A step-by-step tutorial on how you do the longtail cast-on and two easy alternatives to casting on stitches for absolute beginners!
So, you’ve got the needles, you’ve got the yarn? And now you are wondering how you actually cast on stitches to get started? In this tutorial, I’m going to show you the most popular and easiest cast on techniques with loads of pictures, easy step-by-step descriptions, and slow-motion videos to get you started.
I wrote this with beginners in mind. This is why I’ll focus on the three easiest cast-on techniques:
Note: There are many, many other ways to cast on stitches to your needles. Some of them create quite beautiful edges but are much more difficult, so we’ll leave those for later, okay? 🙂
- A yarn of your choice.; as a beginner, I recommend wool (doesn’t slip as easily) in 6 ply or an even heavier weight (easier to handle and faster to see results). Stay away from these super fuzzy looking yarns as well. They may look pretty, but are so much harder to knit.
- Needles in the size of your wool (there’s always a little label on the wool where it says which needle size you’ll need). In my experience, most beginners are better off with bamboo needles as they are not as slippery (this reduces the risk of slipping stitches and ruining your work). Check out my needle guide for beginners for more information.
Check out my guide to the 20 knitting tools every knitter needs as well.
#1 The Long Tail Cast-on
First of all, here’s a video for you. But if you rather prefer written instructions and stills, then scroll onwards.
I use the longtail cast on for 95 percent of my projects. It’s fast, versatile, and it creates a nice cast-on edge that is neither too tight nor too loose. In fact, in my tutorial on how to knit for beginners, this is the first technique you learn.
I do have to admit that it might sound a bit complicated at first. Wrapping the yarn across your fingers this way and that way. But it’s actually extremely easy once you get the hang of it and takes less than 2 seconds.
Basically, it boils down to creating a simple loop around your thumb, pulling the yarn through that loop, and tightening it up over and over again. So, keep that in mind as we go through the instructions. Personally speaking, it always helps me the most when I visualize what I am actually trying to do here.
Either way, let’s get started!
Preparing the yarn
For this cast on you will need to leave a tail at the end of the yarn. Simply multiply the desired width of your work by 3 and leave an extra 3 inches. This might sound a bit theoretical. Except for very large projects, most knitters will simply pull out a yard or two. You can always cut away excess yarn, so be generous.
Step 1: Start by placing the yarn in front of you. The long tail should be on your right and the ball with your working yarn on left.
Step 2: Pick up the yarn with your right hand and wrap it clockwise around your left pinky finger two times.
Step 3: Now wrap the tail around the back of your hand. The yarn should rest comfortably above the last knuckle of your stretched index finger.
Step 4: From here, bring the yarn under your stretched thumb and wrap it around clockwise once.
Step 5: Then secure the tail of the yarn between your ring and pinky finger.
You should now be able to see a loop between your thumb and index finger.
Create the first Stitch
Step 6: Now it’s time to create your first stitch. Pick up BOTH needles and keep the points parallel.
Tip: You can do the cast on with one or two needles. That way, you can change the tension of your cast on edge. You could also use a bigger sized needle. Typically, I use 2 needles for needle sizes 2-4 mm and one needle when working with really big knitting needles. I love the stretchiness the extra needles gives my cast on edge, as a lot of patterns are very stretchy as well.
Step 7: Insert the needles into that loop around your thumb from below and keep up the tension (so don’t loosen up your fingers).
Step 8: Now, wiggle the needles a bit to the right to enlarge the loop a bit and wrap the needles around the yarn connecting your thumb and index finger from ABOVE.
Step 9: Keep tensioning the yarn, and pull the needles through the loop around your thumb. You should now have a little loop on your needles.
Step 10: Fold your thumb and release the loop. Now, spread out the two tails using your left index finger and thumb and pull the knitting needle with that first loop in the other direction.
Note: The tails should stay wrapped around the base of your hand (pinky finger), so you can maintain an even tension. You only remove your thumb for a short second.
Voilà. You created your first stitch! This is also called a slip knot.
Note: Some tutorials will show you to tie the slip knot like this. However, since your hands/yarn needs to be in the exact same position for the steps to come, I feel that is actually more difficult!
From here, it’s basically lather, rinse and repeat.
Step 11: Your thumb should still be holding the tail of the yarn. Now, pull the needles towards you to create the next loop. (This may look a bit complicated on the pictures, but you really just need to pull the needles towards you and turn your hand around a bit).
Step 12: Again, insert your needles into the loop around your thumb coming from below.
Step 13: Wrap the needle around the yarn towards your index finger from above, pull it through,
Step 14: Release your thumb, and tighten up by pulling the needles towards you. This is your second stitch.
Step 15: Stretch your thumb and index finger again, pull the needles towards you, and create a new loop, pull the yarn from the index finger, etc until you have as many stitches on your needles as you have.
Step 16: Repeat steps 11-15 until you cast on the desired amount of stitches.
Tip: If you drop your work or need to put it away for whatever reason before you finish, don’t despair. It’s no problem at all. Just wrap the long end of the yarn around your pinky finger again, bring it across the back of your hand, wrap the tail around your thumb from below, and things will look very familiar again.
How to finish and start knitting
Step 17: Count your stitches.
