Monday, October 22, 2007

COWYAK--a waste yarn method of provisional cast on

includes 4 illustrations
On a Ravelry discussion board recently, several knitters were batting around various methods of provisional casting on. A consensus developed that the very best method of provisional cast-on is to simply cast on with some waste yarn, knit a couple of rows or rounds, then switch to the garment yarn. When the time comes to remove the waste yarn, there will be the garment yarn loops, waiting to be worked in the other direction.

In the course of the conversation, one commenter called this method the "cast on with waste yarn and knit a few rows" method and the next commenter condensed this to the catchy name "COWYAK." Sounds good to me, so, with permission, I'm adopting COWYAK as the acronym for this method: the letters stand for "CAST ON (with) WASTE YARN AND KNIT."

There is nothing revolutionary about the method itself--machine knitters cast on with waste yarn all the time, as do many hand knitters. However, it is a good technique to remember, and giving it a name makes it even more useful--it's going to be handy to be able to refer to this technique by the name COWYAK, instead of launching into a full-blown description every time.

The reason (imho) why COWYAK works better than any other method of provisional casting on is that the garment loops which will ultimately be worked "down" are more protected with COWYAK than with any other method. With ordinary provisional casts on, the garment loops to be worked "down" stay right at the edge of the knitting during the entire course of the work. Being at the edge like that subjects these stitches to wear and abuse. By contrast, with COWYAK, these loops are several rows or rounds into the fabric, and so are better preserved.

Here's how to do it:
1. (below) In this illustration, the work was begun by casting on with waste yarn (green) and kitting a couple of rows. Next, the garment yarn (pink) was worked into the next row, and several additional rows were knitted.
2. (below) When the time comes to remove the waste yarn, it is removed up to the last row (easiest way is to snip one stitch at the edge of the last row of waste yarn). This last row is unpicked with a knitting needle, one-half stitch at at time, and each freed stitch is immediately caught on a needle to prevent runs, as shown.
3. (below) After all the waste yarn is removed, the tails of the garment loops are "live loops," capable of being knit "down," (i.e. in the opposite direction from the original knitting of the garment loops).
Here are some further tips for COWYAK:
  • 1. Use waste yarn of the same weight as the garment yarn--this helps maintain correct tension on the first row of loops in garment yarn.
  • 2. Cotton works well as waste yarn, because it will not mat or felt together with the yarn of the garment.
  • 3. A further refinement is to run a life line through your first row of garment loops, so when waste yarn is removed, the garment yarn cannot run out.
  • 4. A further refinement is for use patterned fabrics: You can do a repeat in the waste yarn as a "warm up" for the garment fabric.

*THANK YOU* to Ravelers Msmcknittington and Swroot for being the naming team which came up with the acronym COWYAK, for permission to use same, and for posting about refinements 3 and 4. *THANKS* also to Valerie and Kathryn who commented on this post, pointing out confusing usage accompanying the third illustration (usage which has now been corrected).

(Addendum 2013) Well!  evidently, there really IS such a thing as a cow-yak hybrid_  it is called a cak, and here is a photo. 

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: COWYAK-- a method of using waste yarn for provisional cast on.)


subliminalrabbit said...

COWYAK?! seriously?! i love it! SO easy to remember.

(adore your blog. it's so USEFUL!)

K2Karen said...


Question for you...since I'm swatching a crochet provisional as we speak...

What are the issues with "knitting down"? Can you knit in stockinette and then "knit down" from stockinette with no visible demarcation?

ps: thanks for all the great articles.

Valerie said...

Love the Cowyak name! Questions - how do you unravel the waste? Do you cut into it? How do you not have a mess of yarn snip-its? How about a "zipline"? ( A single row of something else, between the waste and the real knitting?)

Kathryn said...

I'll second Valerie's observations - as far as I know, it is not possible to unravel from the bottom up. Machine knitters use waste yarn cast on's all the time and usually we run one row of ravel cord (slippery nylon thinner than fingerling yarn, but thicker than lace). When it is time to drop the waste yarn, you pull on the ravel cord which slips out of stockinette easily, separating the two knitted pieces.

