Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ever have one of those days?


--Techknitter
R2D2 knits
R2D2 knitting

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The English knit stitch

The English knit stitch differs from the continental knit stitch in only one detail--which hand supplies the yarn. In continental style knitting, the LEFT hand supplies the yarn, in English style knitting, the RIGHT hand supplies the yarn. The yarn, however, goes the same way around the needles, and the needles go the same way through the loop.

If you are having trouble wrapping the yarn correctly in English-style knitting, look at the three yarn wrapping errors illustrated for continental knitting (ignore the fingers, just look at the way the yarn lays on the needles) link 1, link 2, link 3. Each of those yarn-wrapping errors is a wrapping error in English-style knitting also.

THE ENGLISH KNIT STITCH
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Step 1: The right needle is inserted FROM the FRONT, TO the BACK of the stitch at the tip of the left needle, as shown. The right hand supplies the yarn--the right forefinger carrying the yarn acts as a shuttle, tracing a path in the air shown by the dotted line, above. The standing yarn (green) takes the path shown by the solid red arrow, wrapping around the RIGHT needle.

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Step 2: Once the standing yarn (green) is wrapped around the right needle, the tip of the right needle draws the wrap "down and through" the stitch at the tip of the left needle as shown by the red arrow.

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If everything goes right, this is what you will see on your right needle--a new stitch (green) with the right arm forward.

Other posts in this series:
The continental knit stitch
The continental purl stitch
The English purl stitch

--TECHknitter

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: The English knit stitch.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The continental purl stitch

The pictures say it all.
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The yarn follows the path of the green arrow. Beware of the yarn-wrapping error illustrated in the inset--you'll wind up with a twisted stitch if you wrap the yarn "around the bottom" of the right needle, instead of "over the top," as you should.

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If all goes right, here's what you'll see:














Merry Christmas--from
--Techknitter

Friday, December 22, 2006

Knitting efficiently

Today, I’m going to rant on about *EFFICIENCY IN KNITTING.*

My heart leapt when I saw a book called “Speed Knitting.” But it wasn’t about efficiency, it was about big needles and big yarn.

Efficiency is really about ergonomics. How you hold the yarn and needles is less important than how much you MOVE the needle for each stitch. Of course, you may have to move your needles more because you are holding your yarn and needles badly, but the motion is really the first thing to analyze—all else follows.

The very fastest knitters move the needles hardly at all—production knitters in the old times often immobilized their (very long) needles by tucking the end of one or both needles into a knitting belt or sheath. Their fingers carried no weight, but were free to manipulate the very tippy ends of the needles with (evidently) incredible rapidity.

Today’s successors to production knitters are the awsome bloggers who produce scads of garments: a new lace shawl or six pairs of socks with every couple of posts. The rest of us do well to limp along producing as much in a month as these wonders produce in a week. Of course, actual production knitting is by no means dead, either...with all the baggage THAT carries. Check out this link to a truly scary sounding article--can anyone read Polish?

I have never had a chance to watch a true world beater. But the two fastest knitters I’ve ever seen personally (a Japanese lady who knits continental, and a British lady who knits English style) both share several traits: They move their hands very little. There are no grand sweeping motions, their elbows stay down, their wrists flex only slightly. The continental knitter's fingers do not move at all; the English-style knitter's fingers move only in a repetitive, efficient shuttling action. They do not sit hunched, they do not grip the needles with all ten fingers, holding on for dear life. The yarn flows onto their needles.

Because their motions are spare and efficient, their stitches always present at the same place on their needles. This means they’re not hunting for the next stitch—their hands know exactly where it is. Consequently, both of these ladies knit great swathes of fabric while hardly watching what they are doing.

How can us mere mortals duplicate this? Most of us probably won't. But we can walk a short way down that path. Get a drink of water. Sit in your favorite chair. Take a deep breath. Watch your hands, wrists, arms. Can you immobilize a needle by tucking it under your arm? By resting it on a chair arm or table? By tucking it into the cuff of your sweater? Can you stop your elbow from swinging out at every stitch? Can your wrist rotate less and still get the yarn onto the needle?

