Casting On, it’s Not about Fishing

Long Tail Cast OnIn knitting there are many, many ways to cast on and not all cast on methods are created equal.

Each cast on method seems to have its own special application and benefits as well as some clear disadvantages.

It’s important to learn some of the basic methods and when they can be used to your best advantage.

First, a few FAQ’s:

Q: What is a cast on? And why are we talking about fishing?

A: A cast on in knitting has nothing to do with fishing. It is the way that we put the initial stitches that will be knit onto the left-hand needle.

Q: What is the Fastest Cast on?

A: The Longtail Cast on beats all the rest far and away

Q: What is a provisional cast on?

A:  This is a cast on that you will take out eventually so that you can use those “live” stitches to knit in the other direction

Q: Which side of the cast on is considered to be the “Right Side” –  the side with the purl bumps or the side with the slanted stitches?

A: The industry standard has always been the side which looks like the slanted stitches that we call “outline stitch” in embroidery.

This cast on actually knits your first row, so if you will be working in stocking stitch or similar pattern, your next row should be to purl. This will give you the outline stitch side for your “right side or public side.” When knitting in the round, you will have to break your working yarn and re-attach it to the other end so that you can achieve the outline stitch on the public side.

If you are knitting for the industry (for a designer, yarn company, or publisher) or for a knitting competition (such as juried conference shows, a county or state fair entry) always use the “outline stitch” side as the right side unless otherwise instructed.

However, things have loosened up a bit in the knitting world in the last few years and either side is fine for personal knitting. Choose the side that you think looks best with the project that you are knitting. As Meg Swansen says, “Knitter’s choice.”

 Q: How can I make my cast on less tight?

A: I have 3 different solutions for this situation

  • Cast on to a needle that is one or two sizes larger than you intend to use for your project
  • Cast on to both needles that you intend to use for your project at the same time
  • Space your stitches farther apart on the needle and do not pull them so tightly

 Q: How can I make my cast on tighter?

A: Try the opposite of the first and third ideas above

Types of Cast On’s

Thumb Cast On (or Loop Cast on, or E Cast on)

This is a fairly easy cast on to learn, and many people start with it. Once you learn to knit I suggest that you learn and use the Long Tail Cast On method.

Best Uses

Use for casting on when making buttonholes


  • It does not make a complete stitch and must be completed during the knitting of the first row
  • It can alter your row count if you don’t compensate for the fact that it is not a complete row
  • It is unruly, the stitches twirl around the needle, it can be too loose or too tight in different places on the needle
  • The single strand at the end of the fabric does not wear well
  • You may develop an ever lengthening strand of yarn between your cast on stitches as you knit them the first time – this causes a problem with the last stitch

Long Tail Cast On (or Y Cast on, Sling shot Cast on, Continental Cast On, etc.)


This is the BEST all around cast on method and the one preferred in the industry. The motion of this method actually knits the stitches onto the needle, thereby giving you a finished “first row.” This cast on method is very quick once learned and can be altered to give you looser or tighter stitches as needed. It is very durable, somewhat stretchy, and creates a lovely edge that is not too thick.

Estimating Tail Length

For worsted weight, DK weight and chunky weight yarns make the TAIL about three times longer than the width of the item you are going to make + 4 inches. Example: Scarf will be 5 inches wide. The tail should be 15 inches long + 4 inches = 19 inches. For thinner weight yarns you will need slightly less. For bulky weight yarns and large needles you may need to measure four times the width of the item + 4 inches.

This is really just a guideline and not an exact science. We all have experienced times when we didn’t estimate correctly and had to pull the cast on stitches off and start again. Just be glad that you didn’t have to cast on 780 stitches for you project! J

Knitted Cast On


Each stitch is knitted on, one at a time eliminating the need to estimate the length of a long tail.

Good cast on for beginners, because it employs the motions of the knit stitch

  • The twisted edge of this method is more durable and flexible than the Thumb method.
  • The first row is knitted as in Long Tail Cast on
  • Good for adding stitches in buttonholes or to increase fabric length


  • Can look too sheer if it is worked too loosely
  • It takes some practice for beginners to be able to tension this cast on correctly

Cable Cast On

This is a variation of the knitted on cast on method


  • Creates a lovely cable-like edge that is long wearing
  • Good for edges that need to be firm and stable (not stretchy)


  • Provides very little give, not good for hats, socks, mittens, or sweater bottoms
  • Produces an obvious horizontal edge that may not look the best on every project

Provisional or Invisible Cast On

This cast on is a temporary cast on that uses a waste yarn, which is removed revealing “live” stitch that can then be used to knit in another direction.


Provides a way to knit in two different directions with same stitches


Must use a smooth, firm “waste yarn” that will be removed

Care must be used when unraveling and picking up stitches so that they do not “run”


  • The Knitting Answer Book, by Margaret Radcliffe
  • Knitter’s Handbook, by Montse Stanley & Readers Digest
  • Vogue Knitting, the ultimate knitting book

What Cast on do you use most often and why? Please share with us.


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