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How to Do the Long Tail Cast On in Knitting

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The Long Tail Cast On is one of the most popular and versatile cast-on methods in knitting. It’s simple to learn, quick to do, and produces a beautiful, slightly stretchy cast-on edge.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the Long Tail Cast On method, from materials and preparation to step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting. Keep reading to learn more and watch the video!

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn in the slingshot position for the long tail cast on

The Long Tail Cast-On Method

The Long Tail Cast On is one the most popular knitting cast ons. In fact, it’s one of the first cast-on techniques I tried after moving on from the knitted cast-on I learned as a brand-new beginner.

And even now, it’s still my go-to cast-on for most knitting projects, especially for patterns that don’t specify any particular cast-on. I love it because it’s quick, easy to work, and creates a neat, slightly stretchy edge.

What is the Long Tail method?

The Long Tail Cast On is a two-strand cast-on. That means it’s worked on one needle with two strands of yarn: the working yarn (aka the strand of yarn coming from the yarn ball) and the tail end of the yarn.

Structurally, it’s identical to a backward loop cast on, plus a row of knitting. But the Long Tail Cast On is much easier to work, and less likely to stretch out as you knit into it.

What are the advantages of the Long Tail Cast On?

Knitters love the Long Tail cast-on due to its versatility, ease, and polished look.

  • Neat and tidy: The Long Tail cast-on creates a smooth edge that’s very similar in appearance to the classic bind-off edge. If you want your cast-on to match your bind-off, the Long Tail cast-on is a good choice.
  • Easy and quick: The Long Tail cast-on is especially great to use when casting on a large number of stitches, since it’s much faster than other methods, like the cable cast-on.
  • Nice and Elastic: The Long Tail creates a moderately stretchy edge. It’s the closest thing to an all-purpose cast-on, and works for a wide variety of projects.

Two Ways to Long Tail Cast On

Before we get started, I should mention that there are two ways to position your hands/yarn when making the Long Tail Cast On. If you see another knitter demonstrate the Long Tail in a slightly different way, this is why.

  • Slingshot Method: In this method, you’ll position the yarn around your thumb and first finger in a way that resembles the shape of a slingshot.
  • Thumb Method: The Thumb method creates the exact same cast-on edge – it’s just another method of holding your hands.

I prefer to use the slingshot method, which I’ll demonstrate in this tutorial. I find it to be easier and faster than the thumb method, especially once you’ve practiced it a few times.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s how to work the Long Tail Cast On, step by step.

Materials

You will need a few basic materials for this cast-on.

Yarn: Select that that’s appropriate for your project. Or, if you’re just practicing, choose a smooth, light-colored, worsted-weight wool.

Knitting needles: I recommend wood or bamboo needles for beginners since they’re less slippery than metal needles. You can use straight needles or circular needles for the long tail cast-on. If you’re using circular needles, hold one end in your right hand, and let the other drop.

Knitting Terms to Know

And, here are some terms and definitions you’ll need to know for this tutorial.

Working yarn: This is the strand of yarn that comes from the ball of yarn. It is sometimes called the ball yarn.

Yarn tail: This is the “long tail” that gives this cast-on its name. It’s the strand of yarn that’s not attached to the ball.

Estimating the Length of the “Tail”

Alright, let’s begin.

To start the Long Tail Cast On, you’ll need to measure out a length of yarn to use for the “long tail .” And at this point, you may be wondering, “How long of a tail do I need to leave for my cast on?”

That’s a great question – because there’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a long cast on and finding you’ve run out of tail!

Here are two ways to estimate how long of a yarn tail you need.

  • The quickest way to estimate the length of the tail is to measure out 3.5 times the length of the final cast on edge. So, if your project edge will measure 8 inches, you should measure out 28 inches of yarn for the tail.
  • Another way to estimate the length of the tail is to wrap the yarn around your needle as many times as there are stitches in the cast on. So, if your pattern calls for 20 cast-on stitches, wrap the yarn around the needle 20 times. Mark that length of yarn, add 6 inches for weaving in later, and use it for your long tail.

Making a Slip Knot

After you’ve measured out the yarn tail, tie a slip knot. Place the slip knot on the needle so that the yarn tail strand is closest to you, and the working yarn strand is furthest from you.

Then, pick up the knitting needle and hold it in your right hand. Place your right index finger on top of the slip knot to hold it in place.

Note: Some knitters start their long-tail cast-on without a slip knot. Instead of a knot, they start with a simple twist of yarn.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
Hold both strands in the left hand.

Holding the Yarn

Now it’s time to pick up both strands of yarn in your left hand.

Grasp both strands of yarn with the last three fingers of your left hand. Then, insert your thumb and index finger between the two strands of yarn. Open your fingers to create an “L” shape, and spread the two strands of yarn apart.