One reward will be faster knitting. An even better reward will be fewer repetitve strain injuries—the less you move, the less you strain.

--TECHknitter

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The continental knit stitch

Today's post is about the continental knit stitch. It is the first in a four-part series, which includes the continental purl stitch, the English knit stitch and the English purl stitch.

HOW TO
There are many fabulous web sites devoted to teaching knitting. Several have videos, even. I don't have a lot to add to all that, but here's my little contribution towards illuminating the knit stitch, continental style:
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continental knit stitch, step 1The right needle inserts into the stitch at the tip of the left needle, and catches the standing yarn (green) "up from under." The tip then travels out of the loop along the path of the red arrow carrying the snagged standing yarn, which enlarges and becomes a new loop on the right needle.

TROUBLESHOOTING
If you think about it, a lot of things have to happen "just right" for a stitch to be created and lie correctly on your needle--the stitch you're knitting into had to be made correctly, you have to position the standing yarn in the right place, the tip of the right needle has to be correctly inserted into the stitch and the right needle has to correctly snag the standing yarn. Something can go wrong with each of these steps, and generally does when you're first learning.

HOLDING THE STANDING YARN IN
FRONT OF THE LOOP
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standing yarn in front of loopYou won't get too far with this mistake--it's too hard to catch the standing yarn if you've held it in front of the left loop while trying to snag it from the back with your right needle. That doesn't mean you won't drive yourself nuts trying, though.

TWISTED STITCH
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twisted stitchThere are two ways to create this problem: Either the stitch was already sitting twisted on your left needle when you got there (because you inserted the tip of the right needle wrong when you made the stitch on the row below), OR you inserted the right needle wrong on this row (the correct way to insert the right needle into the left stitch is from the front, over the right arm in a left-to-right "hooking" motion .Either way you got there, though, if you see something happening like the illustration above, you've got a problem. Take it out and do it again.

CATCHING THE STANDING YARN THE WRONG WAY
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standing yarn caught wrongThis, too, is a very popular error, especially when you first learn to knit, what with learning to control the needles, the yarn and your non-dominant hand (all at once). It's easy to make the mistake of catching the standing yarn "over the top" instead of the way it should be: "up from under." If you see this, take it out and do it again.

WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE
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the final stage continental knit stitchIf you got everything just right, this is what the stitch should look like when you're done.

Next post: the continental purl stitch

--Techknitter

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Continental knitting, English knitting & handedness


In all of knittingdom, there are only 2 stitches: The KNIT (K) stitch and the PURL (P) stitch. (Well, perhaps there are 3? A yarn over (YO) is neither a knit nor a purl. On the other hand, a YO may not be a stitch at all, so maybe we are back to 2?)

As soon as you master these 2 (3?) stitches, you can make anything at all in all of knitting; cables, picots, stockinette fabric, garter-stitch fabric, lace. This all seems simple, and, in a zen-like sort of way, it is. However, the complications soon start cascading and obscuring all.

The first complication stems from the split between knitting's two main divisions: continental knitters who carry the working yarn on their left hands, and English knitters, who carry the yarn on their right hands.

Knitters argue about which method is "better." Speed records are set by both kinds of knitters. I believe the best way to knit is the way that you, personally, prefer. The next 4 posts will illustrate both continental and English knitting and purling--if you don't already know how to do these, you could try them and make up your own mind.

But before the how-to posts, THIS post is about how the continental style and English style differ, and why handedness (left-handed, right-handed) has only a little to do with which style will work better for YOU.

CONFUSION
There is a lot of confusion about the difference between continental and English knitting. For me, learning to knit continental arose from this confusion.

I did not learn to knit until I was 24 years old--old enough to get my own way with my very stubborn mother. Before that, my mother refused to teach me because she thought she would teach me the "wrong" way--the continental way--which she had learned as a girl in Germany. She thought that I should learn "regular" (English) knitting so I could follow knitting patterns written in English--she thought continental knitting was "backwards" to English knitting.

