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How to Cast On in Knitting for Beginners

When you’re starting a new knitting project, the first step is to “cast on.” Casting on refers to creating the first loops on the needle. There are many different ways to cast on, and as a beginner, you might find it a bit overwhelming to learn.

If that’s you, don’t worry! This tutorial will teach you three beginner-friendly cast-on techniques: the Long Tail Cast On, the Knitted Cast On, and the Backwards Loop Cast On. We’ll demonstrate the techniques with video and step-by-step photos, and give you some tips and tricks to make the process easier.

With a little practice, you’ll be able to master any of these methods. Grab your yarn, and let’s get started. 

the front side of the completed long tail cast on in blue yarn and wood knitting needle
The Long-Tail Cast On

What is a Cast On?

In knitting, “casting on” is the process of creating the initial loops of yarn on your needle. That first row of loops is called the “cast on.” In written patterns, you might see the term abbreviated as “CO”.

There are many ways to cast on, and each cast on technique creates a slightly different starting edge for your project. Some cast ons are firm and sturdy, while others are flexible and stretchy.

Types of Cast Ons

Since there are so many types of cast ons, it’s helpful to group them into categories, or families.

  • Two-strand cast ons (or long-tail cast ons) require two strands of yarn: the working yarn (the strand coming from the ball) and the tail end of the yarn. Long-tail cast ons are used to start new projects.
  • One-strand cast ons (or short-tail cast ons) require only one strand of yarn. You can use one-strand cast ons to start new projects, and add more stitches in the middle of a project.

Common Cast On Methods

The three beginner cast on methods we’ll talk about in this article are:

  • The Long Tail Cast On
  • The Knitted Cast On
  • The Backwards Loop Cast On (or Single Cast On)

Each of these methods is reasonably easy to learn, so we recommend trying all three to see which one you prefer.

Other cast on methods include the Cable Cast On, the Tubular Cast On, the Provisional Cast On, the Picot Cast On, Judy’s Magic Cast On, and more. (Don’t worry about these just yet!)

Which cast on should you choose?

If you only have time to learn one cast on, I recommend learning the Long-Tail Cast On. It’s incredibly versatile and will work for almost all of your knitting projects.

Or, if your knitting pattern call for a specific cast on by name, just use that one!

Supplies You’ll Need

You don’t need anything special to learn how to cast on – just your standard knitting materials.

  • Knitting needles. I recommend wood or bamboo needles for beginners, since they have more “grip” than slick metal needles. You can use straight needles or circular needles – but I find it’s easier to learn on straight needles.
  • Yarn. Pick a yarn weight that corresponds to the knitting needles you’ve chosen. I recommend a smooth, light-colored yarn in a medium or bulky weight for beginners. You can use wool yarn or acrylic yarn – either fiber content is fine. Just avoid anything too slippery or lumpy.

You’ll also want some scissors, and perhaps a few stitch markers.

Long-Tail Cast On Instructions

The first technique we’ll demonstrate is the Long-Tail Cast On.

The Long-Tail Cast-On is a popular two-strand cast on, and the one that we recommend for beginners. It produces a strong, elastic edge that is perfect for projects that require a bit of stretch (like socks or hats).

The Long-Tail Cast On is worked on one needle with two strands of yarn: the working yarn (the strand of yarn attached to the ball), and the tail end of yarn. (This is the “long tail” that gives the cast on its name.) 

Note: This method requires that you estimate the amount of yarn you’ll need for the “long tail” before you begin casting on. It’s better to have more yarn than you need. If you run out of yarn, you’ll have to undo your work, measure out a longer tail, and start again.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
slip knot on the needle, with both strands of yarn in the left hand

Step 1: Measure out the yarn tail, and tie a slip knot.

To make the Long Tail Cast On, measure out a long length of yarn. Pull out a length of yarn that’s 3 to 4 times as long as the width of your project. For example, if you’ll be making an 8-inch wide scarf, measure out a 24 to 32-inch length of yarn.

Then, tie a slip knot. Place the slip knot on the needle with the yarn tail facing toward you, and the working yarn facing away from you. Pick up the needle and hold it in your right hand. Use your right index finger to hold the slip knot in place.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
Insert your thumb and index finger between the two strands of yarn.

Step 2: Holding the Yarn

Grasp both strands of yarn with the last three fingers of your left hand. Insert your thumb and index finger between the two strands of yarn, and spread them apart. Tilt your hand back slightly to create a “Y” or “slingshot” shape.

