Sunday, December 10, 2006

Provisional casting-on

(includes a five-part how-to)
click picture

Q: What is provisional casting on? A: It is a casting-on designed to be taken out.

Q: When do you use it?
A: Long story short: when you want to start in the middle of your knitting, and add the finishing touches later, you start with a provisional casting-on.

Q: Example?
A: Let's say you want a white sweater with a blue border. You have the white yarn, but the blue yarn is still coming by mail, and you are IMPATIENT to start RIGHT NOW! With provisional casting-on, no need to wait, cast on the white provisionally. Once the white part's done, you'd pull out the provisional casting-on and there would be a series of loops waiting for you to pick up and add the border AFTER the sweater was finished.

Q: Another example?
A: let's say you're making a lace scarf with a directional stitch pattern. A scarf started at one end and worked to the other would have two different-looking ends. To get both ends the same, cast-on provisionally and work the scarf from the middle up to one end, and bind off. Pull out the provisional casting on, pick up the loops, and now work the scarf from the middle down to the other end. Voila; a scarf with two matching ends. (Confession #1: it's not quite as simple as all that, because there are going to be one fewer loops working down than working up. There are tricks to get around this problem, and they can be found in the post of December 7, 2008, click here.)

Q: Provisional cast on seems like a lot of trouble--is there another way?
Yup, I think so. I myself hardly ever use a provisional cast-on. Instead, using waste yarn, I make a regular cast-on and knit a couple of extra rows. Next, I switch to the "real" yarn. When done, I snip one stitch of waste yarn, ravel it out, and there are loops of real yarn waiting to be picked up. These loops are nice to work with because they're tensioned perfectly to the fabric. In other words, because the real yarn loops come from a couple of rows into the fabric, they aren't distorted by the casting-on. (Confession #2: actually, I usually don't even bother with the waste yarn. I cast on in real yarn and knit a two extra rows, later raveling these out to get at the loops on the third row.) However, this post is supposed to be about provisional casting on, and you might as well know how to do it, so here's the--


I think the very best provisional cast on is made with a crocheted edge. Some instructions have you crochet the edge right onto the knitting needle. That IS very clever and a fine idea. However, it is awfully slow. A much quicker way, I think, is to create a crocheted chain, then pick up the loops afterwards. So, the first step is to create the crocheted chain.
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first step of crocheted chain
Make a slip knot and insert your crochet hook. Continue on with the hook, catching the standing yarn "up from under," then draw it through the slip knot (picture above). Once the new loop is on your crochet hook, continue to catch the standing yarn in the same manner and pull it through the previous stitch. This will make a "chain" (picture below).
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second step of crocheted chain

After you have the crocheted chain, you have to slide the correct loop of that chain onto your knitting needle. It's fairly easy to do, but it's also fairly easy to make a mistake and catch the wrong loop. If you do catch the wrong loop, the provisional casting-on won't "unzip." That's actually an easy problem to fix with a quick snip from a pair of SHARP emboidery scissiors (cut the provisional cast-on of course, not the first row of loops). But if you want to be able to "unzip" with the pros, read on.

The illustration at the top of this post is "anatomically correct." But it really isn't a lot of help to show which loop of the crocheted chain to catch with your knitting needle, because crocheting doesn't really *look* like my illustration until you've stared at it and spent several hours trying to draw it. So, let's leave the anatomical illustration for the record, and take a more conceptual look at what your eye will *see* when you contemplate a crocheted chain.

From the front, crocheted chain *looks* deceptively like a single column of knitting.
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the look of a crochet chain from the frontFrom the back, you can see that a crocheted chain does NOT look like knitting--it has "bumps." Slide your knitting needle under the bumps as shown by the arrows.
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the look of crocheted chain from the backThe result should be loops on your needle, ready to knit up, which look like this:
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crocheted provisional cast on placed on knitting needles
When your knitting is finished, "unzip" the provisional casting-on by pulling on the open loop at the end of the chain, and there will be a set of "live loops" waiting to be knit in some other direction.

Final note
All my illustrations show the "last loops" dangling. Your intelligence will tell you that if you really leave them that way, your provisional knitting will unravel far sooner than you want it to. Therefore, tuck the loose end into the open loop and snug the loop up. When you're ready to unzip, pick the loose end out of the loop, and you'll be on your way.



susie lee said...

thank you! i love your illustrations.

Trish - My Merino Mantra said...

I use a crochet chain for a provisional cast on; for me it's the best method. I wanted to comment on your great illustrations. They are clear, and straightforward - wonderful!

vlb5757 said...

