How to cast on knitting stitches for beginners

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:

  1. The longtail cast-on (my favorite)
  2. The single cast-on(the easiest)
  3. The knitted cast-on (the neatest)

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? 🙂

You’ll need:

  • 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.

the long tail cast on method on the needle
That’s how the finished longtail cast on will look like

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.

wrapping the yarn for the longtail cast on around the pinky finger

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.

bring the yarn across the back of your fingers

Step 4: From here, bring the yarn under your stretched thumb and wrap it around clockwise once.

wrap the yarn around the thumb once

Step 5: Then, secure the tail of the yarn between your ring and pinky finger.

secure the tail between your pinky and ring 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 with your right hand 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 littlbe bit of extra stretchiness the additional needles gives my cast on edge, since a lot of patterns are very stretchy as well.

Step 7: Insert the needles into that loop around the thumb of your left hand from below and keep up the tension (so don’t loosen up your fingers).

insert the needle through the loop around your thumb (long tail cast on)

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.

grab the working yarn towards your index finger with your needles (longtail cast on)

Step 9: Keep tensioning the yarn, and pull the needles through the loop around your thumb. You should have a little loop on your needles now.

pull the yarn through (longtail cast on)

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. I typically curl the other three fingers around the yarn by now.

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.

one stitch on the needle (longtail cast on)

Voilà. You created your first stitch! This is also called a slip knot.

Note: Some tutorials will show you how to tie the slip knot differently. 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 in the pictures, but you really just need to pull the needles towards you and turn your hand around a bit).

create another loop

Step 12: Again, insert your needles into the loop around your thumb coming from below.

Inserting the right knitting needle into the loop around the thumb coming from below

Step 13: Wrap the needle around the yarn towards your index finger from above, pull it through,

grab the yarn again (longtail cast on)

Step 14: Release your thumb, and tighten up by pulling the needles towards you. This is your second stitch.

letting loose of the loop around your thumb as you cast on the second stitch

Step 15: Stretch your thumb and index finger again, pull the needles towards you, create a new loop, pull the yarn from the index finger, etc until you have as many stitches on your needles as you have.

two stitches on the needle using the longtail cast on - the yarn is tensioned around the left hand

Step 16: Repeat steps 11-15 until you’ve 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, the last three fingers aroudn your yarn, 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’ve 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

single cast on on the needle

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.

a slip knot marks the beginning of the single cast on

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.)

create a loop around your thumb

Step 3: Insert your needle through this loop around your thumb from below.

insert the needle into the loop around your thumb

Step 4: Slip that loop onto your needle, pull out your thumb, and tighten up lightly.

tighten the loop around theneedle

Step 5: Wrap the working yarn around your thumb again (like in step 2) and repeat steps 3+4 until you have enough stitches on your needle.

Find my full tutorial (+ alternative & video) for the single cast-on here.

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

the knitted cast on on the needle

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.

You can do this cast-on with purl stitches and knit stitches (which I will explain in the next lessons; but you need to learn that anyway).

Reading tip: The cable cast-on works in a very similar way but will create a sturdier edge.

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.

Insert the needle into the slipknot as if to purl

Step 3: Insert the right needle from the right to left into the slipknot and purl.

knitted cast on pulling the yarn through

Step 4: Slip that purl stitch onto your left needle but don’t remove the right needle.

put the loop on the needle

Step 5: Purl another stitch. The working yarn and your needle should already be in the right position.

Purl through that loop

Step 6: Slip this purl stitch back to your left needle.

slip the stitch on your needle

Step 7: Repeat 3-6 until you cast on the desired amount of stitches.

pull the yarn through

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.

Final thoughts

So, which is the best cast-on technique? I have heard that question 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

So, I hope I was able to help you cast-on your first stitches! Feel free to comment below in case you have any questions!

How to cast on knitting stitches for beginners

17 thoughts on “How to cast on knitting stitches for beginners”

  1. Hello,
    I’m trying to learn how to knit again after having a stroke 13 years ago at age 47. I Only have use of my right hand, but I thank God that is my dominant hand!
    Anyway, I thought to use a knitting belt to hold the left needle, but could you please show me a long tail cast on that doesn’t require my left hand?
    Thank you!