Your left palm will be facing up, with a loop of yarn around your left thumb and a loop of yarn around your left index finger. Continue holding the two strands of yarn with the other fingers on the left hand.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn in the slingshot position for the long tail cast on
Tilt your hand back slightly to create a “Y” or “slingshot” shape.

Step 3: Make the First Cast On Stitch

Let’s orient ourselves to the yarn loops on the thumb and index finger. You have one loop on the thumb, with an outer and inner strand. And you have one loop on the index finger, with an inner and outer strand.

  1. Use the right index finger to hold the slip knot in place on the knitting needle.
  2. Swing the needle down and towards you. Swing the tip of the needle under the outside strand on the thumb, and up through the center of the thumb loop.
  3. Swing the needle up and over the inside strand on the index finger. Swing the needle tip down through the center of the index finger loop, catching the inside strand.
  4. Now, pivot the needle sideways over the inside stand on the thumb, and down through the center of the thumb loop.
  5. Then, release the loop from your thumb. Gently tug on the yarn tails to snug up the loop on the hook. You’ve just cast on a stitch – yay!
  6. Repeat these steps to cast on more stitches. Rewrap the yarn around your thumb and index finger to make the “slingshot” shape. Now, you’re ready to make the next cast on stitch.

Repeat these steps to cast on as many stitches as you need for your pattern. (Remember, the slip knot counts as a stitch.)

Yay, you did it! You’ve learned how to cast on knitting stitches with the long tail cast on method.

This cast-on method can take a bit of practice to get used to. But once it “clicks” for you, it’ll be your go-to method for starting new knitting projects.

the front side of the completed long tail cast on in blue yarn and wood knitting needle
Completed long-tail cast on.

Long-Tail Cast On (Thumb Method)

If the Long Tail Cast On (Slingshot Method) doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to try the alternative Thumb Method. The Thumb method creates the exact same cast-on edge – it’s just another way to hold your hands. Maybe you’ll like it better! Here’s a tutorial on how to do the Long Tail Cast On (Thumb Method).

Knitted Cast On Instructions

Our second method is called the Knitted Cast On (or Knit Cast On). It’s a simple, straightforward cast on method that creates a slightly stretchy edge.

The Knitted Cast On is worked with one strand of yarn with two needles. In fact, the Knitted Cast On is very similar to the process of knitting a knit stitch. So if you already know how to knit, this cast on method will seem like a piece of cake.

And unlike the Long Tail Cast On, you don’t have to guess how much yarn you need before you start.

blue yarn and wooden knitting needle show how to do the knitted cast on
a slip knot on the needle

Setup: Make a slip knot.

Measure out a 6-inch yarn tail to weave in later, and tie a slip knot. Place the slip knot on the needle. Hold the needle with the slip knot in your left hand. Hold the empty needle in your right hand.

blue yarn and wooden knitting needle show how to start the knitted cast on
Insert the right needle as if to knit, and make the first stitch.

Step 1: Make the first stitch.

Insert the right needle into the slip knot from left to right, as if to knit. Wrap the working yarn counterclockwise around the tip of the right-hand needle. Then, use the tip of the right-hand needle to pull the yarn through the slip knot.

blue yarn and wooden knitting needle show how to do the knitted cast on
Transfer the new stitch back onto the left-hand needle, from tip to tip.

Step 2: Place the stitch back on the left needle.

Do not slide the stitch off the needle. Instead, draw the yarn out toward you, making a slightly larger loop. Transfer this loop back onto the left-hand needle, from tip to tip. You can tug on the yarn tail to tighten up this stitch if you need to. This completes the first cast-on stitch.

blue yarn and wooden knitting needle showin the first knitted cast on stitch
One knitted cast on stitch complete.

Step 3. Repeat

Repeat these steps until you have cast on the required number of stitches. Each time, insert the empty right-hand needle into the newly cast on stitch, from left to right, as if to knit.

Note: You don’t need to turn your work at the end of the Knitted Cast On. Your stitches will already be in position to work the first row of your pattern.

knitted cast on stitches in blue yarn on a wooden knitting needle
Knitted cast on

The Backwards Loop Cast On

And for our third beginner cast on method, let’s talk about the Backwards Loop Cast On.

The Backwards Loop cast on is one of the simplest cast-on methods out there. It’s most commonly used for casting on new stitches in the middle of a project (like for an underarm). But you can also use it to cast on your first stitches at the beginning of a project.

a slip knot to start the backwards loop cast on in blue yarn and a brown wooden knitting needle
Slip knot on the needle, with the working yarn in the left hand.