Then, tilt your hand back slightly. This will create two loops of yarn, one around your thumb, and another around your index finger. The loops will look similar to a “slingshot” shape.

Let’s check in: At this point, your left palm should be facing up slightly. You’ll have one loop on the thumb, with an outer and inner strand. You’ll have another loop on the index finger, with an inner and outer strand. And, you should still be holding the two strands of yarn with the other fingers on the left hand.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn setting up the long tail cast on
Insert the thumb and finger between the strands.
wooden knitting needles and blue yarn in the slingshot position for the long tail cast on
Open the thumb and finger to create the two loops.

Making the First Stitch

Now it’s time to make the first cast-on stitch.

  1. There are four steps to make each stitch. The movements might seem complicated at first, but go slowly, and you’ll pick it up soon enough.
  2. Hold the needle in your right hand, securing the slip knot with your right index finger. Swing the needle down and towards you. Then, swing the tip of the needle up through the center of the thumb loop, catching the outer strand on the thumb loop.
  3. Now, swing the needle to the right, over and down through the center of the index finger loop, catching the inner strand on the index finger.
    Then, pivot the needle towards you. Move the needle over the inside stand on the thumb, and down through the center of the thumb loop.
  4. Finally, release the loop from your thumb. Use your thumb to tug on the tail yarn to snug up the loop on the hook. Then, return your hands to the starting “slingshot” position.

You’ve just completed one cast-on stitch. When you look at your needle, you should see two loops: the slip knot (which counts as a stitch) and the new cast-on stitch.

Now, you’re ready to make the next cast-on stitch. Repeat these steps to cast on all the stitches you need for your pattern.

Starting your First Row of Knitting

Now that your cast-on is complete, turn your work over so that the needle points to the right. Hold the needle with the cast-on stitches in your left hand, and the empty needle in your right hand. Now, you’re ready to knit!

Long Tail Cast-On Tips

Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind as your practice.

  • When counting your stitches, remember that the slip knot loop counts as a stitch.
  • Avoid over-tightening your stitches. You want them to be loose enough to glide over the needles.
  • If you find that your cast-on edge is too tight, try casting on around two needles held together, or a needle that is one or two sizes larger than the size called for in your pattern.
  • Try to keep an even spacing between each stitch in the cast on. Snug up the stitches next to each other before pulling on the yarn tail to tighten them.
  • Consider starting the pattern on the first wrong-side (WS) row. If you remember from earlier, we discussed that the long tail cast-on creates the first row of knit stitches as you work. This means that when you turn your work, you’ll see small purl bumps on the other side of your cast on. If you then start your pattern on the right-side (RS) row, you’ll see those small purl bumps on the front of your work. This may or may not bother you – so it’s ultimately your call. But, you may consider starting your pattern on the first WS row, so you don’t see them.
two wooden knitting needles showing how to do the long tail cast on around two needles
Use two needles held together for a looser cast-on.

Troubleshooting and FAQs

Run into trouble? This cast-on method can take a bit of practice to get used to. Please keep going even if your first attempts are not perfect. Once you build up the muscle memory and this technique “clicks” for you, it’ll be your go-to cast-on.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the long tail cast-on.

Help! The yarn tail looks like it’s becoming untwisted as I cast on.

Yes, this can happen. When doing a long tail cast-on, the plies of the yarn tail strand can look like they’re untwisting. What you can do to fix this is drop the two strands from time to time, and let them re-twist. Then you can pick the strands back up, make the “slingshot” shape again, and keep going with your cast-on.

What should I do if my long tail cast-on is too short?

Unfortunately, if you run out of yarn on your long tail, you’ll have to pull out your stitches and restart your cast on. Use one of the two methods in this article for estimating the length of your yarn tail, and try again.

And remember, it’s always better to overestimate and have too long of a yarn tail – because you can always trim it at the end!

If the pattern calls for a different cast-on, can I substitute the Long Tail cast-on instead?

Yes, you can substitute the Long Tail Cast On in many cases – as long as it’s well suited to your project.

Remember that the long-tail method is good for edges that need to be slightly stretchy. So if your edge needs to be really stretchy, you might want to try the German Twisted Cast On (aka Old Norwegian Cast On) or Jeny’s Stretchy Cast On.

wooden knitting needles and blue yarn in the slingshot position for the long tail cast on

How to Long Tail Cast On

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

The Long Tail 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 closest to you, and the working yarn furthest 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. Create the "slingshot" shape. Tilt your hand back slightly to create the “slingshot” shape. Your left palm will be facing up slightly, 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 and up through the center of the thumb loop, catching the outside strand on the thumb. wooden knitting needle under the loop of yarn to make the first step of the long tail cast on
  5. Swing the needle over and 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 toward you 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 tail 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

Take care not to cast on too tightly. If you find that your cast-on edge is too tight, try casting on over two needles held together, or one needle that's one or two sizes larger than the size called for in the pattern.

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