How to cast on knitting stitches for beginners

A step-by-step tutorial to how you do the longtail cast on and two other easy alternatives to casting on stitches for absolute beginners!

So, you got the needles, you 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:

  • The Longtail Cast On (my favorite)
  • The Single Cast On (the easiest)
  • 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.

#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.

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. Draping 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 length 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 drape the tail around the back of the rest of your fingers. 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 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 from UNDER your thumb and keep the tension on the yarn (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 the tension on the yarn and pull the needles through the loop around your thumb. You should now have a little loop on your needles.

pull the yarn through (longtail cast on)

Step 10: Fold your thumb and release the yarn from your thumb and pull on tightly using your right hand and the needles while keeping the tension on the rest of the yarn.

one stitch on the needle (longtail cast on)

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

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).

create another loop

Step 12: Again, insert your needles from under your thumb through that loop and wrap the need around the yarn coming from your index finger from above. Pull it through and release your thumb and tighten up by pulling the needles towards you. This is your second stitch.

grab the yarn again (longtail cast on)

Step 13: Stretch your thumb, 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, longtail cast on

Step 14: Repeat steps 11-13 until you got the desired amount of stitches on your needle.

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.

Finish up and start knitting

Step 15: 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 one the other needle with one hand. Turn the workaround 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 you 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.

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 around 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 slip knot.

a slip knot marks the beginning of the single cast on

Create a loop with the yarn. Twist it around once and then pull the yarn through the loop using your fingers. Slip this new loop onto your needle and pull to tighten (or follow the steps 1-10 above, which is the more complicated way to create one). Here’s how to tie a slip knot with your hands.

Step 2: Wrap the working yarn around your left thumb clockwise using your right hand (So, keep the yarn tension 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 from under your thumb.

insert the needle into the loop around your thumb

Step 4: Slip that loop onto your needle and pull out your thumb.

tighten the loop around theneedle

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 auxiliary yarn 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 (much like you’d cast on in crochet).

On the pro side, it does create a very neat edge. It’s also very easy to switch between purl and knit cast-on. 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 will have to cast on a purl stitch for every knit stitch in the second row and vice versa.

It will also require you to know how to purl and knit (which I will explain in the next lessons; but you need to learn that anyway).

A) Version for Purl stitches

Step 1: Create a slip knot.

Step 2: Now wrap the yarn around your fingers the way you’d normally knit.

Insert the needle into the slipknot as if to purl

Step 3: Insert the needle from the right through the front of the loop and purl.

knitted cast on pulling the yarn through

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

put the loop on the needle

Step 5: Catch the yarn from the index finger the way you would normally purl.

Purl through that loop

Step 6: Slip this purl stitch onto your left needle.

slip the stitch on your needle

Step 7: Repeat 3-6 until you got the desired amount of stitches on your left needle.

pull the yarn through

Note: You will not have to turn your work. You’ll start your second row from here. This is why I showed you the knitted cast on in purl. If your second row is purl row (and not a knit row) then you have to knit through the first loop and go on from there.

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 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 questions quite a lot, but I personally believe this is a dead end.

First of all, the different ways to casting on your stitches produce slightly different edges. Don’t view them as superior or inferior, but rather as created for different needs. Sometimes you need to sew together two pieces, at 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 casting on your first stitches! Feel free to comment below in case you got any questions!

How to cast on knitting stitches for beginners

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