Ravel cord does not pull out easily from ribbing or any row with lots of knit and purl stitches. It is for separating stockinette waste yarn from stockinette main knitting.


--TECHknitter said...

Hi K2karen: As you can see from the last illustration in the post, the live loops of the tail are 1/2 stitch "off" the stockinette fabric of the main garment yarn. In stockinette, this 1/2 stitch jog is fairly invisible at the edge. You can knit "down" successfully in stockinette without distorting the fabric pattern, but not in other fabrics, where that 1/2 stitch jog makes a mess.

Hi Valerie and Kathryn--Thanks for writing. I can see where I was sloppy with words, and I have now gone back and edited the text to remove my reference to "unraveling" the waste yarn. In fact, the method described here involves snipping a single stitch of waste yarn in the edge of the last row of waste yarn (the row which is just below the garment yarn) and then unraveling as shown--picking out one-half stitch of waste yarn at a time with the point of a knitting needle, and transferring the freed arm to the holding needle before the waste yarn is pulled out of the second arm (third illustration in post.) Thanks for catching my confusing usage--I have edited the text to make clearer what your comments proved was obscure before.

Ravel cord or slip cord (a single row of slippery yarn) does pull out easily, at least in stockinette, but it releases too many stitches at once for my taste: If you are going the slip cord method, then perhaps it would be wise to use the lifeline suggested in tip #3.

Thanks for writing!


Mary-Lou said...

Ravel cord is of course the machine knitter's best friend ... and makes a further refinement in that you can leave your waste yarn in place while you pick up the stitches for your folded hem (or whatever, and only release your stitches once they are all secure in place. It can also act as a high contrast 'line' between the waste yarn and the main knitting, making it easier to see what you're doing.

Lisa said...

I'm probably being dim, but I don't see the advantage of this over a crochet provisional caston (which unravels beautifully without snipping & pulling). thanks for any light you can cast on my ignorance (pun intended or at least encouraged).

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Lisa--you are certainly not being dim. The crochet method is just fine. Really. It certainly unzips faster!

What it boils down to is this: you may find that COWYAK is better for lengthy projects, while the crochet method is probably better for small, quick projects. You see, the crochet provisional cast on leaves the garment stiches you are going to work awfully close to the edge of the work. In the case of a large project, like a sweater, let's say it is going to take three weeks. That's three weeks of constant abuse these edge stitches are going to suffer. Whereas, with COWYAK, the edge stitches are made of waste yarn and are eventually going to go away forever, whereas the garment edge stitches have been protected by the waste yarn during the three weeks of knitting.

The crochet method works well for small quick projects--something where you'll be getting the stitches off the crochet chain within a day or two--a headband, for example, or a quilt square.

However, the main thing about knitting is to do what works for YOU! If you prefer the crochet method, then that's the method for you.

Thanks for writing

Stell said...

I like the idea the waste yarn protects the work in transit, personally I don't yet have much use for provisional, using judies magic cast on, and leaving the loops on a spare circ on the odd occassion hang on, turkish toe anyone? mitred dishcloth - oh eekk I do use provisional, more than I think .....

sarah said...

I'd been thinking about what a Cowyak would look like. And how useful it would be: milk, butter, beef (for those so inclined) AND nice spinning fibre. Someone should point biotech in that direction :-)

Kamilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamilla said...

- why do you knit more than one row of the wayst yarn.. seems like a waaste of good knitting time.

Anonymous said...

Amen to your comment re: Ravelry consuming "free" time (and then some!) Love your blog and love the care and time spent with the illustrations. It inspires me to be a better knitter and learn new techniques.


Ina said...

I have just used your COWYAK method to provisionally cast on a edge for a garter stitch jacket to be knit vertically with an i-cord trim to be added when the jacket is completed. (the Hanne Falkenberg Mermaid).

I cast on with long tail and then I knit 2 more rows, switching to the garment yarn on the 3rd row (wrong side). I then started the pattern on the next row (right side).
Now looking at the right side, one sees the loops where both yarns join.

Is this correct? I want to make sure that the i-cord will face correctly when I finish the garment.


--TECHknitter said...