My mom was confused (and did I mention? stubborn...). It is true that continental knitting and English knitting differ. However, the stitch which results--the loop on the needle--is the same (and the same knitting patterns work for both).

The difference between continental and English knitting arises ONLY from which hand holds the working yarn. In continental knitting, the working yarn is held on the left hand, so that the tip of the right needle "picks" the yarn to draw it through the loop. In English knitting, the working yarn is held on the right hand, and the working yarn is "thrown" around the tip of the right needle, then drawn through the loop.

If you ignore the hands supplying the yarn and watch only the needles, the ACT of drawing a new loop through the old loop is the same in continental and in English knitting:
click picture
forward loop
*the loop to be worked is held at the very tip of the left needle
*the tip of the right needle reaches through that loop, snags the standing yarn "up from under," and pulls that snag through the left loop.
*by this act, two things happen simultaneously: first, as the right needle draws the snag through the left (old) loop, the snag enlarges to become a new loop, second, the new loop is transferred to the right needle.

HANDEDNESS

Some think that continental and English knitting have to do with handedness--left handedness, right handedness. That's only partly correct.
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backwards loop
What some call "left- handed knitting" is actually BACKWARDS, a.k.a MIRROR-IMAGE knitting: using the left needle to draw a new loop through a stitch on the tip of the right needle. This transfers the new stitch onto the left needle and generally leaves the new stitch oriented backwards--that is, left arm forward. The act of supplying the yarn also changes hands, with the right hand carrying the standing yarn in continental knitting, and the left hand supplying the yarn in English knitting.

There are knitting teachers who go through a lot of trouble to teach the left handed to knit backwards--the most popular technique is to use a mirror. This approach probably stems from a time when there were fewer choices--when people only knew about one way to knit--and presumably thought it self-evident that lefties should knit differently than righties.

I myself would avoid this approach. Knitting is (usually, but not always) a two-handed activity--the right-handed have just as much trouble learning to control their left hands as the left-handed have controlling their rights, so the left-handed are (for once) at no disadvantage.

It may be that a left-handed person will be more comfortable with continental knitting--in that style the left hand gets to do more work than in English style. I'd certainly try that before I could be persuaded to teach even the most profoundly left-handed person to knit backwards.

Mirror-image knitters are doomed to a lifetime of transposing knitting patterns, not to mention confusing knitting teachers. Without transposing, mirror-image knitters' decreases and increases will slant the wrong way and everything'll be backwards--just what my mom feared when she (mistakenly) refused to teach me continental for fear that I'd never be able to follow a printed pattern.

To those of you who already knit mirror-image: you have my admiration for your perseverance and persistence in a knitting world which lies, for the most part, sdrawkcab * to you. To those of you who are left handed and have yet to learn to knit: the best way, IMHO, would be to learn the same way as right-handers do--and try continental first.

(Added 2-8-07-- a new final conclusion: I myself have taught at least a half-dozen different left handed people to knit "regular" over the years. I also know several additional left handed people who knit continental with no problem. It was based on this experience that I wrote this post. HOWEVER...dear readers, I have just heard from Jenny, a left-handed reader who posted below. She has had a different experience--she tried to learn regular knitting--English AND continental, and she STILL found mirror image knitting easier. Evidently, sometimes a left-handed person has to choose between mirror image knitting or no knitting. In that case the choice is easy--knitting is SO obviously more fun than not-knitting! Bottom line: I would certainly try to teach a left handed person to knit "regular" and would concentrate on the continental style. BUT, if you try and try, dear lefty, and still can't knit, not even continental, then we'll all have to swallow the fact that you're going to have to learn to transpose patterns, and learn to knit mirror image....)

--Techknitter
*("backwards," spelled backwards)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tech facts about TECHknitting

Anonymous asked: "great illustrations, how do you do them?"

