Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about the Long Tail Cast On

This video shows how to do the long tail cast on. First is a very quick refresher for those who already know how to do it, followed by an in depth discussion of how to do the long tail cast on effectively.

In Brief

Leave a tail as long as you need. Make a slip knot. Put your finger and thumb in between the two strands making sure that your thumb holds the tail stand. Grasp both stands of yarn with the rest of your fingers. With the right needle go into the loop on the thumb and pick up the strand on the index finger. Continue to do that for all the stitches you need to cast on.

So, that is a very brief overview. Now, I will go over it in detail.

Details

This cast on is also known as continental, double, two tailed, knit half-hitch, German, slingshot, finger, Y, two strand, one needle, single needle.

Advantages

The long tail cast on is probably the most commonly used cast on, at least among Western knitters. This is because it is:

  • very versatile, you can use it for almost any project
  • stretchy
  • stable
  • fairly easy to do, once you know how
  • fairly quick to do
  • edge is neat and attractive

Disadvantages (these are easily resolved and are discussed below)

Some people don’t like it because they find that it is:

  • hard to estimate the length of yarn to leave for your long tail
  • it is not stretchy enough

Estimating length

As the name implies, you need to leave a long tail, plus a tail that you will weave in at the end.

You need to estimate the amount of yarn that you leave before making your slip knot. If you don’t have enough, you will run out of yarn before you finish the cast on. If you have too much, you will waste yarn and either have to cut off the excess or you will have to deal with a unnecessarily long tail that may get in the way.

There are several approaches for estimating this length of yarn:

  • Just pull out an amount of yarn you think will suffice and start. This is very haphazard and inaccurate unless you know beforehand approximately how much yarn you need, for example, if you regularly make socks with fingering weight yarn and you know that one arms length of yarn is about what you need.
  • Make your tail 3 times as long as the cast on edge is wide plus the weaving in tail. You can look at the schematic or calculate how wide it should be by dividing the gauge per inch (or 2.5 cm) by the number of stitches cast on. If the gauge is 20 sts per 4 inches (10 cm) that translates to 5 sts per inch (or 2.5 cm). If you need to cast on 50 stitches, divide 50 by 5 and you are aiming for a width of 10 inches (25 cm). Your tail should be 10 inches (25 cm) X 3 , or 30 inches (75 cm) plus a tail for weaving in. The amount of yarn you use will vary depending on the weight of your yarn and how tightly you cast on. You can try this and see if it works for you.
  • Use a chart that gives you estimates for the amount of yarn per stitch needed depending on yarn weight. Leave a tail to weave in and then add the length per stitch multiplied by the number of stitches you need to cast on. Again, your results might not be the same as whoever has prepared the charts, so you may need to adjust. One such chart can be found here.
  • Cast on a small number of stitches (eg. 10), count them, rip out the cast on and measure how much of a tail that used, divide by the number of stitches and then multiply that by the number of stitches you need to cast on.
  • Wrap the yarn around the needle as many times as you have stitches. If you have more then, let’s say 20 stitches, wrap the yarn around the needle 10 times and then multiply that length by the number of groups of two stitches.
  • Use two ends of the same ball or ends from two balls to do the cast on. This leaves you with two extra ends of yarn to weave in. It is not always easy or convenient to do this.

Understanding the formation

It is important to note that the yarn that is over the thumb and wraps around each stitch underneath the needle uses less yarn than the strand of yarn on the index finger and wraps around the needle. This may not be the case when using really tiny needles, but for me, it is true even on 2 mm (US #0) needles.

Where length is estimated in the above methods, it is assumed that you will hold the tail of the yarn over your thumb (whether you are using the continental method (slingshot) or English style) when casting on. The yarn that goes over your index finger is used at a faster rate than the yarn that is over the thumb, unless you are casting on using both knits and purls.

The yarn thickness, not the needle size determines how much of a tail you need. Regardless of needle size, the amount of yarn that is used to create the wraps underneath the needle remains relatively consistent. The amount of yarn that is used for the stitches sitting on the needle changes much more dramatically with changes in needle size.

In the photo to the right, I have cast on 11 stitches onto each of 4 needles. The needles are 3 mm (US 2), 4 mm (US 6), 6 mm (US 10) and 10 mm (US 15). The stitches are cast on with approximately the same amount of tension and space between the needles. I cut the tail and ball yarns right after the last cast on stitch.

