Sunday, April 5, 2009

Casting on additional stitches at the end of a row or over a gap by the loop cast-on method: a trick for beautiful fabric

Today's installment of TECHknitting shows a trick for casting on (adding) stitches at the end of a row, such as where instructions state to "add X stitches at the end of the row." This trick works equally well over a gap, such as over a peasant thumb on a mitten, or over a pocket opening, or over a buttonhole.

Way back, in the fourth post ever released on TECHknitting blog, the looping-on method of casting on was introduced, with that post indicating that this method is fragile and of limited usefulness. Yet, there are some times when this cast-on, so unsuited to ordinary duty, simply shines--a real Cinderella of a cast-on. Specifically, when done right, the looping-on cast-on turns out to be ideal for adding stitches at the end of a row.

Now, the experienced knitters among you may be shaking your heads, and well you might: the loop cast-on at the end of a row usually ends up making an untidy mess of loose, loopy foundation stitches--a sad embarrassment at seaming time, and a truly terrible looking mess on an exposed edge. Yet, with all its faults, the loop cast-on can very easily be made directly from the running yarn of the adjoining row, and this ease of construction is simply not true of the alternative methods.

What if the advantages of this looping-on (ease of construction) could remain, but the loose mess could be eliminated? Well, here is a TECH-trick to do that--a trick which will tighten up this easy, yet messy method into respectability and true usefulness.

Step 1: Let us suppose that you have piece of stockinette fabric (illustrated in light blue) and you need to add four stitches at the end of a row of knitting. In this trick, we will get to four stitches eventually, but we are actually only going to start by adding only three loops. These three loops are illustrated in lavender. (To learn how to do the looping-on cast-on, click here.) The yarn connecting the garment stitches and the three newly-made loop st is illustrated in dark purple, and we will come back to that connector shortly.

Step 2: Turn the work.

Step 3: Knit the first stitch of the loop cast-on. This can be frustrating because the loop keeps wanting to untwist as you try to knit into it, but persevere. In the illustrations below, the first loop has been knitted, and the stitch knitted is illustrated in green.

Step 4: Knit the remaining 2 loops. You will now have on your right needle, three stitches plus a horrible, nasty, long length of yarn (illustrated in purple) connecting these 3 stitches to the rest of the knitted fabric, as shown below. Do not despair! This has been foreseen and will be eliminated in step 5.

Step 5: We will now preform the trick which will remove that extra slack, smarten up the loop cast on, and raise the stitch count to the proper number. Here's how: grasp the excess yarn (purple) between your thumb and forefinger, give it a half twist in the clockwise direction, and replace it on the LEFT needle.

Step 6: knit this stitch as you have done the previous loops

Step 7: the final result

Do you see what you've done? You've made a new loop, thus using up the excess yarn AND correcting the stitch count.

By this trick of casting on one less stitch than we need, then making the additional stitch out of the inevitable slack on the next row, we have turned the sloppy slack created by the loop cast on from a disadvantage into an asset.

In the example above, we have 4 stitches to add on by the loop method. However, if you have to add on a substantial number of stitches at the end of a row, the ratio to cast on is about 1/3 fewer stitches than the pattern calls for, then pick up the extra stitches by making loops, evenly spaced, all along the return row, with the last added-in stitch occurring just where the cast on is connected to body of the fabric, as shown in illustration 5.

As an example, if you had to cast on 30 stitches at the end of a row, you'd cast on only 20. On the return trip, you would loop up the extra 10 stitches, evenly spaced, all along the row, with the last (10th) stitch coming at the very end of the row of loops, just where the row is connected to the body of the garment.

The illustrations show stitches added at the right side of a stockinette fabric. You can add stitches on the left side just the same way, and you can purl into the loops on the return trip just as easily as you can knit into them.

Addendum added 4-7-09: To cast on over a gap (thumb, pocket opening) simply cast on fewer stitches, then pick up the extra stitches out of the slack on your next trip through, just as you would on the return trip after casting on at the end of a row.

A note for knitting geeks:
If you look carefully at illustration 7 (the completed cast on) you'll see that it looks just like a long tail cast on. In fact, a long tail cast on IS a row of loops with a row of knitting inserted. (More details about the long-tail cast-on here.) The reason the loop cast on is so loose when performed at the end of the row is because the foundation row of loops is made around a needle, instead of the way long-tail cast on is usually made, with the foundation loops snugged up around the knitted loops. In other words, by making the loops around a needle, they simply end up too big.

When you start to knit into these too-big loops on the return trip, the slack accumulates and turns into a really nasty-looking loose foundation edge. By casting on fewer stitches and then drawing the slack up to form the extra stitches necessary to complete the stitch count, this slack is eliminated. Of course, you can achieve the same effect by working the cast-on loops onto a much smaller needle, but then you have the problem of holding an extra needle parallel to your left needle, which involves acrobatics and a dexterity not required by the trick shown here.

One final refinement for ultra-perfectionists:
It sometimes occurs that even when the last loop is made at the end of the row, just before the body of the garment, you will STILL find an unacceptable length of yarn stretched there, just waiting to make a horrid mess at the join. If this is the case, create yet another loop to get rid of the slack, place this surplus loop on the left needle, and knit (or purl) this surplus loop away by k2tog'ing (or p2tog'ing) it together with the first stitch of the fabric of the garment.

--TECHknitter You have been reading TECHknitting on: "An improved method of casting on at the end of a row by the loop method."