Friday, January 11, 2008

Provisional tail method of 1 x 1 tubular cast on

includes 8 illustrations
click any illustration to enlarge

There are several versions and variations of 1x1 tubular cast on. A popular method is Italian tubular cast on, and that is done over a knitting needle. Another method is like a long tail cast on, and here is an excellent link, with a video. Yet a third method is involves a provisional casting on, then picking up the loop tails, and here is a link to that (scroll to last method).

And yet: even with all this expert, well-thought-out instruction available, and with all these lovely methods and videos, I still (stubbornly, perhaps) prefer my own method best, a method I will call the "provisional tail" tubular cast on (to distinguish it from the "provisional" method of the last link, above).

I find this method fast, easy to make and easy to withdraw the tail from. Like all tubular casting on, this method creates a springy edge--as springy as if an elastic were inserted--and has a pleasant-feeling rounded edge which stands up well to wear and looks well.

Provisional tail tubular cast on is done in THREE PHASES:
  • The first phase consists of the cast on.
  • The second phase consists of four foundation rows: two on the front and two on the back.
  • The third phase consists of the true 1x1 ribbing.

1. (below) The first step is to knot together the casting-on yarn (the yarn for the garment, blue in the illustration) with a piece of yarn of a contrasting color--the provisional tail yarn (green in the illustration) You should be able to recover the provisional tail yarn, so you can take any ball from your stash--but choose a thin yarn, a sock yarn if possible.

Arrange the yarn on your hands as shown. Your right hand tensions the knotted-together yarn ends AND operates the needle, your left hand anchors the other end of both yarns, keeping them spread apart. (This will conceivably be easier for continental knitters than for English-style.)

The hand set-up is very reminiscent of long tail casting-on, but the action is different. Specifically, with the needle in your right hand, reach the needle's tip UNDER the provisional tail yarn (green) and OVER the garment yarn (blue). This will hook a loop of blue over the needle. Withdraw the needle with the blue loop on it by moving the tip of the needle once again UNDER the contrast yarn. The complete path of the needle is shown by the red arrow. (To see greater detail, click any illustration, and each will enlarge to a close-up.)
2. (below) The result step 1, above, should be a single loop of blue yarn on the right needle, anchored in place by the green provisional tail, as shown below.

To make the next blue loop, simply hook the needle tip UNDER the blue yarn, following the path shown by the red arrow.
3. (below) Repeating steps 1 and 2 will result in blue loops over your needle, alternating as "front side" loops and "back side" loops. In other words, there will be a loop which has both tails stands IN FRONT of the green provisional tail, followed by a loop with has both tail strands BEHIND the green provisional tail. In the illustration below, the first stitch visible at the right is a "front side" loop, the second, a "back side" loop, and so on, alternating.

As you can see, it is necessary to end with a front side loop, as back side loops (the result of step 2, above) are not anchored.
At the end of the first three steps (above) you have completed phase 1. In other words, you have competed the cast on phase. We turn now to the second phase, the four foundation rows.

4. (below) When you turn the work around after the cast on, you begin the first of four foundation rows. As you can see, the first stitch on your right needle will be a back side loop (ie: the reverse of the front side loop with which you ended in step 3). It would be my advice to keep this stitch as a selvedge stitch, the foundation for a side seam of chained selvedge stitches. Whatever edge treatment you choose, however, it will be necessary to knit this first loop, in order to anchor it onto your needle. Specifically, to work the foundation row, transfer the needle loaded with loops to your left hand, take an empty needle in your right hand, and knit the first stitch, following the path of the red arrow, as shown. The illustration shows continental knitting with its left-handed yarn feed, but if you are knitting English style (throwing) the action of the right hand and the path of the needle is identical--the only difference is that the yarn would feed off the other hand.
5. (below) a. Knitting the edge stitch will anchor the first loop on your right needle, as shown in illustration 5.

b. Once this selvedge stitch is knit, you will begin to establish a pattern, the first step of which is to knit the front side loops--the "knit" looking loops. To knit, follow the path shown by the red arrow.

I see from the comments that there is a certain lack of communication with steps 5 and 6.  In step 5, as illustrated below, the knit-looking stitch is knit as ALL knits are knit, that is, with the yarn held in the BACK--that is the blue yarn with the arrow hooked around it.

6. (below) The second step in the pattern is to SLIP the "purls," the back-side loops. Illustration 6, below, shows that the back side loop is simply being transferred from the left needle to the right needle, while the working yarn is brought to the front, and then held out of the way of the fabric--in the illustration, the yarn is being held below the fabric--the point being that the "purls" are to be slipped, without involving the running yarn in the process. In the transfer, the tip of the right needle inserts PURLWISE into the loop to be slipped, which keeps the transferred back-side loop "open" (untwisted).

Again, the comments show that steps 5 and 6 are, perhaps, not well communicated.  Here's the thing: AFTER you knit the knit-looking stitch (as shown in step 5), you bring the yarn to the FRONT and THEN hold it out of the way while you slip the purl-looking stitch to the right needle.  When you let go of the yarn (in other words, after you have slipped the stitch and you're done holding it out of the way) the yarn remains on the front, yes.  After step 6, however, you go back and repeat step 5, which, if you'll recall, is a knit sort of stitch.  But, you can't knit with the yarn in front of the fabric, so you FIRST have to SWITCH the yarn to the BACK OF THE FABRIC before you can do step 5.  As stated, step 5 is then again followed by step 6, so you'd once again switch the yarn forward to perform step 6, then switch back again for step 5, then switch forward again for 6, and so on to the end of the row.  If this addendum still doesn't clear things up, someone write to me again in the comments, OK?  Thanks!

