How to do the single cast on – the easiest cast on in knitting

A step-by-step tutorial on the single cast on – A basic and super easy way to cast on knitting stitches for beginners.

Are you looking for the easiest way to cast on stitches? A super basic method that you can use for your first project that doesn’t involve any complicated instructions with 20 different steps you cannot wrap your mind around (yet!). Then you came to the right place because this tutorial is all about the super-easy single cast on.

close-up of the edge created by the single cast on shown on a knitted swatch
Close-up of the edge created by a single cast on

This basic cast-on technique can be used for almost every project and is simple in the extreme. It basically boils down to wrapping loops around your knitting needle. But perhaps the most interesting fact: Once you knitted across one row, it will look very similar to a long tail cast on but there are no tails you need to calculate, you can never run out of yarn, and it’s stretchier on top of that.

Note: this cast-on method is sometimes also called the thumb method (as you use your thumb to work it) or e-cast-on (since the loops look like the letter e).

Let’s dive right into it, and show you how to do the single cast on eh?

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Instructions for the single cast on

a single cast on on the knitting needles with various tools in the background

For the single cast-on, you will only need one knitting needle. If you want a stretchier edge, you can use a needle one or two sizes bigger but this is optional.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Tie a simple slip knot around your knitting needle leaving a short tail (5-8 inches) for weaving in later on. This slip knot will count as your first stitch.

    a slip knot on a knitting needle to start the single cast on
  2. Pick up the working yarn with your left hand and place your left thumb over the yarn.

    someone picking up yarn with left hand and placing the thumb over yarn
  3. Wrap the yarn around your thumb once by bringing the thumb behind the yarn and then coming up in front again.

    creating a loop around your thumb by going in from behind
  4. Insert your knitting needle into the loop around your thumb coming from below.

    picking up the loop around the thumb with the knitting needle coming from below
  5. Remove your thumb and slip the loop to your knitting needle. Tighten up lightly (!) as you do this.

    tightening up the single cast on loop gently with the thumb
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 until you cast on the required number of stitches.

    someone doing the single cast on with a couple of stitches already on the needle

Notes

It's very important that you do not tighten up the loops too much. Otherwise, it will be quite hard to knit the first row. It often also helps to loosen up the stitches a bit with your right needle before you knit them and bringing the needle tips very close together.

If you find your cast-on edge is a bit too tight and you want it a bit stretchier, you can always use one or two needle sizes bigger and work the single cast on around a bigger diameter (and then continue knitting with the smaller needle).

As you knit across the first row, I recommend carefully slipping the stitch to the tip of your needle. This also makes it easier to knit it.

Neater & easier way to do the single cast on

swatch with an alternative way to do the single cast on - easier to knit in the first row
A swatch with an alternative single cast-on edge

Now here’s the problem I have with most tutorials showing you this easy cast-on method. They fail to tell you that it creates loops similar to twisted knit stitches. And as you turn your project around (and that’s what you usually do when you start your first row), these stitches will look more like purl stitches.

This means if you are knitting stockinette stitch, your edge will actually look a bit thick. The reason why the single cast on is still taught that way is simple. When you are knitting in the round or doing garter stitch the edge will look super nice. And in centuries past, this was actually the most common way to knit.

comparing two swatches with different ways to do the single cast on side by side
Top: alternative single cast-on | bottom: standard single cast-on edge

For a lot of modern knitting stitch patterns, you can also wrap the yarn around your thumb the other way. So, you do the single cast on like this:

Step 1: Start with a slip knot.

someone picking up yarn with left hand and placing the thumb over yarn

Step 2: Now bring the thumb around the working yarn coming from the front (so exactly the other way round).

creating a loop around thumb counter clockwise for the alternative single cast on

Step 3: Pick up the loop you created with your knitting needle.

picking up the loop around the thumb coming from above

And if you continue casting on like that, you will benefit from two effects. First of all, your first row is a lot easier to knit as the loops aren’t twisted.

And secondly, the edge will look a bit neater for stocking stitch and similar patterns. Of course, you can also stick to the “standard” way to do the single cast on and start on the wrong side. But I personally feel this is much easier and is the equivalent to casting on purlwise.

One thing you should definitely know and I already hinted at this in the introduction. The difference between a single cast-on and a long tail cast-on is that the latter automatically incorporates the first row and doesn’t twist stitches. Advanced knitters might realize the German twisted cast on will produce the exact same results. If you want, you can easily verify this yourself.

I feel it’s a very important little piece of information. Because if you struggle with either technique, you can always substitute one with the other. I personally don’t like the single cast-on all that much because the first row is somewhat difficult to knit, though.

I do have to point you towards the fact that knitting can curl. And by using the alternative method, you might actually increase the curling. I feel it looks a bit neater but it’s not like it doesn’t come with its own problems.

Anyway, that’s how to do the single cast on. Comment below in case you still have any questions.

how to do the single cast on - easy method for beginners

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