Hi Ina--I am not exactly following what you did, but I don't think you're going to have a problem. This is because, in the worst case scenario, you have the option to also unravel the first row of the fabric yarn. (Truth be told, I rarely mess with waste yarn, I just cast on in garment yarn with the plan to later discard the first couple of rows.)

If you feel you cannot do that, I strongly suggest making a mini-swatch (could be 10 or 12 stitches) and reproducing the situation with the COWYAK. Knit a few rows on this mini- swatch in pattern, pull out the COWYAK, add your I-cord and see which way it "faces."

Again, I'm not exactly following the situation, but if it works on your swatch, all is well, and if it does not work on your mini-swatch, AND if you feel you cannot pull out the first row of the garment yarn, then you'd be forearmed, and could switch from the COWYAK on a different, correct row.

Ina said...

Thanks. I think the first row could be unraveled without a problem, so I shall forge on with the project. Thanks so much for your contributions to the knitting world. We are all so much "smarter" now because you are so willing to share your vast knowledge.

--Deb said...

Hey, if you don't mind a different kind of technical question, HOW do you make such great illustrations of knitting stitches?

Leslie said...

I've seen something similiar to this either on "The Knitting Workshop" dvd or one of Lucy Neatby's Knitting Essentials dvd's. One does a long tail cast on using waste yarn and the project yarn so the waste yarn forms the bottom of the cast on and can be snipped out stitch by stitch when it's time to start on the "other end". It's a great method - especially since I've never been able to master the crochet chain method! Thanks for the unvention and the great name :)

I just found you through google and have added you to my reader. One can never have too many resources.

"leslieileen on ravelry"

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Deb--The illustrations are created using Adobe Illustrator, an very powerful vector drawing program. I "draw" the stitches freehand with the pen tool, and then manipulate them with all the other tools in the program until they come out the way they should--kind of time consuming, somtimes!

Thanks for writing, and thanks to the other commenters for the kind words.


wren said...

I am very concerned with the COWYAK mascot. This critter, though s/he may offer much by way of cheese, clearly has no way to rid itself of waste. I predict much bloating!

Should a solution for this dilemma arrive, then I'll fully support the COWYAK mascot - and ask for a long haired species for felting potential. :)

Sid said...

When you change directions and start knitting downward, how do you handle the one missing stitch (because you are offset by a half stitch at each end)? When confronted with this problem, I cast one additional stitch since I would be adding a front band to cover up the stepped edges. Is there a better way? Thanks.

lusted said...

I had SUCH visual problems with 'Provisional Cast On Method'....

COWYAK I will never forget.

Rubie said...

Cowyak has done wonders for keeping my gauge on target for a cotton sweater I am knitting. I knit the first few wonky rows with waste yarn and only began with my project yarn once my stitches and gauge straightened out.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is a great cast on - "unvented" it for a project I'm working on. Instead of pulling the yarn out, though, I cut the waste yarn off (also doubles as a great way to use up yarn you don't like). Only caveat - you have to be careful not to cut your good yarn.

Lindsay said...

Which cast on/bind off method do you recommend for double knitting?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Lindsay--One day I will do a series about double knitting, but I haven't yet, so I cannot direct you to any diagrams or posts. However, I will write my suggestions as a text file:

The simplest way I could suggest is to use COWYAK to start each fabric face on separate needles (cast each one on independently). Work two or three rows of each fabric in stockinette, then merge the stitches onto your needle in alternating order, back-sides facing. Work your double knitting pattern as directed. At the end, separate your two fabrics, each onto a separate set of needles, and again, work two or three rows of stockinette on each (choose either two rows, or three--and stick to your choice all through both sides of both ends!). Your begining and end will now match--there are a double set of live stitches at the beginning (bottom) and end (top), which is one set for each fabric face.

At this point, you can either re-merge the stitches, or you can hold the needles together--what you need to do is cast off using any cast off you like, but always casting off two stitches (one from each fabric-face) together as one. Again, you can do this from one needle (remerged stitches) or two (one needle held behind the other). Naturally, when you come to cast off the bottom, you have to remove the COWYAK first.

(It will have occurred to you that you can also do a tubular cast off or a kitchener stitch finishing with this set-up)

Good luck--TK