- If there are too little you can simply add more by picking up the yarn again. Just keep the gaps between the stitches tight.
- If there are too many, you can easily pull those stitches you do not need off the needle (pull a little at the ends and the yarn will untangle just like that).
Once you are satisfied, pull out one of the needles carefully by securing the stitches on the other needle with one hand. Turn the work around, and you can start knitting!
After you finished a couple of knitting projects, you will know if you are a tight or a loose knitter. I am a very tight knitter who keeps a lot of tension on the yarn. If you are more on the loose side, then casting on with only one needle will probably be better. But test it out!
Pro Tips for advanced knitters:
This longtail cast-on creates simple knit stitches. A lot of patterns will start with a mixture of purl and knit stitches in the second row. If you want to have an extra tidy edge, you can also cast on purl stitches with this technique.
In this case, you have to insert the needles not from under your thumb but from above your index finger and wrap the needles around the yarn from your thumb towards the pinky finger (instead of step 12). Pull the loop through and pull tight again. Here’s a detailed tutorial on how to cast on purlwise.
You can also deconstruct the technique by casting on around two separate needles. This is known as the 2-needle cast on. It will be even stretchier and perfect for lace projects.
Note: If you want to calculate how much yarn you need for bigger projects, read this guide to the long tail cast on yarn requirements and how to calculate them exactly.
#2 The Single Cast-on
If you are lazy or the long tail cast on is a bit too complicated for now, there is a way easier method as well. The single cast-on. Basically, it boils down to creating one slip knot and then wrapping the yarn around the needle.
This will create quite a different edge for your work, which I feel is not as neat and easy to work with later. All other methods in this post will basically create regular knit stitches. I personally find it’s much harder to start your first row from this cast on as well. But, there’s no denying it’s extremely easy.
Step 1: Create a slipknot.
Just follow the steps 1-10 above.
Step 2: Wrap the working yarn around your left thumb clockwise using your right hand (So, keep the yarn tensioned with the left hand, and just stretch out your thumb, and then use the left hand with the slip knot on it to wrap the yarn around.)
Step 3: Insert your needle through this loop around your thumb from below.
Step 4: Slip that loop to your needle, pull out your thumb, and tighten up lightly.
Step 5: Wrap the working yarn around your thumb again (like in step 2) and repeated 3+4 until you got enough stitches on your needle.
Pro tip: There are quite some advanced cast on techniques (like the Italian cast on, etc) that start with a single cast on as a basis. If you need to pick up stitches around an lifeline you will remove later on, this is by far the fastest cast-on technique.
#3 Knitted cast-on
Another option for casting on those first stitches is the so-called ‘knitted cast on’. Basically, it’s creating one slip knot (see above) and then knitting onwards. I have a full tutorial on the knitted cast-on (video included) here.
On the pro side, it does create a very neat edge. It’s also very easy to switch between purl and knit stitches. On the downside, it’s a bit more tricky to wiggle through your needle, so it actually takes a bit longer!
As you are working from the left to the right (so, exactly opposite the way you’d normally knit), you don’t have to mirror the stitches as every stitch will appear the way you cast it on.
A) Version for Purl stitches
Step 1: Create a slip knot.
Step 2: Wrap the yarn around your fingers the way you’d normally knit and bring the working yarn to the front.
Step 3: Insert the right needle from the right to left into the slipknot and purl.
Step 4: Slip that purl stitch onto your left needle but don’t remove the right needle.
Step 5: Purl another stitch. The working yarn and your needle should already be in the right position.
Step 6: Slip this purl stitch back to your left needle.
Step 7: Repeat 3-6 until you cast on the desired amount of stitches.
Note: You will not have to turn your work. You’ll start your second row from here.
B) Version for knit stitches
Step 1: Create a slip knot and wrap the yarn around the fingers the way you knit.
Step 2: Insert the needle through the front loop from the left to right and knit.
Step 3: Slip the knit stitch on your left needle and pull out your right needle.
Step 4: Repeat 2+3 until you have enough stitches on your left needle.
Pro tip: Obviously, you can combine knit and purl cast-ons depending on the requirements of your patterns.
So, which is the best cast on technique? I have heard that questions quite a lot, but I personally believe this is a dead end.
First of all, the different ways to cast on your stitches produce slightly different edges. Don’t view them as superior or inferior, but rather as techniques created for different circumstances. Sometimes you need to sew together two pieces, other times you may need to continue knitting in a different direction, and sometimes the edge will be the hem of a scarf, hat, or jumper.
And secondly, you will quickly find out that every knitter is a bit different. So, try out different techniques and stick to what suits you best. A lot of people swear by the ‘cable cast-on’. I didn’t even mention it here because I feel it’s way too tricky and slow.
Also, consider that depending on the following stitches of your patterns, you may need a stretchy cast on or a very tight cast on to prevent the final work from bulging out towards the middle.
Important: Most patterns will simply tell you to “Cast on X stitches using yarn XY”. It’s up to you to decide which technique you want to use, but you’ll never go wrong with a longtail cast on. If a special technique is needed, it will be specified. You may vary between purl and knit stitches if the pattern requires it and you want those extra neat edges.
Next lesson: How to knit the knit stitch