    • Hey Margaret,
      uh…I’m not sure I am someone who can help you there because most of my knitting involves two hands equally with my left hand being the dominant hand.
      That being said, I just tried it and you can mirror the instructions for the left hand and do the exact same with the right hand for a similar outcome.
      This, however, will result in purl stitches. So you would have to look up my tutorial on how to cast on purlwise and mirror that so you end up with knit stitches.
      But again..I m not sure how helpful that is. I can only tell you what you have to do from a technical point of view – not what actually works/is practical.
      I would look into Portuguese knitting btw.

  2. The 2 versions (knitted and purled) of the knitted cast-on are totally new to me. This is how I learned it: you neither knit or purl but pick a loop from the back in between the last 2 stitches in the left needle.
    Do you know that under any other name?

  3. Hello!

    Do you have a slow motion tutorial on how how to begin a cast on without a slip knot? I see that technique applied in other tutorials but, I cannot quite see the position of your yarn and thumb.
    Thank you for all your generosity!

  4. I will go looking for your long tail cast on video, but I can’t understand a thing from those instructions and pictures. Totally bamboozled. I was taught to knit cast on with a slip knot, knit into the first stitch and return it to the left needle, then knit between the stitches, returning each new one to the first needle. I find this extremely easy and neat, except for the slip stitch when joining in the round… so I’m going to follow up what you say about how to fix that. Thanks, Susan

  5. Hey! This was really helpful! Just started knitting… And this helped… But… My cast-ons aren’t as neat as yours… Any tips?

    • i would say practice… i have been knitting for so many years, it’s kind of to be expected that my cast on looks a bit more refined. But go slowly, and try to place each loop right next to the previous one before you pull tight.

  6. I learned to do the long tail cast-on with a slipknot by my mother when I first learned to knit as a child. I have always been knitting with high tension and always automatically tightens the stitch I’ve just worked. I would think that this is the cause of my problem with cast-ons (and offs)… They always have very little stretch. I always do the long tail around two needles, if I don’t it’s completely unusable.
    What would your suggestion be for a stretchy cast-on that would do well for a fairly small (100sts gauge 23/30) neck opening for a raglan light sweater starting with 4 stockinette before going into lace pattern?
    – Sigga

    • well..that’s a tough question. In my opinion you actually don’t want a lot of stretch there..because often it means that the edge will wear out over time and that will typically not look good. And I guess that is the very reason why a lot of people do a double neckline.
      I have a video on youtube where i compare stretchy bind-offs..but I guess I should do one for cast-ons as well.

  7. Thank you so much! This is a great site.
    I am trying to follow along the long-tail method, and find that I do ok if I keep going, but if I stop and start again it looks wonky and I’m not quite sure from the instructions what to do.
    “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”
    I figured out that ‘long end’ here is the yarn attached to the ball. Initially I ended up making another slipknot and starting again – oops! The thumb wrapping is different after you get it started.
    The instructions initially left me a little confused as to how to pick up the yarn (the tail end) with my thumb after the release – plus I think I sometimes twist it somehow and it looks uneven. I can’t see from the pictures where the main ball of yarn is and which yarn is the tail. Maybe you could add a label, a colored line or an arrow?

    A little experimentation is helping me along (plus the videos) and I am sure I will get it after some more practice. Thanks much! This promises to be fun.

    • Well, I ended up following the advice you mention on the 10 tips for improving your knitting page – sleep on it. The next day my thumb knew what to do.

      On to knitting the continental way! (and purling next week… Or maybe backward knitting which must amount to the same thing.) I am pleased to have found this as it promises to be easier on aging hands.

  8. Can you add written instructions for the step where you curl your last three fingers around the yarn in your palm (the tail end)? I completely missed that for days, which caused me to initially abandon your method/instructions a few times (even trying a few different ones to try to find one with the missing information) before I finally realized what I was missing. I couldn’t even start adding loops past the first one because my hand was open, and the “tail end” side glided out from between my last two fingers whenever I tried to tighten the stitch.

    Unless I’m completely missing something still and the thread should be accumulating on the needle from the tail end (somehow)? Either way, some clarity on that would be a good addition to these instructions, which have been the best I found so far. (Other ones didn’t give me enough information to even troubleshoot and I would just guess and hope instead. Yours at least had sufficient information for me to figure out what I was missing with some additional work on my part.)

    Thanks again for your helpful instructions and tutorials.

    • Well, granted the text does not convey 100% of everything I do. That’s why I add both pictures and videos to my posts.
      I’m willing to agree that this might set vision impaired knitters at odds.


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