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6+1 Provisional Cast-on Methods [Tutorial]



Today on the tutorial series we're going to learn a few methods for provisionally casting on stitches in knitting. But first, let's define...


What Is Provisional Cast-on?

Provisional cast-ons are a way to create a temporary cast-on edge for your project, with the intention of knitting seamlessly in the opposite direction later. By using a provisional cast-on method you're able to create a smooth, invisible join where the two directions of fabric meet. With a regular cast on you'd have to pick up stitches which results in a seam on the wrong side and a visible line on the right side of the work.


Provisional cast-on methods can be used in most cases in which you don't want the change of direction to be visible, such as in picking up stitches for the neckband of a sweater or in the garter-tab cast-on for a shawl. Provisional cast-on can also be used to create symmetrical pieces that are started in the middle. A pattern that uses this technique in an ingenious way is Lush by tincanknits. The lace panel on the yoke is knit sideways from the center out, with no discernible line in the middle.


There are a myriad of ways to do a provisional cast-on — let's take a look at some of the most common ones.



1. Crochet-Chain Provisional Cast-on

This is the cast-on method I looked up when I had to do a provisional cast-on for the first time. You start by crocheting a long chain of chain stitches, then picking up the bottom loops of the chains onto a knitting needle. When it's time to unravel the provisional cast on, it just zips open — provided you're unraveling it from the right end of the chain.


Pros

  • quick and easy to do — if you know how to crochet a chain

  • quick and easy to unravel


Cons

  • need crochet hook and waste yarn

  • need to pick up stitches



2. Crochet Provisional Cast-on: One-Step Method

This is an improved version on the crochet-chain method: instead of crocheting a chain of stitches you create the stitches directly onto a knitting needle! This saves the time of having to pick up stitches first — you can just join the working yarn and start knitting.


Pros

  • no picking up stitches

  • still quick and easy to unravel


Cons

  • need crochet hook and waste yarn

  • a little finicky to work at first — but by no means difficult



3. Long-tail Provisional Cast-on

This is the provisional cast-on technique I use the most, mainly because I'm too lazy to look up instructions for the other methods. (I really do need to branch out more.) If you know how to do the two-strand long-tail cast-on (that's a mouthful), you're all set! This method is exactly the same, only you unravel the bottom yarn when it's time to knit in the other direction.


And that's where the drawbacks of the long-tail provisional come in: the cast-on edge doesn't unravel very easily. In fact, you have to unpick every stitch — one at a time. That's why I'd recommend using a slick and smooth yarn (such as cotton) for the waste yarn and NOT use this method if you have to cast on a lot of stitches.


Pros

  • just like two-strand long-tail cast-on

  • no need for crochet hook


Cons

  • doesn't unravel very easily

  • not ideal for casting on lots of stitches

  • need smooth, non-grabby waste yarn



4. Invisible Provisional Cast-on a.k.a. Looped Cast-on

This method is ideal when you need to cast on a large number of stitches provisionally. It is much easier and faster to unravel than the long-tail provisional cast-on. The drawback is, though, that you can only cast on an even number of stitches. And because of the way the yarn is looped around the needle, every other stitch on the cast-on edge is oriented in the wrong direction. Of course you can easily fix this when you pick up the stitches but it's an extra step in the process.


Pros

  • easy to unravel


Cons

  • takes a bit of practice to learn

  • can only cast on an even number of stitches

  • need to re-orient stitches after picking up

  • need waste yarn



You can also use the looped method to cast on stitches directly onto a spare circular needle or cable. This eliminates the step of having to unravel the cast-on edge to pick up stitches — they're already on a needle! You do need a very flexible cable for this, though.



5. Judy's Magic Cast-on

If you're a fan of toe-up socks (like me!), you might be familiar with Judy's Magic Cast-on. The same method can also be used to cast on stitches provisionally. Instead of casting on stitches on both tips of one circular needle, you need two needles, one for each direction of knitting. You also need two balls of yarn, joined together either with a slipknot or felted join.


Pros

  • easy to do

  • no picking up stitches

  • no waste yarn


Cons

  • need two needles

  • need two yarns or two balls of yarn



6. Winding Cast-on

What if you're on, say, a car trip, when you suddenly realize you have to do a provisional cast-on... and you have neither a crochet hook nor waste yarn with you? The winding cast-on can be done without either — you just need a needle and the working yarn.


The video above shows the winding cast-on used for a garter-tab cast-on for a shawl. If you're working on a bigger project and won't get to the provisionally cast-on stitches until much later, you do need an extra cable, circular needle, or a stitch holder onto which to transfer the stitches.


Pros

  • very easy to do

  • no picking up stitches

  • no crochet hook, no waste yarn


Cons

  • need two needles or a stitch holder

  • can be a little unstable to knit into



And there we have it! Have you done a project where you needed to do a provisional cast-on? Which if these methods is your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

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Susanna Winter is a knitwear designer, creating timeless and elegant pieces with clean lines. She has been knitting for over 20 years, knit blogging since 2007, and designing knitting patterns professionally since 2016.

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