Haute Finishing: It's all in the Details.
Part 1: Casting On
by Ivete Tecedor
We knitters can be a little, what do you call it? Oh yes, compulsive. I am no exception. Over the course of many projects I've come to develop a preference for how each small detail of a knitting project should be done, and for the most part I stick with my convictions. Some of these details will seem really obvious, others will seem completely pointless, and I may come across as slightly insane throughout these articles for even noticing some of these, but so be it. Welcome to my world.
My first Detail is the cast-on edge. I was asked for information on choosing a cast on, and I have a surprisingly simple answer: I almost always use the long-tail cast on. This may seem lazy, since we have all been told time and again "you must choose the appropriate cast on for the project." That may be true, but in my opinion the long-tail cast on is the appropriate one for almost every project. There are a couple of exceptions:
What’s so good about the long-tail cast-on? It’s easy, fast, and creates a stable, firm yet elastic edge that visually resembles the bound off edge. Unlike the loop method, it won’t stretch out of shape easily, and it’s much faster (for me) than the knit-on or cable method. And for purely aesthetic reasons, I love that it has a “knit side” and a “purl side” so you can choose the appropriate one.
I think we’ve all noticed the difference between the “knit side” and the “purl side” of a long-tail cast on before. This is one of my favorite features of this cast on, and I make sure to start my project either on a RS row or a WS row depending on which side I want to have as my public side. (The following assumes you cast on knit-wise “right handed,” meaning using your right hand to put the stitches on the needle. If you cast on “left handed,” flip everything around. It’s all still true but backwards, as are most things knit “left handed.”)
For example, if the project starts with stockinette, you have a choice: Start with a knit row or start with a purl row. This is how they look:
Purling the first row puts the “knit side” as the RS and the cast on is almost invisible. I use this for cast-on edges that will later be sewn, because the resulting seam will be flatter and neater. I don’t like it for a free-standing edge because it tends to curl more (of course if your intention is for the edge to curl, than that's a good use for this!).
Knitting the first row puts the “purl side” as the RS and results in a bump along the bottom edge. I prefer this for projects that require a more stable edge, like hats and pullovers, because I like the little border it creates and it helps the fabric lie flat at the bottom.
Most projects don’t start with stockinette, though, most start with ribbing. And for ribbing, I have the exact opposite preference, I like the “knit side” to be the RS, so I always start with a WS row.
This is how they look:
As we’ve already established, if your first row is a RS row, the purl bumps end up on the outside. I think this looks messy on ribbing because you can see the bumps on the knit stitches but they’re not there on the purl stitches.
If your first row is a WS row, you get that mostly-invisible edge which looks a lot like a bind-off edge. I like this for ribbing because it looks the same on the knit stitches as on the purl stitches.
Before you start thinking I’m really crazy and I see a “right side” and “wrong side” to 2x2 ribbing, let me explain myself: Ribbing is of course completely reversible assuming it’s an even rib (ie 1x1, 3x3, etc), but most projects then have you switching to a stitch pattern that has a public side. So your ribbing doesn’t have a right side until you make the switch, and then it’s defined by the first row of the body pattern. Usually that first body pattern row is a RS row, but not always.
Assuming the first row of the body pattern is a RS row, how do you ensure your cast on edge is facing the way you want? If you want your project to look like mine, with the “knit side” of the cast on as the “right side,” work an odd number of ribbing rows before starting your body pattern row. If you like the “purl side” better, work an even number of rib rows. It’s that easy!
Some of you may be priming your keyboards to write me a comment or email telling me all about other ways to cast on ribbing so there is neither a “knit side” nor a “purl side” to the bottom. I’ll save you the trouble: Your alternatives include the tubular cast on (tutorial at Little Purl of the Orient), and casting on in knit and purl (explained by Dawn Brocco). I’m sure there are other ways to make a completely invisible bottom to a ribbed piece, but they don’t interest me. They’re difficult to do and take a long time (in comparison to my beloved long-tail cast on), and when I’m starting a project I want to start, I don’t want to spend an hour casting on. Plus, I like the way the knit side of the long-tail cast on looks as the bottom of my ribbing. To me a completely invisible edge like the tubular cast on makes the project look like it was knit on a machine, because that is the way a machine-knit cast on looks.
Now that I’ve rambled on about how much I love the long tail cast on, I’ll address its biggest shortcoming: It’s hard to figure out how much of tail to leave.
Here’s my secret: Cast on using the inside and outside of the ball. To do this, make the usual slip knot as your first stitch, using the outside tail. Before tightening it to fit the needle, take the inside tail and pop it through the slip knot, leaving a tail about 3” long. Now when you tighten the knot, you have two strands like you normally would, but neither one will run out because they both lead back to the ball. Cast on all the stitches you need, clip one of the tails, and keep knitting with the other!
If you've read this whole article and still want to learn about other methods of casting on, Knittinghelp.com is a great place to start. She covers a lot of basics and has tons of information.
Haute Finishing is a series of technique articles focusing on small details for your knitting projects. If you have a specific technique or question you'd like to see covered, email me at yivich(at)gmail.com. I can't cover everything that's asked but I will take into account popular requests for inclusion in future articles.