Then, I pulled the stitches off the needle, leaving the slip knot in place. I pinned the slip knot down and pulled the rest of the stitches apart. As you can see, the bottom, tail end, wrapped around the yarn under the needle strands of all the cast ons are approximately equal. The top index finger, wrapped around the needle strands change dramatically, getting significantly larger with larger needles.

Slip knot or not

You can start with a slip knot or you can just twist the yarn on to the needle to begin. Some people do not like the slip knit in their knitting, just like they do not like other knots in their knitting. I personally find that starting with a slip knot gives a slightly cleaner beginning corner. That said, I don’t always start with a slip knot. Try both methods on your gauge swatches and see which you prefer after several rows of knitting.

With a slip knot

Make a slip knot, place the needle into the slip knot and hold this in your right hand. Pinch together the thumb and index finger on the left hand. Slide these between the strands coming from the slipknot, making sure that the tail end is over the thumb and the ball end is over the index finger. Close the other three fingers over the two loose strands going to the tail and the ball.

Without a slip knot

With your right hand, pick up the yarn at the point you want to start. Have the tail end toward you. Pinch together the thumb and index finger on the left hand. Slide these between the strands coming from your right hand, making sure that the tail end is over the thumb and the ball end is over the index finger. Close the other three fingers over the two loose strands going to the tail and the ball. If you turn your palm towards your face, you will see a triangle with the base (horizontal side) at the top.

Bring the needle through the centre of the triangle you have made, from right to left, moving away from you. Pull the needle up and toward yourself so that it is standing vertically pulling the yarn towards you like a slingshot. Secure the strand on the needle with your right index finger. Rotate the needle clockwise around the two strands going to your index finger and thumb. Turn  your left hand back so that the thumb is pointing up and to the right.

Creating the cast on stitches

Move your right thumb and index finger to just in front of the previous stitch. Bring the needle towards you and down. With the tip of the needle go up through the loop on your thumb. Scoop up the strand of yarn going from the index finger to the needle by going over it and scooping towards yourself and back down through the loop on your thumb. Ensure that the new stitch is on the shaft of the needle not just on the point. Snug the new stitch up to the tips of your thumb and index finger. This usually leaves an appropriate amount of space between the stitches. (Drop the loop off your thumb, move your thumb underneath the needle to draw the loose yarn up and towards yourself to snug the stitch and to prepare for the next stitch.

You may need to reposition your fingers occasionally, possibly after every stitch if you are just learning.

Repeat these movements for all the stitches you need to cast on.

Comparing the long tail to other cast ons and knitting

When you do the long tail cast on, you are essentially knitting a row of stitches. Instead of knitting off an already formed row on the left needle, you are knitting stitches as you form them off your left thumb. Your thumb essentially becomes your left needle.

This cast on combines the backwards loop cast on and the first row of knitting into one motion. Doing it this way, you create a much more sturdy cast on than if you did a backwards loop and simply knit or purled into it because the loops on a backward loop cast on are as large as the needle you are casting on with, the loops in the long tail cast on are only as large as the diameter of the yarn you are using plus some ease. If you were to do a backwards loop cast on with a needle that is about the same size as your yarn and then purl the first row, you would have a cast on that is the identical to the long tail cast on.

The advantage of the long tail cast on is that it is easier and faster to work and you only need the size of needle you are using for the project.

The cast on can count as your first row

Because of the fact that the long tail cast on is really a variation of a backwards loop cast on with the first row already worked, it often counts as both the cast on and the first (right side) row. However, when this is not practical for the project at hand and the cast is not counted as the first row. In my own upcoming top secret blanket pattern, I do not specify a cast on, but if the long tail cast on is used, it does not count as the first row or it would disrupt the way that the pattern goes together.

Ensuring an Elastic Cast on

How the stitches sit on the needle will determine how stretchy this cast on is. For a long time, I wondered why everyone thought that the long tail cast on was so stretchy because I did no find it so.

What doesn’t make the cast on elastic

Some people suggest casting on with two needles to make the cast on more elastic. However, that only makes the first row of stitching loose and unattractive and does little for added flexibility.  As we saw in the previous section, only the thumb yarn is actually part of the cast on. The index finger yarn is in fact part of the first row of knitting. I cannot image anyone suggesting that some cast on and then knit the first row of the project with two needles. It just would not help. Suggesting that you cast on with two needles is suggesting exactly that.

