My Way: Provisional Cast-on

I have decided that there has got to be a better way to accomplish a desired pattern than simply doing as the designer tells me to! There are about 15 different cast-ons listed on Wikipedia (Casting on (knitting))! Although each has its pros and cons, and each is best suited to a different effect, I don’t have to master them all, just the ones that pertain to my own projects. Since I customize designs to fit my clients’ body types and fashion styles, I have every right to customize patterns and techniques to fit my own knitting style. With that in mind, I have decided to create my own menu of techniques, from which I will choose the most effective of My Ways to create the desired garment, both to save time and to save myself some aggravation.

I once saw a billboard that described my working style particularly well. It said: “I’m not lazy. I’m a convenience enthusiast!” I am going to figure out the method that takes the fewest steps, for the least amount of expenditure (either time or money), and that gives the most pleasurable result. If a method annoys me in any one of these three areas, I will not use it!

After working on a lace cowl where the pattern called for a provisional cast-on and a Kitchener graft, and spending one full hour pulling the crocheted scrap yarn off the live stitches (to which it had partially felted), followed by two more hours studying the Kitchener’s stitch in my reference book and following the illustrations (did I mention the cowl was 81 stitches wide? That’s the four steps of the Kitchener for both sets of 81 stitches = OMG!!!), I vowed never to paint myself into that particular corner again. I guess I’m just a rebel that way!

In the case of this cowl, the lace at both ends of the fabric needed the softness and invisibility of a provisional cast-on and grafting; on that point the designer and I agree. But the pattern specified a crocheted cast-on, and I have picked my last felted scrap! So here’s what I have in mind for the next such project.

My Provisional Cast-On

Using the Backward Loop method, cast on the number of stitches specified by the pattern. Start with a slipknot on the needle and hold it with your right hand with the working yarn in your left. Make a gun with your left hand, holding the yarn in your palm and slip your thumb from back to front under the yarn. Move the point of the needle from front to back under the strand lying over your thumb and pull to the right. Drop the thumb and pull the loop tighter, holding it secure with your right forefinger. Repeat until you have the requisite number of loops on the needle.

Knit into the front and back of each stitch along the needle, ending up with twice the number of needed stitches. This should be designated as Row 0. Turn the needle and, securing the stitches with the free fingers of your left hand, take up two separate, fresh needles of the same size in your right hand together, with points aligned and facing the point of the original needle in your left hand. One needle should be the soon-to-be-working needle and the other should be an interchangeable needle tip on a cable with a cap on the other end.

Slip the last knitted stitch onto one needle, then slip the previous stitch onto the other needle, and repeat backward to the beginning of the original needle until it is empty and each of the other needles has the exact same number of stitches. Remove the needle tip from the cable and replace it with another end cap. These stitches will be provisional. Use the other needle to begin the pattern and knit up (do not knit the first pattern row too tightly). Be careful to count the next row as Row 1 of your pattern.

When you are ready, replace the end caps on the cable with needle tips and you are immediately and automatically ready to knit down or Kitchener (you’ll only need one tip for grafting, with one cap on the other end as security) as needed.

Comparison: My Way vs. the Other Way

With the crocheted cast-on, I had to crochet, with a hook and a length of scrap yarn, a chain of 81 + 4 links (step 1), pick up stitches in each purl bump of the chain with the working yarn onto my knitting needle (step 2), then, after knitting the last pattern row, undo the chain while catching the released live stitches with a second knitting needle (step 3), and finally, with a blunt-tipped yarn needle and “enough” of a tail end of the working yarn, Kitchener the two sets of stitches together (step 4). With My Way, I cast-on (step 1) with a knitting needle, double the stitches in a knitting manner (step 2) with the same circular needle, slip stitches to the working needle and a circ cable with only one tip (step 3), and replace that tip with a cap. I won’t count exchanging the caps and tips as a whole step, so the grafting is step 4.

With My Way, the number of steps is equal; I’d use one fewer type (though the same total number) of needles; only knitting skills instead of both knitting and crochet; and absolutely no scrap yarn to felt with my working yarn. After all the hard work of the fabric body, just a few twists on the end of one cable and I will be ready to Kitchener. That would have saved me a whole hour on my cowl! In my mathematics of convenience, that adds up to a win for My Way!

From here on…

Every time a pattern says “crochet a provisional cast-on” I’m simply going to dig out a spare interchangeable circ and perhaps a couple dpns of the proper size and say an inward “Hah!” of triumph!