That info was really helpful. I am about to do a lace scarf that has the edging last and I have to do the provisional cast on. I am a crocheter but really wasn't understanding how it all worked with pulling it out to do the edging later. Thanks for the photos! They really did help.

Anonymous said...

I love your method (casting on with scrap yarn). I would have never thought of that!

Susanna in Seattle said...

I used to use this cast-on for my provisional beginnings all the time. But then I found a much improved version in a Japanese knitting book (OOP now I think). However, the same method is shown on pages 18 and 19 of Nancie Wiseman's book "The Knitter's book of finishing techniques".

Instead of crocheting a chain and then attempting to knit into those back bumps, you crochet the back bumps right onto the knitting needle - much easier than trying to deal with the wiggly chain.

And of course, if you use this cast-on with your regular yarn, your cast-on edge will be a precise mirror image of your bound-off edge; a nice touch for something like a scarf where both edges are visible.

techknitter said...

Techknitter here--
there is a link in this post to the technique Susanna mentions-- crocheting onto the needle. (The link is in the text right under the heading "HOW TO.") I think crocheting onto the needle is VERY clever, and it DOES avoid the wiggly chain problem. The only reason I don't do it myself is that I find it very S-L-O-W. I can crochet an provisional cast-on, pick the back bumps up with a long thin needle, and be a couple of rows into my knitting in the time it takes to crochet onto the needle. But again--if time is not of the essence, crocheting onto the needle IS a very clever technique.

Lotzastitches said...

It is wonderful how there are so many ways to do the same thing and being able to pick the one that works easiest for you.

I find that the crocheted cast on (crocheting right on the needle) works faster for me. I hold my working yarn in my left hand and I keep the crocheted stitches close to the right end of the left needle so with just a flick of the left thumb I can push the working yarn to the back of the left needle and ready for the next stitch. It takes me about the same time to crochet the chain around the needle as it does for me to crochet a plain chain.

Margie said...

Thanks so much! I've tried the waste-yarn provisional cast on and hated it, but the only instructions I could find for crocheting onto the needle didn't tell me what the heck was supposed to be happening. Now I have a provisional cast on that actually makes sense!


Krafty Keri said...

Thanks for this great post! I couldn't figure out how to put the chain on the needle until now =)

Sue said...

Wow! I recently became re-intrigued with knitting, and Googled something or other I was wondering about. Wow! Wow! I've lost substantial parts of several days reading the whole blog. Wow! Wow!
Provisional casting on caught my attention, but I couldn't get it from any of the posts. So I Googled that, and found a lovely easyeasyeasy way to crochet directly onto the needle. Check it out:
Did I mention - Wow!

Sandra said...

Another thank you. I like the idea of avoiding the provisional cast-on altogether. I'm a whiz at frogging.

Anonymous said...

I realize this blog post has existed for a couple of years, but I just found it. Thank you so much as I had never really understood what the hell a crochet provisional cast on was and had avoided all patterns that mentioned the technique. I think I love you!

kaitlyn said...

Hello; the stars have aligned since today I found your blog and your technical illustrations which are so clear.

I am a beginning knitter searching for an illustration which will show me how to work a cast-on method called: "garter stitch tab with provisional cast-on".

Having read your blog on provisional casting-on, part of the mystery is solved; I wonder if you have illustrations, to hand, which will describe the rest.

Grateful thanks.

Thistle Creek Photography said...

I needed to use this cast on for the first time ever and I knew right where to find out how to do it.
Thank You!

santaananana said...

After a provisional cast on can you launch right into pattern or do you have to knit one plain row first? I have a pattern that says to slip firs t stitch purlwise right after the provisional cast on. Wouldn't that leave that first stitch embedded into the pattern ?

TECHknitter said...

Hi santaananana: Yes, if you slipped the provisional cast on, you'd have one fewer stitches in that location when you remove the provisional cast on. As it appears that the pattern calls for that, then before you ignore the instructions, check to be sure this artifact hasn't been foreseen and provided for by the pattern somehow--perhaps there is a reason why you're asked to do this? If the pattern does not appear to offer a provision for dealing with this situation, then...ignore it, and yes, begin the slipping AFTER you've knit the first row. Best, TK

Heather said...

I love love love your blog, it's the first place I go when I want to understand something a little better! That said, I wanted to see if there were some other unthought of ways to do a provisional cast on (because mine always look like crap) ... And lo and behold, your way of not doing it is genius! How have I not thought of that before?? Duh! Thank you!

sophy0075 said...

I'm "very late to the party", but thanks (just found your blog). Your schematic showing the "bump" to be picked up in red is so helpful!