Long-Tail Cast On

My favorite way to start a piece of knitting is the long-tail cast on. It produces a row of stitches on a nice sturdy base, which is both attractive and firm enough to keep its shape while I divide the work onto other needles. It’s one of those techniques that is easy and fluid once you get the hang of it, but hard to learn from books and online sources because the explanation is tough going. So … here’s one more attempt at putting the long tail cast on into words:

Some clarification:
A. These instructions assume you’re right handed.
B. This is called the “long tail cast on” because you need to start with a tail of yarn that is long enough to work all of your stitches, but not so long that yarn is being wasted or getting in the way when you’re ready to start knitting. Calculating the length of the tail is an art. The short, get-the-job-done version is to make the tail about 3.25 times the length of the first row, so if the first row is supposed to be 10 inches long, the tail should be about 32.5 inches. This is a little on the generous side, but it’s easier to weave and snip than to have to start over when the yarn runs out. For this example, use a tail that is 1 ft or 30 cm long. This means the slip knot in Step 1 is a foot or 30 cm from the end.
C. Once you feel comfortable with this cast on, you can get started simply by twisting the yarn around the needle instead of making a slip knot.

1. Tie a slip knot around the needle, and hold the needle in your right hand. For this cast on, there is only one needle, and it is always in your right hand.
2. Position your left hand as if you were holding a glass of water. The thumb and index finger form an open circle, and the side of your hand (your pinky) is what would rest on a table if one were in front of you.
3. Lay the yarn over your thumb and index finger. The ball end goes over your index finger. The tail goes over your thumb. The needle is pointing left and resting on the side of your hand, roughly where the thumb and index finger meet.
4. Curl the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your left hand into the palm, tucking the two hanging strands of yarn into them. When you do, the yarn in your left hand forms a down-pointing triangle. There’s a horizontal line between your thumb and index finger, a diagonal line from index to middle finger, and another diagonal line from thumb to middle finger. The needle is on top of the horizontal line, resting both on the yarn and on the side of your left hand. Use the curled fingers to put a little tension on the yarn as you work the remaining steps.
5. Rotate the needle so that it is pointing at you. It passes over the horizontal line, so the triangle is still fairly in tact.
6. Bring the tip of the needle down, stopping when it touches the fleshy part of your palm at the base of your thumb. The needle is between you and the yarn
7. Slide the tip of the needle up your thumb, stopping when the tip of the needle is on the tip of your thumb. The needle tip has slid behind the leg of the triangle that goes from thumb to middle finger. By the time the tip of the needle reaches the tip of the thumb, it is inside a loop that surrounds the thumb.
8. Describe a circle with the tip of the needle, moving it away from you and over the strand that is between the needle and your index finger, then down behind that strand, then toward you and under that strand, then back to the tip of your thumb.
9. Slide the tip of the needle down your thumb and back into the big loop of yarn surrounding it, stopping when the needle tip reaches the first bend in your thumb.
10. Pull your thumb out of the big loop, and in the same movement, use your thumb to catch and tug on the yarn that is between the needle and your middle finger. The gesture is like opening a pair of scissors to cut. This tug tightens the loop on the needle.
11. Move the needle back to the starting position, on top of the horizontal line of the inverted triangle, and repeat Steps 5 to 11.

As the cast-on becomes familiar, it softens into a series of curves, the needle tip arcing down and up, the thumb bending forward and stretching back, until the movements stop being separate and merge into one graceful sweep.

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