Wisconsin highway 51A: For nearly 10 years I've been trying to find the correct format for getting the "knitting tricks" viruses out of my mind (and into yours!) I twice started books (and got several chapters into each) but the book format lacked a feedback loop, and there was no way to keep updating. I don't have much to show from those attempts except 1) several bulging files; 2) a bunch of sample garments (many already worn out) and 3) a knowledge of ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR. Over the years, Illustrator has taken over my mind to the extent that when I see a highway sign, for example, I imagine how I could reproduce it.

Since I started this blog, I hardly knit any more--I illustrate knitting instead. Each line drawing can take between 2 and 10 hours (which accounts for the time lag between posts...)

--Techknitter

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Knitting needles

You know knitting needles come in different sizes, and are made of different materials--metal, bamboo, wood. Each knitter has a favorite--warm wood or strong metal. I like bamboo needles in small sizes for knitting socks, but the price often is a snapped needle--at which point I remember why small double pointed needles were traditionally made in steel. Every kind of needle has it faults, however, metal needles can scratch, and wooden needles can split. different needle point stylesNeedles come in radically different point styles. It took several years of knitting before I settled on my favorites (Boye needles, now harder to find than ever...). These are aluminium needles with a relatively long, somewhat concave, ball-pointed tip. The needles I go slowest on are those with short, convex, rounded tips. Yet, when I'm knitting with superwash wool (very prone to splitting), I go faster with a rounded tip because it is less likely to split the wool.

Needles come in different finishes. I prefer the matte surface of the anodized Boye brand aluminium needle to the mirror finish of some nickel-plated needles. The nickel-plated needles can be so shiny that I end up stabbing at the reflection of the stitch, instead of the stitch itself--annoying. The relatively rough surface of a bamboo needle is a good match for a slippery superwash yarn on four small double pointed needles--a metal needle might slide right out. Yet, a metal needle is a far better choice for hairy single ply lopi--that hairy wool would knit up slower on wood or bamboo.



The point (!) is that on some projects, you'd go a lot faster if you had a different needle. Maybe some of the clunker projects in the bottom of the basket would reveal their loveable sides if there were a better match between the needle and the yarn.

(And given our proximity to the holidays, you may, if you like, consider this an excuse to go out and...shop for some more needles, even if you already have that size in every length.)

--Techknitter

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Provisional casting-on

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

HOW TO

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.

WHICH LOOP?
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.

--Techknitter

Monday, December 4, 2006

Casting on by the "looping on" method

(includes a two-part how-to)
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looping on
Gardeners say "a weed is a plant out of place." In your lawn, that purslane is a pest, but in the hands of a Italian chef, it's a tasty side dish. It's the same with looping-on. Looping-on is a horrible way to cast on a heavy sweater and a dismal way to start circular knitting. But in the right place, looping on is a valuable technique--the trick is knowing where to use it.

THE BAD SIDE of LOOPING ON
A looped-on edge is fragile: the loops cross and saw away at one another until they break. Unraveling sleeve ribbing is a common result.

Looped-on loops are skimpy--nothing prevents loops from sharing yarn. As soon as you put your needle into one loop, that loop gets larger, while the loops around it get tighter. The result: lumpy cast-on.

Loooping-on is hard to get "sunny side up" along the needle(s) as you try to connect circular knitting. The loops are so skimpy, its hard to tell which way up they lie. It's easier to make an inadvertent moebius strip with looping-on than with any other method.

THE GOOD SIDE of LOOPING-ON
With all these flaws, when does it ever make sense to use looping-on?

This skimpiest of all casting-on is a perfect match--a shiduch-- with the skimpiest of all knitted fabric: lace. Some ladies and I at a knitting club meeting were trying to discover how a beautiful piece of Russian lace had been cast on. It took some time and a pair of glasses to find the looped-on edge. A sturdy long tail cast-on would have been easy to see, but the looping-on was nearly undetectable.

