don't drop it off the needle - instead place it on the left needle next to your first stitch. You now have 2 stitches on your left needle.3) For the next sttich and the remainder of your cast on stitches you will put your right needle through both legs of the cast on stitch you have just made (and not just through the front leg). This marks the difference is between the Knitted Cast On where you simply knit through the front leg of the stitch and place the loop onto the left needle.
4) Pull the loop through.
5) Place the loop onto your left needle and continue in this way until you have made the required amount of stitches stipulated in the pattern.
For many knitters, the Long Tail is their cast on of choice. It produces a very stretchy edge suitable for all types of garments but is particularly useful for the top edge of socks, around neck edges - anywhere that you need the edge to have plenty of give. It may take a little bit of time to master this technique, and it's imperative that you allow enough yarn 'tail' for the amount of stitches you are casting on to avoid ripping out and starting again. As a rule of thumb, allow 30cms of tail for every 20 stitches you are casting on.
Long Tail Cast On
1) Leave a long tail - the longer the better if you aren't short of yarn! Lay the yarn across your needle with the working yarn at the back and the tail at the front. You can make a slip knot to secure the yarn to the needle but it isn't necessary.
2) Pick up the needle in your right hand and then grab the yarn as in picture 2 - with the tail end around your thumb, the working yarn end around your first finger and holding the 2 strands of yarn securely in your other 3 fingers and against your palm.
3) With the needle held in your right hand and the yarn held as described above, move the needle under the strand nearest to you on your thumb, now swing the needle over the top of the other strand on your thumb AND the first strand on your finger, collect this strand.
4) Pull this strand through the gap you have created with your thumb and the needle and then pull the stitch up snug to the needle - you've made your first stitch!
5) Continue in this way until you have the right amount of stitches on your needle, remembering that the slip knot (if you made one is always counted as a stitch). Persevere with this one - it may feel awakward and slow to begin with but you'll soon find a rhythm.
A particularly useful cast on method is Backward Loop. This is the ideal cast on to use if you need to add stitches to an area of knitting - perhaps to bridge a gap over the thumb on some mittens or under the arm of a sleeve. It doesn't produce a very stable edge, and I recommend knitting into the back of these stitches when you come back around to them on the subsequent row, but for adding stitches mid-row it's perfect.
Backwards Loop Cast On
1) When you are at the place in your row or round where you need to add some stitches, maybe to bridge the gap over a thumb section on some gloves (as shown in the pictures here), you will need to pick up your working yarn and wrap it around your thumb with the end attached to the needle going around the back and the end attached to the ball at the front and held in the palm of your hand with your other fingers.
2) Slide the needle up under the strand nearest to you and slip it off your thumb. You should now have a loose loop on your needle.
3) Snug the stitch up to the needle by pulling gently on your yarn and then repeat for however many stitches you require. Bridging the gap over a thumb often only needs 2 stitches as I've shown here.
4) Continue to knit to the end of your row, but make sure that you pull the yarn fairly tight on the first couple of stitches after your cast on stitches to avoid baggy stitches on the return row. To help make these cast on stitches more stable it's a good idea to knit or purl through the back of the loop on the next row.
While these 3 methods are a great starting point, there are many other cast ons with very specific applications which are well worth taking the time to learn. Judy's Magic Cast On is the go-to method for casting on toe-up socks, a Provisional Cast On will keep your stitches live so that you can graft them at the end of the project, the Tubular Cast On creates a very professional invisible ribbed edge perfect for sweaters, the Knitted On and Thumb Cast On are great for beginners and the Turkish Cast On is another method for beginning toe-up socks.
As always, YouTube is a fantastic resource for knitting tutorials so if your newest knitting pattern asks you for a specific cast on, take the time to learn how - it really will make all the difference!
(posted by Max)