Friday, October 12, 2007

QUICKtip: improve long-tail cast on with a KNOT

The long tail is the method I most use for casting on. (For the reasons I like it best, and for a tutorial on how to do long tail cast on, click here.) However, although it is my fave, the fact is that the larger the number of stitches to be cast on, the less accurate the estimation will be for the length of the tail.

I was pondering this for the nth time a couple of nights ago when a BIG idea jumped into my head--what if the tail were actually a separate piece of yarn? That would make long tail casting on far more feasible where LOTS of stitches are needed -- a man's sweater, the edge of a poncho, a shawl started along the long edge, a blanket. (Above) The easiest way to work this caper is to simply knot both ends of the skein of yarn together. On the upside, you could cast on eleventy-seven stitches and you'd never run out of yarn by allowing a too-short tail. On the downside, you'd have extra ends to work in, but the weaving-in method or the held together tail method from the 3-in-in TECHjoin should take care of the extra loose ends without too much trouble (and in flat garment knitting, you can use at least one of these tails, left long at each side, to seam the garment).

(Above) The "knotted stitch" does NOT figure into your stitch count--before knitting the second round, drop the "knotted stitch" right off the needle. The first true stitch now presents as the first stitch of the row.

Ordinarily, both strands of the long-tail cast on would be in the same color--the 2 colors are for illustration purposes only.

Addendum 10-13-07: A sharp-eyed reader, Talvi, wrote in the comments that I seem to have unvented provisional long tail cast on. And so I have--Talvi provided this link, and sure enough, there it is: a long tail cast on with a knot! Summarizing briefly, the idea of using long tail casting on with a knot as a provisional cast on would be to really and truly use two different colors of yarn, as in the illustration, and then pick out the bottom loops (red in the illustrations). This would leave the top loops (white) on the needles, and the tails of those white stitches could then be treated as stitches to be worked in the opposite direction.

However ... as cool as long tail casting-on with a knot is, I personally would use it only where LOTS of stitches were wanted--I would not use it as a provisional cast on. Years ago I messed around with pulling out the bottom thread of conventional long tail cast on as a method of provisional cast on, and rejected it for these reasons:
  • 1. The bottom yarn is on the needle pretty tightly in long tail casting on (and this is equally true regardless of whether you cast on over one needle or two). It takes some determined picking (or cutting) to get it loose--as you can see from the diagram, the bottom yarn actually forms loops that double back on themselves.
  • 2. All that picking, plucking, snipping and pulling compromises the tension of first actual row of stitches, if not the actual integrity of the stitches themselves.
  • 3. There are better ways to provisionally cast on--methods that unzip more readily.
  • 4. Even if an actual method of provisionally casting on seems too much trouble, or too complicated to wrap one's mind around, a couple of rows or rounds in waste yarn is the easiest and best method of provisional cast on ever invented--the appearance of the first actual row or round of stitches is the VERY BEST with the waste yarn method because these stitches came from "inside" the fabric and have no tension issues at all.

However, as in all things knitting, your mileage may vary--using long tail casting on with a knot as a provisional cast on might work well for you despite the fact that it doesn't work well for me.
In any event, a REALLY BIG *THANK YOU* to Talvi for bringing up this information!

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: "use a knot to improve your long tail cast on.")


La Cabeza Grande said...

Brilliant! The question of the estimating the cast on tail length has always deviled me for larger items. This method makes all that worry go away.

Thank you!

Talvi said...

Looks like you've unvented long-tail provisional cast-on.

Ilene said...

What a great idea. I usually wrap the yarn around my needle 10 times, then work out how much yarn I need - and then I'm either over or under with my estimation. I'd rather sew in an extra join at the side than have to redo my cast on because I underestimated the yarn.

Thanks again for your super ideas.

--TECHknitter said...

Talvi: THANK YOU for the comment, and THANK YOU for the link. I amended the text of the original post to reflect your comment, and REALLY APPRECIATE your writing!

ashpags said...

Genius! I too prefer long-tail, and always end up casting on at least twice because the first length is off. Thank you! =)

Elizabeth said...