Unlike a heavy sweater, lace isn't often subject to stress, so it's irrelevant that the crossed stitches might saw on one another. Also, lace is hardly ever made in the round, so looping-on's distressing tendency to twist--to lay on the needle all verkahkt-- is also irrelevant.

Of course, even with lace, looped-on loops tend to skitter around the needle when knitting the first row. Also the loops still want to share yarn between themselves, making each stitch a different size than its partners. But by the time you've come to lace, you're better able to control this problem, and in any event, in lace, the result is worth it.

Another reason to use looping on is when you want to cast on new fabric at the end of a row (a dolman sleeve, perhaps) or bridge over previously cast-off stitches (the top of a buttonhole, for example). For this purpose, try backwards looping-on (illustrated below). The backwards twist makes the casting-on row tighter, so it won't spread as badly as regular (untwisted) looping-on.

HOW TO

click picture
regular (forward) looping-onNot a lot to say: Follow the illustration above to get regular (forward) looping-on, follow the illustration below to get twisted (backwards) looping-on.
click picturetwisted (backwards) looping on
--the TECHknitter

Friday, December 1, 2006

Casting on by the "knitting on" method (also called "cable" or "chain" cast on)

(includes a four-part how-to)
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line drawing of the knitting-on process
"Knitting on" is an excellent cast-on method. The edge is created from a doubled yarn, which makes it durable. The method is easy, the tension not difficult to adjust. Also, unlike long-tail casting on, there's no annoying long tail to position and fool with. This method is also called "cable" or "chain" cast on.

Knitting-on is actually a form of crochet. It is made by drawing new loops with your right needle through a previous set of loops on your left needle, to make a foundation row for knitting. Some instructions will tell you to draw the new loop actually through the previous loop, and that does work. However, a more flexible edge arises by drawing the new loop through the space BETWEEN the previous two loops.

Obviously, in order to draw a new loop through the space between two already-existing loops, you have to have two loops already on your needle. Here's a trick to making the---

FIRST TWO STITCHES

Many knitters start knitting-on with a slip knot. In the last post it was stated that slip knots are not an optimal way to start a cast on because they leave a hard knot in one corner of the knitting.

Slip knots are especially easy to avoid in knitting-on, and here's how: start by making 2 slip knots. (...it'll all come clear, keep reading...) These first two loops are provisional loops.

Next, cast on the number of stitches you actually want to have. In other words, cast on the number wanted, not counting the first two provisional stitches.

When you're done --ta da!--pull out the two provisional stitches. All you have left on your needle now are actual knit-on stitches, there's no slip knot left in your fabric to contend with, and all the stitches in the foundation row look and act the same.

KNITTING ON--How to

You can probably figure out how to knit-on based on the first illustration, but here it is again, one more time, slower, with explanations:

* * *
First step
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knitting on--step 1Two provisional stitches (slip knots) have been made in the tail end of the yarn, and placed on the left needle. Insert the right needle into the space BETWEEN the provisional stitches. With the right needle, catch the ball end of the yarn "up from under." This wrap around the right needle will become the first "real" knit-on foundation loop.
* * *
Second step
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knitting on--step 2Using the right needle, draw the loop through the space between the two provisional stitches.
* * *
Third step
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Transfer the loop (drawn up large) from the right needle to the left needle. Be careful not to twist the loop.
* * *
Fourth step
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Snug up the transferred loop. Insert the right needle into the space between the two previous stitches, catch the ball end of the yarn and repeat steps two through four until you've cast on the correct number of stitches. At the end of the process, don't forget to unravel the two provisional stitches.

* * *
Two final notes:

1) The very first illustration at the top of this post shows what the knitting-on will look like after the two provisional loops have been taken off.

2) If you're wondering about the double pointed needles, here's the deal--knitting-on to double pointed needles makes it much easier to drop the two provisional stitches off the left tip of the left needle BEFORE you accidentally knit into them. If using single pointed needles, remember to unravel the two provisional stitches when you get to them in the first row of knitting.

--TECHknitter
You have been reading TECHknitting on cable cast on, also called chain cast on