Setup: Make a slip knot.

Tie a slip knot, leaving a 6-inch yarn tail to weave in later. Place the slip knot on the needle. (The slip knot will count as your first stitch.)

Hold the needle with the slip knot in your right hand. Use the index finger of the right hand to hold the slip knot in place. You can use the fingers of the right hand to keep the yarn tail out of the way.

a loop or yarn behind the thumb for the backwards loop cast on in blue yarn and a brown wooden knitting needle
Make a loop around the back of the thumb.

Step 1: Holding the working yarn.

Hold the working yarn (aka the strand of yarn leading to the ball) with the fingers of your left hand. Wrap the working yarn around the back of the left thumb. The yarn attached to the needle should be behind the thumb, with the yarn attached to the ball in front.

inserting the needle through the thumb loop during the backwards loop cast on in blue yarn and a brown wooden knitting needle
Bring the tip of the needle up through the loop of yarn on your thumb.

Step 2: Insert the Needle Through the Thumb Loop.

Swing the tip of the needle down and toward you. Then bring the tip of the needle up through the loop of yarn on your thumb. Release the loop of yarn from your thumb, transferring it to the needle. Pull down slightly on the working yarn to snug up the loop on the needle. This completes the first cast-on stitch.

releasing the yarn from the thumb for the backwards loop cast on in blue yarn and a brown wooden knitting needle
Release the loop of yarn from your thumb, transferring it to the needle.

Step 3: Repeat.

Repeat this step until you have cast on the required number of stitches.

Tips for Casting On

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Try not to cast on too tightly, or your stitches will be hard to work into later. If you’re having trouble, try using a knitting needle that’s one or two sizes larger than the needle you’ll be using for the rest of your project. Or, try casting on with two needles held together.
  • On the flip side, don’t cast on too loosely. Loose cast ons can look uneven, or like they have small holes in them.
  • Make sure that your cast on stitches sit on the shaft of the needle, not just on the tapered tip. Otherwise, the cast on stitches may be too tight, and hard to work into later.

More Knitting Tutorials

After you learn how to cast on, you may be interested in the rest of our Beginner Knitting series. Here are some knitting tutorials you might want to check out next.

the front side of the completed long tail cast on in blue yarn and wood knitting needle

How to Cast On in Knitting

Yield: 1
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

There are many ways to cast on in knitting, each with its own pros and cons. If you only have time to learn one knit cast on, we recommend the long-tail cast on. This cast-on technique creates a strong yet elastic edge that's perfect for many different types of knitting projects.

Materials

  • Yarn

Tools

  • Knitting Needles

Instructions

  1. Setup. To make the Long Tail Cast On, measure out a long length of yarn. Pull out a length of yarn that’s 3 to 4 times as long as the width of your project. Then, tie a slip knot. Place the slip knot on the needle with the yarn tail facing toward you, and the working yarn facing away from you. wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
  2. Holding the Yarn. Grasp both strands of yarn with the last three fingers of your left hand. Insert your thumb and index finger between the two strands of yarn, and spread them apart. wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
  3. Creat the "slingshot" shape. Tilt your hand back slightly to create a “Y” or “slingshot” shape. Your left palm will be facing up, with a loop of yarn around your left thumb and a loop of yarn around your left index finger. wooden knitting needles and blue yarn in the slingshot position for the long tail cast on
  4. Start the first stitch. Swing the needle down and towards you. Swing the tip of the needle under the outside strand on the thumb, and up through the center of the thumb loop. wooden knitting needle under the loop of yarn to make the first step of the long tail cast on
  5. Swing the needle up and over the inside strand on the index finger. Swing the needle tip down through the center of the index finger loop, catching the inside strand. wooden knitting needle under the finger loop of yarn to make the second step of the long tail cast on
  6. Now, pivot the needle sideways over the inside stand on the thumb, and down through the center of the thumb loop. wooden knitting needle through the thumb loop of yarn to make the third step of the long tail cast on
  7. Then, release the loop from your thumb. Gently tug on the yarn tails to snug up the loop on the hook. sliding the blue yarn off of the finger to tighten the cast on stitch on the wooden knitting needle
  8. Repeat these steps to cast on more stitches. the front side of the completed long tail cast on in blue yarn and wood knitting needle

Notes

These instructions describe the long-tail cast on, which is a popular and versatile cast-on that works for most knitting projects. For two more cast-on techniques, check out the instructions in the post above.

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pinterest image for how to cast on in knitting, with the background of a long-tail cast on

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