How to knit Judy’s magic cast-on

A step-by-step tutorial on knitting Judy’s magic cast-on – the perfect start for toe-up socks

Do you want to start knitting socks toe-up in a super invisible way? Do you hate the Kitchener stitch and similar grafting or seaming methods? Then this tutorial is all for you because I’ll show you how to knit Judy’s magic cast-on – step by step.

starting socks toe-up with judys magic cast-on - a little swatch in green yarn

This super smart cast-on method was popularized by Judy Becker in 2006. She never made a claim on the name (she just called it “Magic cast-on for toe-up socks”) but I guess it stuck. In reality, it’s a very simple variation of the much older Italian Cast-on but done around two needles separately instead of just one. This saves you a lot of time and often leads to much neater results.

close-up of the invisible transition created by judys magic cast on shown on toe-up socks

Let’s show you how to knit it.

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Instructions: How to knit Judy's magic cast-on

close-up of judys magic cast-on on the knitting needles

The magic cast-on can be knit with either double-pointed needles or circular needles. Typically it is used for socks toe-up using the magic loop technique. It requires a medium-sized tail.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Hold your circular needles parallel and pick up the yarn the way you would for a normal longtail cast-on with the working yarn connected to your ball wrapped around your index finger.

    asuming the sling shot position for judys magic cast-on
  2. Start with a simple twisted loop around your top needle.

    starting judys magic cast on with a twisted loop around the top needle
  3. Next, guide the needles in between the yarn connected to your index finger.

    brining the needles in between the yarn towards the index finger
  4. And scoop up the yarn with your bottom needle so you create a half loop.

    scooping up the yarn with the bottom needle
  5. Then, bring the needles in between the yarn towards your thumb.

    brining the needles in between the yarn towards the thumb
  6. And pick up the yarn with your top needle.

    scopping the yarn up with the top needle
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you cast-on the required number of stitches. Make sure you always end up with a stitch on the bottom needle and there is an equal number of stitches on both needles.

    repeating the steps over and over again and ending with one loop around the bottom needle
  8. Turn your work around counter-clockwise.

    turning the work around counter-clockwise to prevent the last stitch from unraveling
  9. Start knitting according to the regular magic loop technique (or join in a new needle if you are using dpns). Important: all stitches on this first needle are mounted the wrong way. So you have to knit all the stitches on this first needle ONLY through the back loop to untwist them.

    knitting across the first needle with knit through the back loop
  10. Once you are finished with the first needle, continue knitting as usual.

    step 10 continuig knitting according to pattern across the second needle

Notes

You can also start Judy's magic cast-on with a slip knot. This will be a bit more stable to start but will also leave a noticeable little knot at the tip of your toes.

Alternative ways to knit the Magic Cast-on

Now, I have to tell you a little secret. This technique is not the way Judy Becker originally taught it. It’s my variation, one I find a lot easier with the exact same results. If you do want to stick to the original steps, here’s what you would have to change.

A) Pick up the yarn from the outside

In the very first versions of the magic cast-on, most people would tell you to pick up the yarn coming from the outside. So, instead of just scooping it up with your needle, you’d have to kind of wrap it around with your fingers.

Step 1: Start with a twisted loop on the top needle.

starting with a twisted loop around top needle

Step 2: Wrap the yarn towards the index finger around the bottom needle using your index finger coming from outside.

wrapping yarn around bottom needle with index finger

Step 3: Wrap the yarn towards your thumb around the top needle using your thumb.

wrapping the yarn around the top needle with the thumb

Step 4: Repeat steps 4+5 until you cast on the required number of stitches.

So where is the difference? Well, if you do it like this, the stitches on the second needle will end up twisted (whereas with the version from above the stitches on the first needle will end up twisted).

I personally find it’s less awkward to scoop stitches up with your needle AND it’s easier to remember knitting the first needle through the back loop. But, as always, this is entirely up to you.

You can, however, combine the two techniques. If you wrap all stitches for the bottom needle around from the outside with your thumb and you scoop up all stitches for the top needle with your needle coming from the inside, you won’t have to knit any stitches through the back loop.

As I personally find it easier to mess up the repeat then and knitting through the back loop is actually very easy for a continental knitter, I don’t do this.

b) Switch tail & working yarn

an illustration showing the normal way to hold yarn for judys magic cast on
The textbook yarn position for Judy’s magic cast-on

I told you to pick up the yarn the way you would for a normal longtail cast-on. This isn’t precisely the text-book version. A lot of tutorials will tell you to do it the other way round with the tail wrapped around your index finger.

So, why is that? Well, as you turn your work around to start knitting across, simple knitting in the round logic would dictate that the working yarn has to exit the last stitch on the bottom needle.

Picture this: Your last stitch of the cast-on is supposed to be on the bottom needle. This stitch is fed from the yarn towards the index finger (aka the working yarn). When you turn your work around, this last bottom stitch will be the first you knit through (everything is upside down).

As a result, you will have to drag the yarn up a row (the way you would for normal flat knitting) and not bridge the gap. This sounds kind of like a mistake that would create a micro gap. In reality, you will notice that it doesn’t make a difference at all, as in either case the tail will be wrapped around the working yarn two keep the stitch from unraveling. This will also prevent any visible gaps.

two different versions of judys magic cast on side by side - no visible difference
Left: Standard version with working yarn around thumb | Right: tail around the thumb

In the picture above you see the textbook version of Judy’s magic cast-on on the left. And on the right, you see the version I showed you above. And I promise you, both are entirely seamless and secure and you won’t be able to spot a single difference.

And if you do feel it does make a difference. Well, then simply start with a loop around the bottom needle and end with a loop around the top needle. Then you’d have the same configuration when holding the tail around your thumb.

Using Judy’s magic cast-on as a provisional cast-on

someone using judys magic cast on as a provisional cast on around a spare cord

You can also use this technique as a provisional cast-on. In this case, follow the exact same steps. Then, knit across the first row the way I showed you. And then, simply turn your work around and continue knitting flat.

Slip the stitches from the bottom needle to a stitch holder or cast-on using two circular needles and leave them on the cord. Later on, you can simply knit into the other direction. How easy is that?

Anyway, that’s how to knit Judy’s magic cast-on. Comment below in case you have any further questions

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