A step-by-step tutorial on knitting the long tail tubular cast-on the easy way
Are you looking for an extremely stretchy cast-on that creates a well-rounded edge for a 1×1 rib stitch? Then the (long tail) tubular cast-on method might be what you are looking for and this tutorial is all about it!
So what is a tubular cast-on? Basically, it’s a very condensed inverted hem created with an Italian cast-on followed by an ingenious form of double knitting. As a result, it’s a quite bit more difficult to knit than, say the standard longtail cast-on or the German twisted cast-on, and requires 3-5 rows instead of just one pass. As you merge the two sides without decreasing, it works best for small ribbings.
Now you might be wondering what’s the benefit of a tubular cast-on? Apart from being very stretchy, it will appear as if the edge rolls over and your ribbing starts out of nothing. This can look particularly well when you are knitting hats or socks. It’s not exactly a cast-on technique for beginners but with a bit of practice and concentration, it’s well worth it (the alternating cable cast-on will create a similar effect and is much easier for beginners).
Let’s show you how to knit it.
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- Start with a simple slip knot around one needle and leave a sufficiently long tail.
As a rule of thumb, the tail should be three times as long as your project will be wide.
- Pick up the yarn the way you would hold it for a normal long tail cast on with the working yarn wrapped around your index finger and the tail around your thumb.
- Cast on the foundation for a purl stitch by going around the yarn connected to your index finger coming from above.
- Grab the yarn connected to your thumb coming in from above.
- Get out by weaving your needle back the way you came (so by going under the yarn connected to your index finger). This should put you back into the standard "slingshot position" and you should see how a little purl bump has been formed around the base of the second stitch on your right needle.
- Next, weave your needle around the yarn connected to your thumb going in from above.
- Grab the yarn connected to your index finger coming in from above.
- Bring everything back into the slingshot position by getting out the way you came and tighten up.
- Repeat steps 3-8 until you cast on the required number of stitches, ending with a purl stitch (so with step 5).
- Turn your needle around counter-clockwise. This is important so you don't accidentally untwist your last stitch.
- Knit across the whole row with *ktbl, slip one purlwise with yarn in front (sl1p wyif).
Be careful with the first stitch, it can unravel very easily.
- Turn the work around knit across with *k1, sl1p wyif*.
- Turn the work around and start knitting in the standard 1x1 rib repeat *k1, p1*
Essentially you are creating a provisional cast on, then you continue knitting in two directions using double stockinette stitch, and join it by simply knitting across. As a result, this method works best for 1x1 rib because the purl stitches need to squeeze their way through to the front.
You can create an edge that is even rounder by knitting two more rows in double stockinette stitch (so repeating step 11+12 one more time) before you transition to the ribbing. You won't have to knit the stitches through back loop anymore, though.
As the tubular cast-on creates a super stretchy edge with a loose gauge, you may consider going down one full needle size for the cast-on and switch to the regular size when you start with the actual ribbing.
Alternative way to knit this cast-on
If this method is a bit too difficult for you or you lose track too easily, you can also knit the tubular cast-on using a traditional provisional cast-on.
Step 1: Cast-on half as many stitches as you will need using a provisional cast-on and some spare yarn in a contrasting color.
Step 2: Knit across 3 – 5 rows in stockinette stitch.
Step 3: Unravel the provisional cast-on and pick up all stitches using a spare needle (can be one or two needle sizes smaller. It just acts as a stitch holder).
Step 4: Fold your work with the wrong side (purl side) facing each other and bring the needles very close to each other.
Step 5: Knit across in the 1×1 rib stitch by always knitting one stitch from the front needle and purling one stitch from the back needle. If that’s too tricky, you can also slip the stitches to a spare needle first, alternating between the front and the back needle.
I personally feel this method is actually a bit more complicated. The advantage, however, is that it’s a bit more manageable. The way the setup row is created when doing the long tail tubular cast on makes it very easy to skip a stitch or miscount.
Tubular cast-on for a 2×2 rib stitch
Also, you can use this method to do a tubular cast-on for a 2×2 rib stitch. It will be much easier than trying to do it with the longtail method in my opinion.
