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How to cast on knitting

Create your first row of stitches on the needle. We show you a simple cast-on technique called the knit-on method, and more.

Cast on knitting, step 4

The first technique you need to learn in knitting is how to cast on. There are many different ways to cast on knitting, but we’ll start by showing you an easy one called the knit-on method (or English method). You can use it to create a firm edge, and when adding stitches mid-row. We’ll also explain some other cast-on techniques you can try.

Here are the methods you’ll find in our guide on how to cast on knitting:

  1. Knit-on method
  2. Thumb method
  3. Cable cast-on method
  4. German twisted cast-on method
  5. Long tail cast on method

If you’re right-handed, the knit-on method will cast your stitches on to the left-hand needle. If you’re left-handed, you can either knit ‘right-handed’ and follow the instructions accordingly, or mirror them and cast your stitches on to the right-hand needle. To practise casting on, we recommend you use DK yarn (try King Cole Merino Blend DK – buy it from The Knitting Network) and a pair of 4mm needles (try Clover Takumi Bamboo needles – buy them from Minerva Crafts), and cast on 22 stitches.

When you cast on knitting, the stitches you create should be firm. If they’re too loose, the edge of your fabric will flare; too tight and the bottom of your fabric will pull in and pucker. If you find that your cast-on is tight, use the next largest needle size up, just for the cast-on. If it’s too loose, opt for a smaller needle size instead.

Don’t worry if your cast-on row looks uneven when you first try it. Practice makes perfect, so pull all the yarn off the needle and have another go. Once you know how to cast on knitting, you can get going with your first knitting patterns!

Easy beginner knitting patterns

When you’ve mastered how to cast on, you’re ready to start knitting! Begin your adventure with one of our quick-and-simple projects for newbies, including a knitted heart pattern, poppy knitting pattern, phone cover, egg cosies and garter stitch cowl.

phone cover knitting pattern main

How to cast on knitting: step-by-step guide

You can find step-by-step picture guides for how to cast on below, or check out our handy video!

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You Will Need

  • Yarn
  • Knitting needles

Knit-on (English) method

Step 1

Insert the needle

Cast on knitting, step 1

Make a slipknot. Insert the right-hand needle into the slipknot, as if to knit – insert the tip into the front of the stitch, from left to right.

Step 2

Wrap the yarn

Cast on knitting, step 2

Wrap the ball end of yarn anti-clockwise (from right to left) around the point of the right-hand needle.

Step 3

Pull the loop through

Cast on knitting step 3

Pull the loop of yarn through the slipknot with the right-hand needle. Slip this loop over the tip of the left-hand needle.

Step 4

Repeat!

Cast on knitting, step 4

Repeat steps 1-3, inserting the needle into the newest stitch, until you have the right number of stitches. Try 22 stitches to start with.

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How to cast on knitting: other cast-on methods

There are plenty of alternative ways to cast on knitting, so if you don’t get on with this one, try something else!

Thumb method

This is a very quick cast-on technique that is used to create a stretchy edge. It’s good for children’s clothes, as well as items with cuffs such as socks and hats.

1. Start with a slipknot

Cast on knitting, thumb method, step 1

Make a slipknot and place it on a needle, leaving a long tail. Try a length about three times the width of the project you want to make. Wrap the yarn around your thumb.

2. Create a cross

Cast on knitting, thumb method, step 2

Hold the tail in your left hand with your thumb sticking up. Make a circle anti-clockwise with your thumb. You should end up with a cross on the front of your thumb.

3. Wrap the yarn

Cast on knitting, thumb method, step 3

Push the needle tip up along the pad of your thumb so it passes through the loop. Wrap the yarn anti-clockwise (right to left) under the tip of the needle then dip the tip of the needle between the arms of the cross.

4. Tighten the stitch and repeat

Cast on knitting, thumb method, step 4

Slip your thumb out and pull to tighten the stitch on the needle. Continue in this way, sliding each stitch up so it sits comfortably next to the previous one. Keep going until you have the number of stitches you require.

