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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Provisional Cast-On

Here's a cast-on that allows you to knit in two directions at once—seamlessly.  Using this cast-on, you can knit a lacy pattern into, say, a scarf, and have it look the same at both ends.  

Some instructions call for doing the provisional cast-on with a needle to make "live" stitches and some "waste" yarn that acts as a placeholder, which is removed when the reserved stitches are picked up. 

I prefer the method that produces two sets of live stitches, one above and one below.  And because for most purposes I prefer circular needles, I'm going to show you how to do this with two circular needles of the same gauge.

You'll see stitches being cast onto one tip of a grey plastic needle (circular) held in the hand, and at the same time onto the cable of a second circular needle (in this case bamboo) that will dangle below.  I'm going to call the grey plastic needle the upper needle.

1.     Place a slip knot on your upper needle.

2.     Hold the cable portion of a second circular needle below the upper needle with the slip knot.  (The two tips of the second circular needle are going to dangle.)

3.     Grasping the slip knot, bring your needle tip down below the cable of the second needle.

4.     Bring the needle tip up behind the cable, and grab the yarn.  Yarn is behind needle.

5.     Drag yarn down below the cable.

6.     Bring needle up.  Wrap yarn over needle from front to back.  Notice that at this point there are three stitches on the (upper) needle (the first stitch is the slip knot) and two stitches on the cable below.

7.     Bring needle tip down below (and in front of) cable.

8.     Bring needle up behind cable, with tip between cable and yarn.

9.     Come up and grab yarn (same as Step 6).  Yarn wraps over needle from front to back. 

10.  Repeat these steps.  Observe that for every stitch on the upper needle, there is an equivalent stitch on the cable whose tips are dangling below.

11.  When you have the appropriate number of stitches on the upper needle, turn work.  You will begin knitting into the first stitch on the end of the upper needle.

12.  Continue knitting from the work on the upper needle until you have achieved as much as you need to.  (While you are working these stitches, if the dangling circular needle gets in your way, you could temporarily substitute a large cable needle, or even a piece of yarn threaded through the stitches. Then when you're ready to work in the other direction, replace the circular needle onto whose cable you cast on originally.)

      When you are ready to build out from the stitches below, the ones that were cast onto the cable of the circular needle whose tips were dangling, turn work over so the cable is on top.  Draw on that cable until its needle appears.  Now you're ready to begin working.  (In the photo, the bamboo needle on top holds the stitches that began on the bottom, on the bamboo needle’s cable.)

13.  Bring up the dangling end of the second needle (in this case it’s the bamboo one) and begin to knit.  To make it easier for you to visualize the process, I used a contrasting color as I began knitting the stitches from the bamboo needle.  (Actually, I knitted in both directions at once, doing the rows in green that you see on the plastic needle, then turning the work upside-down and knitting in white the rows that you see on the bamboo needle.  If you had a limited amount of yarn, this would be a handy way to be sure it would be equally distributed between the two directions.)

14.  Notice that this technique produces a seamless transition.  Basically, you’re knitting upwards and downwards at the same time.  Out from the center of a long rectangle, as it were.  Those of you who have done Moebius knitting will recognize the similarity here.  The only difference is that with Moebius there’s only one needle, and it makes a single twist over itself.     

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