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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Long-Tail (Double-Edge) Cast On

For more years than I’d like to admit, I only knew one way to cast on.  It wasn’t even the best way, though it had its own good uses.  Truth is, there are no fewer than ten distinctive ways to cast on stitches.  And most patterns won’t specify which to use:  they’ll just say Cast On (or CO, in knit-talk). 

So it behooves us to have a repertoire.  And to understand which cast-on is most suitable for which purpose. 

Today I want to show you the all-purpose go-to cast-on of most experienced knitters:  the long-tail, also called the double-edge, one-needle cast-on.  The long-tail cast-on has good stretch, is easy to knit (or purl) into, and makes a handsome, tailored edge.  If you were limited to only one cast-on method, this one would get you most places you needed to go.

A few good videos on YouTube can show you this method in about three minutes.  I’m going to try to put it into word pictures (with a nod and a wink at Cerena’s kindergarten teacher, who told her about rabbits and posts and holes, and thereby taught my six-year-old to do something her mother had not been able to teach her:  how to tie her shoelaces).

For our swatch we only need twenty stitches.  Hold one end of your yarn between your left thumb and forefinger.  Pull the remainder of the ball down toward your left elbow.  There’s your measure.  That amount will get you twenty stitches.  (As many times twenty as you need, doing it over and over.)  Don’t cut the yarn.

At that spot on the yarn that met your elbow, you’re going to make a loop big enough to put your finger through.  Let the loose end of yarn lie to your left.  Unroll about twelve inches from the ball you’re holding in your right hand.  Loop the right-hand yarn over the long tail that leads to your left.  The top of the loop is facing away from you.

Now reach through that loop and catch the yarn that leads to your right.  Pull a piece of it (a little loop) through the big loop.  Put your needle into the little loop.  Tug lightly on the right-hand side of the yarn.  The big loop will tighten down, securing the little loop in place on your needle.  You now have a slip knot.  We will be counting this as your first stitch.  (See?  It really is just one loop through another.)

Now we’re going to talk about tents.  Collapsible tents. 

With your right hand, hold the needle at about chest height and let both yarn ends dangle from the slip knot to make what looks like a little tent, with the needle as the peak.  Poke your left thumb and forefinger through that tent facing toward you (coming into the tent).  Your other three fingers are on the outside of the right-hand side of the tent. 

Build a floor:  With the ring finger and the little finger of your left hand, grab the left-hand tail and pull it in to meet the right-hand side.  Both the tail and the right-hand side of the yarn (the ball side) are now firmly in the grasp of the lower fingers of your left hand.  They look like the floor of the tent. Your thumb is the left post, your forefinger is the right post.

Spread your left thumb and forefinger, widening the tent.  Now swing the top of the tent toward you, bringing it all the way down to the floor and past it by about an inch.  The tent is now upside-down.

See where you’ve just created a loop on your thumb?  Think of it as a hole in the floor.  Bring your needle up through that hole.  

Swing the tip of the needle to the right, toward the upside-down wall of the tent.  Go over that wall, then bring the needle under the wall and swing it back toward you, bringing the wall with it.  

Come all the way back out the hole you went into.  

Bend your left thumb to release the loop (you now have a second stitch on the needle), and use your thumb to tug on the yarn and snug the new stitch down.   

So here’s the story:

Make a tent.  Right hand holds the peak, left thumb and first finger enter, pointed toward you.  Left thumb becomes left tent post, left forefinger becomes right tent post, other fingers tighten the floor.  Widen the tent.

Swing the peak of the tent toward you, down to the floor and past it.  Bring the needle up through the hole in the floor, past the thumb post, head for the finger post, grab the right wall and swing back down through the hole in the floor.  Release the thumb post, use the thumb to build a new wall.

Be sure not to pull these stitches too tight.  In fact, as you create them you may want to slightly, evenly space them on the needle with the forefinger of your right hand. 

Cast on the full twenty stitches this way.  Now inspect your work.  Notice that the front—the side facing you—has a single, snug edge.  Turn the needle around.  Notice that the back has a double, snug edge.  This is what distinguishes the long-tail cast-on from the English long-tail cast-on (which we'll get to eventually).  The English long-tail has a double edge on both sides.  

So, how did this go for you? I actually enjoy the rhythm of it.  Once you get it going, it just swings along.  

Tomorrow, the knit-on cast-on.

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