Cable cast-on method

The cable cast-on is very similar to the knit-on method, but instead of inserting the right needle into the next stitch as if to knit it, you insert the needle between the first two stitches. This cast-on forms a relatively firm edge, and it’s very decorative. It’s not very elastic, so it’s better for adult garments and accessories than hats or children’s items where a bit more stretch is important. Find out how to cast on using the cable method below…

1. Make your first stitch

Cast on knitting, cable cast on, step 1

Make a slipknot. Insert right‐hand needle into the stitch as if to knit. Wrap the yarn around the point and pull through, slipping the stitch on to the left‐hand needle.

2. Insert the needle

Cast on knitting, cable cast on, step 2

Push the point of the right‐hand needle between the first and second stitches. Wrap the yarn anti‐clockwise around the point of the right‐hand needle.

3. Create the loop

Cast on knitting, cable cast on, step 3

Pull the loop out with the right‐hand needle, then slip it over the tip of the left‐hand needle. Repeat steps 2-3 until you have the number of stitches you require.

German twisted cast-on method

German twisted cast on

This strong but stretchy cast-on is perfect for the cuffs of socks and mittens, where you want a bit of snugness and a bit of give at the same time. The added twists that give this cast-on its name help it to spring back to shape when it’s stretched out. Follow our guide to learn the German twisted cast-on.

Long tail cast on method

The long tail cast on uses two strands of yarn, making stitches using the tail end of the yarn, together with the ball end of yarn. You have to leave a very long tail of yarn to do this with, depending on how many stitches are required – you don’t want to run out! When you finish casting on and start knitting your first row, check that you’re using the ball end and not the tail end, as it can be easy to get them confused.

The long tail cast on method has a good amount of stretch built in, so will work well for items like socks and hats. It’s also ideal for garments that need stretchy necklines, cuffs and hems so you can easily get them on and off, such as children’s jumpers. Here’s how to cast on using this technique:

1. Estimate the length of the tail

Cast on knitting, long tail cast on, step 1

Make a slipknot and place it on a needle, leaving a long tail. The length of the tail you need will depend on the number of stitches you wish to cast on. A good rule of thumb is to leave a tail with a length of about three times the width of the project. For example, for a hat with a 51cm (20in) circumference, you’d leave a tail of 153cm (60in).

2. Prepare the yarn

Cast on knitting, long tail cast on, step 2

Make a curve with the thumb and index finger of your left hand and place the tail of the yarn over your thumb. Hold it in place to your palm with your ring and little fingers. The working yarn (the bit on the ball side of the slipknot) should drape over your left index finger and then pass between it and your middle fingers so you can hold it tight.

3. Create the loop

Cast on knitting, long tail cast on, step 3

Bring the tip of the needle towards you. You’ll see a loop form around your thumb. Place the needle tip through the loop so that the tip of the needle points towards the top of your thumb.

4. Tighten the stitch

Cast on knitting, long tail cast on, step 4

Put your needle tip over the top of the working yarn on your left index finger. Draw the working yarn through the loop. Slip your thumb out of the loop and pull to tighten. Repeat from step 2.

Loop cast ons

There are also various methods of loop cast-on that you can use, including the finger loop cast-on, alternating loop cast-on and the double twist loop cast-on. These can create firm or stretchy edges, which are helpful for different types of projects.

Our advice for beginners learning how to cast on knitting is to stick with one method unless a pattern instructs you to use a specific technique, such as casting on for double knitting. By the time you reach that stage, you’ll be so confident with your knitting that you’ll easily be able to learn a new cast-on.

Want to learn more knitting techniques? Check out our complete guide to knitting for beginners, and find a kit to get you started in our round-up of knitting kits for beginners. We also have more expert tips in our how to knit section, or why not check out our top ten knitting books?