What causes the tightness then? Tightening your stitches too much on the needle and cast on your stitches too close together. So you can be doing the cast on right, doing all the correct movements, but if you bunch your stitches together or tighten the thumb loop too tightly you will have a firm, non stretchy cast on instead of a lovely elastic one.

What does make the cast on elastic

Again, as we saw in the section above, the actual cast on is made with the yarn on the thumb. If you tighten that too much or squeeze the cast on stitches together, leaving very little room for the yarn to travel from one stitch to the next, you will have a very tight cast on. There are two things your need to watch for:

  • Snug each stitch to the needle but do not tighten with a death grip. Form your stitches on the shaft of the needle, to make them the same size as your stitches on other rows and to make them easy to get into on the next row.
  • Ensure that you have a comfortable distance between the stitches as you cast them on.

In the photos below, I have done swatches in the same yarn, on the same needles. In the first swatch I cast on very tightly, both pulling the yarn on the needle tightly and leaving no room between the stitches (top left). On the other swatch, I cast on, snugging the yarn to the needles and leaving a space between the stitches as described above (spacing the stitches by placing my thumb and index fingers in between stitches).

The resulting swatches are shown below with the highly cast on swatch underneath the swatch that was cast on in a relaxed manner. The swatches are unstretched in the first photo and stretched as far they could stretch comfortably in the second photo. As you can see, how tightly you cast on and how closely you place the stitches makes a significant difference. Both swatches have the same number of stitches and both have the same number of rows. Both are done with the same ball of yarn and with the exact same needles. The one that was tightly cast on pulls in, even when not stretched. It does not stretch out as far as the relaxed cast on.

In the last swatch, I did a relaxed long tail cast on over two needles. The swatch is the same width as the relaxed cast on over one needle, however, if you look at that cast on and first row, it looks messy and that first row is very loose. This is just as we would expect given what we know about how the cast on works.

Perhaps surprisingly, the cast on does stretch a bit more when the piece of knitting is stretched as far as it will comfortably stretch.

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Yarn Basics for New (and not so New) Knitters 1

Yarn comes in an almost infinite variety and making yarn choices can be overwhelming, especially when you are just learning to knit (and sometimes, even when you are an expert knitter). Yarns vary in their fibre composition, their thickness, number of plies, how they are spun, whether they have added elements (such as sequins), their fluffiness, their washability, their recommended needle size, their elasticity, their colour, their texture, their put up (how they are packaged), etc. We will explore some of these properties of yarn, but if you are wondering what you want to be knitting with now, here are some guidelines.

So how do you decide on which yarn to use? Choose a yarn that you think is lovely, that feels nice to touch and is in a colour that you like.

If you are just learning to knit, use the guidelines below to help choose your yarn.

What to choose

When just beginning to knit, choose yarns that are smooth, medium weight, light to medium in colour, strong and resilient.

When just beginning to knit, choose yarns that are smooth, medium weight, light to medium in colour, strong and resilient.

When you are a beginning knitter, you want to choose a yarn that is:

  • Smooth yarns allow the stitches to flow and make it easy to form and to see your stitches.
  • Medium weight yarn is easy to handle.
    Wool or wool blend yarns provide good elasticity with a nice feel in your hands. They are forgiving to knit with and block beautifully.
  • Light to medium colour that you love. The lighter colours make it easy to see the stitches you are forming and those you have already formed. A colour that you love is important because you will be spending a lot of quality time with this yarn — you should enjoy that time.
  • Colour that contrasts with your needles so that you can easily see how the stitches are forming.
  • Strong and resilient so that if you have to rip out a few times, it will not affect the yarn too much. Again, choosing a yarn that is smooth and made of multiple plies will help, make sure that the yarn is also spun tightly enough so that it is easy to work with. If in doubt, ask your favourite yarn shop employee.

What you might want to avoid

When you are just learning to knit, you may want to avoid yarns such as these. Heavily textured, cotton very thick and very thin.

When you are just learning to knit, you may want to avoid yarns such as these: heavily textured, cotton, very thick and very thin.