Step 1: Simply follow steps 1-4 from above and then knit across the folded work following the standard repeat. Make sure to cast on an even number of stitches as the 2×2 rib stitch is a 4 stitch repeat.
Step 2: Unravel the provisional cast-on the way I showed you above, then knit two stitches from the front needle.
Step 3: Purl two stitches from the back needle.
Step 4: Continue repeating steps 2-3 and then continue in the standard 2×2 rib stitch pattern as you see fit.
You can also use the longtail version of the tubular cast-on to create a round and seamless edge for the 2×2 rib stitch, but then you would have to shuffle stitches around using a similar technique used when knitting the cable stitch without a cable needle.
So, you start with your setup row and knit across those two or four rows in double-stockinette stitch. And then, when it comes to transitioning to the ribbing, you would have to:
- Change the order of the next purl stitch with the next knit stitch – either through slipping or a cable needle. The purl stitch has to stay in back (see illustration steps 1-3 below)
- k1, p2, k1
- Repeat steps 1-3
Important: For technical reasons, it is impossible to knit a perfect tubular cast on for 2×2 ribbings. There will always be this one askew knit stitch and there’s literally no way to prevent that. Why?
Well, basically you are knitting a short flat piece of stockinette stitch, and then you fold it. And as you knit across and merge the right side with the wrong side into one flat row, you basically let the wrong side push through to the front.
For a 1×1 rib, this is no big deal as it’s just one purl stitch that you need to squeeze through between two knit stitches. But for a 2×2 rib stitch, it’s always two stitches. One is no problem, but the second is the result of a pseudo-cable and that’s the one that appears slanted.
If you don’t want that, you can do a provisional cast-on, knit a couple of rows in a 2×2 rib stitch (4-6), and then join these by knitting *k2tog, k2tog, p2tog, p2tog*. This will create a visible demarcation line on the wrong side, though.
Tubular cast on in the round
Now, a lot of knitters are wondering how to knit the tubular cast-on in the round. But it’s actually the exact same technique. There is literally no difference because you simply cast on flat, and join in the round with your first proper row in the 1×1 rib stitch.
Step 1: Cast on stitches any way I showed you above and knit across the 2 (or 4) setup rows flat!
Important: Don’t start with slipknot but with a simple twisted loop instead if you do it with the longtail method.
Step 2: Separate the stitches into two parts according to the magic loop technique (or to dpns if that’s your preference).
Step 3: Simply start knitting across in the 1×1 rib stitch without a special technique but keep a good tension and tighten up after the second stitch.
This will create a gap where you joined things together. You will have to graft one stitch to close this gap later on. Theoretically speaking, you could join things in the round directly. I mean, at the end of the day, a tubular cast-on is a standard Italian cast-on followed by two or 4 rows in double stockinette stitch. So, experienced knitters probably won’t have a issue adapting the repeat for knitting in the round.
The problem arises when trying to join said Italian cast-on in the round (by the way, here’s my tutorial on joining knitting in the round). As it does not create a stable row, it will twist around your knitting needles very easily. This will both, undo one stitch and create a twisted cast-on edge. So, I personally, and I call myself a very experienced and highly skilled knitter, have given up on it.
Instead, here’s how to close the gap in the most invisible way:
Step 1: Thread the tail on a tapestry needle and pull it underneath the V of the bottom-most knit stitch on the other side.
Step 2: Pull the yarn through the adjacent little purl stitch (may be hidden underneath the v) from right to left.
Step 3: Go underneath the same V one more time but this time from left to right.
Step 4: Pull the yarn through the V of the adjacent knit stitch from left to right. Then weave in the tail on the wrong side.
Avoid pulling too tight. You want to graft that stitch to bridge the gap quite loosely so you don’t constrict the stretchiness of the tubular cast-on.
This method will create an almost invisible join if done right. The key really is not starting with a slipknot and grafting/weaving in quite loosely. The fuzzier your yarn, the less noticeable the join will be anyway.