I feel silly, but I guess I just don't get how this solution is any better than a regular long-tail cast on. How does this fix the problem of estimating how much yarn you need? (I do like that it takes away that double loop, though!)

--TECHknitter said...

Elizabeth: Sorry to have been obscure in the post. The deal is this: Since the two ends of the ball are knotted together, the "tail" is now the other end of the ball. This means that the tail is essentially endless, so you can't "run out of it."

Thanks for writing!

Michael said...

Very cool! That is actually my standard method of casting on. Once I figured it out, I never looked back. As an aside, if I'm working a multi-coloured project (for example, the baby sweater I'm currently working), I do like to use two different colours, as I think it makes a very nice bottom edge.

OfTroy said...

long tail and its many variations, (a half dozen or more!) is one of my favorite cast ons (and i know 40 or so cast ons!

i like the 2 yarn method..
for long cast ons (over 100 stitches)
and i like to use 2 colors of yarn.. (i've done a hat with the exact colors of your sample.. red and white)

te two ball method also works well when doing a double yarn (thumb yarn double stranded, index yarn single) --
the only real disadvantage is an extra tail to weave in..

you can start the cast on with slip knot made from both yarns (DON'T count it or, work it in row 1..just slide off needle.

Ann said...

As I do with every single one of your posts, I continue to learn from you. Many thanks for this and all your previous posts. What a good teacher you are and how I wish you would write a book.

I would dearly love to know how do your wonderful illustrations? What kind of a program is it? I have been curious since I first began reading your blog.

Thanks again, and please do consider a book.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Ann: *THANK YOU* for your kind words. Maybe after a few years of posting, I will have enough material for a book. Then I will see if anyone is interested in publishing it!

As far as the illustrations, they are made with a vector drawing program called Adobe Illustrator. It is an immensely powerful drawing program, and I learn more things about it every single time I use it. There is more information about the illustrations in the post of December 13, 2006 called "TECH facts about TECHknitting." (you can use the chronological or other indexes on the main page to find this, and all other, posts).

Thanks also to the other readers for the comments and kind words.


Anonymous said...

Discussions of the many and varied cast-on (and cast-off) methods, their uses, advantages, and disadvantages, could become a book all by themselves. Montse Stanley covered a few of them in her book some years back. Many knitters I know learn one method and use it for everything, not realizing that there are many other options. This entry will be a fuseful eye opener for many, I am sure.


alt.ayu said...

Thank you so much for this post. I love the long-tail cast on but am always annoyed with not having enough yarn to cast on~ I guess I'm really bad at estimating the amount of yarn needed! Sometimes the tails end up so long that it gets in the way of knitting too... So Thanks so much for this tip! I can't wait to try it out! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think I saw this answer posted on your blog. I am ready to string on almost 3,000 beads ... which I need to crochet a beaded edge on a shawl I am making. What I need is a method of keeping the beaded yarn in a way where it won't tangle up. BTW, the yarn is fuzzy mohair. Thanks for any help you might give me.

nj progressive said...

June Hemmons Hiatt also covered the uses, virtues, and problems with various cast on methods, and recommended this variation of the long-tail cast on for exactly the reasons cited by Techknitter. Another virtue is that you can create a tipped edge with this cast on by using two different colors, and match this when you cast off, by using the half-hitch sewn cast off in a second color. It really looks great!

naomipaz said...

I'd like to offer one more (ahem) twist on the long-tail cast-on with two balls of yarn: since I do a lot of colorwork, it's natural for me to want to use two different colors. However, I don't knot the yarn. Since I work almost exclusively with animal fibers, I spit-splice, and have no more ends to sew in than with a single color.

This also works with stash-busting projects where every row is a new color.


Cindy said...

I was taught to estimate the length you need for the tail in the long tail cast on as three times the finished length, plus 18" to use for seaming. So, for a 20" wide sweater back you want (3 * 20) + 18 = 78" long tail. If you want to be extra safe, use 4 times the finished length (and still + 18). This has worked well for me with sweaters and hats, but I haven't tried wider than that.

Unknown said...

I am so grateful to you TK. You make this world a much better place.