You want to leave some yarns for when you have more experience. Once you are more comfortable, move on to these yarns. However, when just starting out, it may be best to avoid yarns that are

  • Cotton which tends to be inelastic as compared to wool or wool blends. Try cotton once you are a little bit comfortable with knitting. Dishcloths make excellent small projects once you have the hang of knittng.
  • Fancy, textured, or specialty yarns can make it challenging to see what you are doing and what you have already done, they are difficult to rip out and they often don’t look great if they are ripped out a few times.
  • Very thin yarns can be tricky to work with and making tiny stitches makes the knitting anything go slowly. The stitches you form can be difficult to see.
  • Very thick yarns can be awkward to work with. While it would be easy to see your stitches, each stitch requires unwieldy, exaggerated movements with large needles.
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Protected: Learn to Knit Class 2

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Knitting Needles 101

Knitting needles come in a variety of types, sizes and materials. Remember that knitting usually compacts easily and a larger knitted project will easily fit on a shorter needle.

Straights (Single point needles): These are timg_1224he archetypal knitting needle seen in most general images of knitting needles. They have a tapered tip at one end, a straight shaft that goes from the end of the tip to the knob at the other end. The knob prevents the stitches from sliding off the non working end.

These needles come in a variety of lengths, but are most commonly found in 10 (25 cm) and 14″ (35 cm). They can be easily made at home from any cylindrical item like a skewer or a dowel. The knobs can be purely functional or ornate.

img_1230DPNs (Double Pointed Needles): Have two tips, one at each end of the needle separated by a straight shaft. They are usually used in sets of four or five and are used to knit in the round, whether creating a flat rounds item like a circle or a tube (especially small circumference things like socks and sleeves). They can certainly be used in pairs to knit flat pieces.

These also come in a variety of lengths from 4″ (10cm) to 14″ (35 cm) and everything in between. the most common lengths are 6″ to 8″ (15 cm to 20 cm).

Circular: These are twimg_1227o straight needles, without the knobs, joined into a circle with a flexible cable. They were originally intended for knitting in the round, both flat pieces like circles or squares and tubular pieces like sweaters or hats. Many people now use them for all their knitting needs: knitting in the round, knitting small circumference tubes and even knitting flat. I use them all the time because the shaft are short so I am not hitting the sides of chairs or those sitting beside me and if I drop a needle I can retrieve it just by pulling it up by the cord.

These come in a variety ofimg_1228 lengths, both for the needle portion, usually 4″-5″ (10 cm 12.5 cm) and for the cable or cord portion. The length of the whole needle varies from about 9″ (27.5 cm) to 60″ (150 cm). The most commonly available sizes at in the 16″ – 32″ (40 cm – 80 cm) range.
If you are knitting in the round and unl
ess you are using magic loop or two circular needles, you will want you to haimg_1229ve your total needle length a bit shorter than the finished project circumference. So, 16″ (40 cm) is great for a hat and a 32″ (80 cm) needle may be more appropriate when kni
tting the body of a sweater.
Circular needles come in fixed (all made together) and interchangeable. Interchangeable needles allow you to change the length or the size of needles as you work as there needle part is made separately from the cord and they cords and needles can be interchanged to create needles of various sizes, lengths and even mixed sizes.

Materials

Needles are made from a variety of materials. They all have different properties and many people will argue that the material they prefer is the best. However, I find that in general, material is a personal preference, if possible try a variety of materials to figure out which is your favourite.

Also, be aware that gauge may be affected by the material of your needle. The exact same needle diameter may produce a looser or tighter gauge with a particular yarn. This is good to keep in mind when swatching as just using a different kind of needle may change your gauge.

Needles come made of metal (aluminum, steel, brass, nickel plated), bamboo, wood, plastic, carbon fibres and everything else imaginable (I have seen glass knitting needles, needles made from PVC pipes, ivory, tortoise shell, bone, resin etc.).

Metal needles tend to be strong, slick and a bit heavy. Their slickness helps the stitches move easily along the needle shaft and many people claim they can knit faster on metal needles. They may or may not be a great fit for beginners because of this. They are cold to the touch when you first pick them up, but quickly warm up with use.

Bamboo needles are strong, flexible, light and warm right from the start. They grip yarn more than metal needles and so may be ideal for beginners.

Wood needles are less strong than bamboo needles, but share many of the same qualities.

Plastic needles are flexible, strong and light. They can be quite slick.