7. Continue knitting the front-side loops, and slipping the back-side loops until you get to the end of the row. This completes the first foundation row.

8. For the second foundation row, turn the work. Repeat steps 5 and 6. In other words, turn the work as you did in step 4, then knit the front-side loops (which are actually the loops you slipped in the first foundation row) and slip the back-side loops (which are actually the stitches you knit in the first foundation row).

9. When you get to the end of the second foundation row, turn the work. You have now established a pattern where the columns growing out of the front side loops are to be knit, while the columns growing out of the back side loops are to be slipped. Repeat this pattern for an additional two rows, alternating knits and slips. You should have now worked a total of 5 rows: ONE cast on row, TWO rows of knitting the front side loops and slipping the back-side loops, and TWO rows of knitting the stitches in the columns growing out of the front-side loops, and slipping the stitches in the columns growing out of the back-side loops.

10. This step is easy! You now knit the knits and PURL the purls (no more slipping.) Continue until the band is as wide as you want.

11: The last step is to remove the provisional take. Specifically, After you've gone worked a few rows of the 1x1 ribbing, undo the knot holding the provisional tail onto the garment yarn, and pull out the provisional tail.

In the illustration at right, the provisional tail is the maroon yarn. The 3-picture sequence shows the tail in, the tail half drawn out, and the tail all the way out.

We'll end with a little ...

Q & A

Q 1: What is all the slipping about? Why not just purl the back-side loops, instead of slipping them?
A: The photo below shows the very edge of the tubular cast on: white stitches are cast on over a maroon tail. As you can see, what you have actually done is cast on in the middle of a fabric. In other words, the cast-on is a series of stockinette stitches which lay across the provisional tail, and the loops on either side of the provisional tail are actually the "heads" (front-side loops) and "tails" (back-side loops), of those stitches.
When you slip the back loops, you are skipping the tails, and knitting into the heads only. When you turn and work back, you are skipping the heads, and knitting into the tails only. By knitting and slipping, then slipping and knitting, you are knitting the fabric out from the middle (In technical terms, you are creating two rows of "double-knitting.") This fabric is half as wide on each face as single knitting, and twice as thick. Now stockinette is very stretchy, and, this proportion: 1/2 the number of total stitches along a thick edge, widening out to a single thickness fabric after several rows luckily turns out to be the correct proportion for lovely stretchy edge. If you were to purl right away, you would not have an nice, thick edge to stretch, you would have an thin, but wider edge, which would tend to flare and ruffle.

Q 2: Why is this called "tubular" cast on?
A: By casting on in the middle of the fabric, you are actually knitting outwards in both directions from the middle. When you begin the true ribbing--the k 1, p 1 ribbing, you are uniting the two sides of the fabric, with the little scrap of knitting between the two sides thus folded into a mini-tube. (The tube is the part where the provisional tail lies, and when you pull out that tail, you are sliding the tail out of the tube.)

Q 3: Are there any tricks to this to improve the tubular cast on further?
A: YES! As stated in the directions, you ought to cast on over a thin yarn, but in addition, you ought to cast on over a SMALL NEEDLE. I use a needle 3 sizes smaller than the size in which I will knit the garment. I switch to a needle 2 sizes larger after I have knit all four foundation rows--in other words, on the first true row of knit 1, p1 ribbing. By starting with a very small needle, I get a really springy cast-on which draws in as well as if an elastic had been inserted.

Q 4: Why are the directions for back-and-forth knitting? Why no directions for circular knitting?
A: Casting this on by this method on a circular needle will lead to a twisted mess where the cast-on slides over onto the cable. I find it best to make the cast-on and four foundation rows over a straight needle (or the straight portion of a circular needle) and then switch to a knitting in the round. At the end, I use the hanging tail to sew up the little gap at the bottom. (BTW: it is easy to hide the tail after sewing--just run it into the tube at the edge of the ribbing!)

If you are a purist determined to try tubular cast-on in the round, consider casting on over double pointed needles rather than circular needles. When you join, the first foundation round is the same as the first foundation row (steps 5 b and 6) : knit the front-side loops and slip the back-side loops. However, the second round differs. On the second round, you must PURL the previously slipped stitches, while slipping the previously KNIT stitches. Repeat these two rounds once more for a total of four foundation rounds.

Q 5: Does this work for socks?
A: Socks are a subset of the circular knitting referred to in question 4. It makes a lovely edge but it is a little fiddly to get the sock cuff started. Therefore, if I want to make socks by this method, I work the cast on and the first four foundation rows back and forth, then start the circular knitting with the first round of true k1, p1 ribbing.

Q 6: Last question: this post started with three different methods of tubular cast on: Italian, long-tail, and provisional and you have described a fourth method in this post--provisional tail. Why are there so many ways to create tubular casting on?
A: Actually, all four methods create more or less the same final result. I prefer the provisional tail method detailed here because it goes faster than some; because it is more elastic than some; because experience has shown me that 4 foundation rows are just about right, and these foundation rows are easy to work (and count!) by this method; and because the provisional tail is in a contrasting yarn, making it easier to find and pull out. (However, truthfully: having tried them all, all these methods for tubular cast on make a pretty good edge. Probably the most important reason of all that I prefer this method is because it is what I am used to! And did I mention? It is fast.)

* * *
This is part 8 of a series. The other parts of this series are:

How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 3: Hems and facings:(November 22, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 5: Sewing shut hems and facings (December 23, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 6: Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping (December 25, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 7: Zig-zag bands (December 29, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: "Tubular cast on for 1/1 ribbing")