Carbon fibres are very strong, a bit flexible and feel warm from the start. They can have a scratchy feel to them unless they have a metal tip.

Sizes

There are a variety of ways of referring to the same size needle. The following chart shows the metric, US, UK and Japanese needle size equivalents. Please note, metric is the most accurate way to size needles, sometimes US needle sizes are not exact equivalents. For example, I have seen size 6 US needles that were 4 mm and 4.25 mm (in the same brand!).

Metric

US

UK

Japanese

0.7

000000

1

00000

1.2

0000

1.5

000

1.75

00

2.0

0

14
2.1 0
2.25

1

13
2.4 1
2.5
2.7 2
2.75

2

12
3.0 11 3
3.25

3

10
3.3 4
3.5

4

3.6 5
3.75

5

9
3.9 6
4.0

6

8  
4.2 7
4.5

7

7 8
4.8 9
5.0

8

6
5.1 10
5.4 11
5.5

9

5
5.7 12
6.0

10

4 13
6.3 14
6.5

10 ½

3
6.6 15
7.0 2

7 mm

7.5 1
8.0

11

0

8 mm

9.0

13

0

9 mm

10.0

15

0

10 mm

12.0

17

16.0

19

19.0

35

25.0

50

Yarn:  Yarn is made from various fibres. Below is a fairly comprehensive list for reference only,

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FOs! Yay!

Two projects got finished in the last week! Yay!  One was a castonitis flare up project started on June 14th and finished on the 28th and the other is a long term UFO (UnFinished Object) started in January 2013.

image_small2On June 22nd, I blogged about the beautiful Intenso Shawl that I could not resist casting on, even after a one week cooling off period after determining that I really, really wanted to knit it. It is so beautiful and I am so glad that temptation won. The finished project is really beautiful and I love it!

To read more details and see more photos, take a gander at my Ravelry project page for the Intensive Therapy Shawl.

After finishing that shawl, I once again picked up a very image_small21long term UFO, the Horai Scarf. It was take along knitting, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t, then it was and so on. Finally, after three and a half years it is done, blocked and ready to go!

Again, I am pleased with the result, after blocking. Before blocking, it really just looked like a blob of yarn, after blocking it turned into a beautiful web of lace.  Blocking truly is magical and arguably, the single most important aspect of any lace knitting or knitted lace project. It it the fairy godmother of lace, transforming a ragged blob of yarn into a something elegant and bewitching.image_small2
In between finishing these projects, I have been busily swatching for a new project, a shawl of my own design.
This afternoon, after many swatches to design my stitch patterns, to design the flow and to figure out the best way of increasing while having the increases work smoothly with the stitch patterns,
and after casting on at least a dozen time, making minor adjustments to various elements, I finally cast on for the actual project. img_9853-1Not being really ready to share this shawl yet, you are only getting the blob stage
photo.

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Getting Back to Knitting

It has been a while since I knit with regularity. This is extremely unusual for me. Normally, knitting is my therapy and it is what gets me through tough times. My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer on April 28th and she died on May 11th (may she rest in peace), peacefully and surrounded by loved ones. It has only been in the two or three weeks or so that I have started knitting more regularly again. This may not seem like a long time to many people, really just about a month or so. But for me, I knit every day. Even to miss one day is quite significant, to go a month with very little knitting is unheard of.

It is nice to be knitting again!

I managed to finish the Sock Madness socks that came out the day that mother was diagnosed.  These socks will always remind me of my mother and her last days.

Sweet Nuttins — Sock Madness 2016

Sweet Nuttins — Sock Madness 2016

My castonitis continues to flare up at regular intervals. The beautiful Intenso Lace Shawl by Alina Appasov caught my eye. This time my self-discipline was hard at work and did not allow me to cast on immediately. I made myself wait a week to purchase and cast on. If I was still in love and still needed to cast on in a week, perhaps it was true love and not just a passing infatuation. True love it turned out to be.

img_9748

Intenso Shawl

I cast on with Indigo Moon 100% Mulberry Silk in the Really Red colour way (which lies and is definitely not really red, but a beautiful, rich rusty brick colour). The yarn and the pattern are a joy to knit. The photo shows the shawl, having just started the lace section. It is lightly pinned out, so not as lovely as it will be when it is finished and fully blocked.

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