A garter-tab cast-on sounds like a fancy method for casting on knitting but it isn't, not exactly. The center of attention is on the first part, garter tab, but you can do pretty much any cast-on method to do it. So what exactly is it and how to do it? Let's find out.
If you've ever blocked a piece of knitting done in garter stitch, you know what happens. It stretches beyond belief vertically! The garter-tab method takes advantage of this. It is used to tackle a common problem in top-down crescent-shaped, triangular, or semicircular shawls: the cast-on edge is so tight it causes the shawl to pucker in blocking. A long garter tab can also be used to prevent a "camel hump" or bulge that's typical for crescent-shaped shawls.
A garter tab is a narrow piece of knitting in — you guessed it — garter stitch that's usually only 3 stitches wide but several rows long. In the final shawl the garter tab is sideways relative to the body of the shawl. When the edges of the shawl are worked in three-stitch wide garter-stitch strips, the cast-on blends seamlessly into the rest of the shawl.
And here's how you do it.
1. Cast on 3 stitches (provisionally)
To start a garter tab, cast on 3 stitches. If you want a perfectly seamless top edge to the shawl, use a provisional cast-on method. I prefer the long-tail method using a piece of scrap yarn because I don't want a needle dangling on the other end of my knitting.
There's a cheater way, too! If you find a provisional cast-on too fiddly, use any cast-on method you want.
2. Work in garter stitch to create a long strip
Work back and forth in garter stitch for an even number of rows until you've created a long strip. I usually like to do a 14-row garter tab which creates 7 garter ridges on both sides of the work.
3. Place stitches from the cast-on edge onto a spare needle
The provisional cast-on comes into play now. If you used a scrap yarn method (like I did) unravel the cast-on edge and place those 3 stitches onto a spare needle. If they are already on a separate needle (or cable), you can skip this step. Either way, you now have live stitches on both ends of the work.
Cheater method: If you used a regular (that is, non-provisional) cast-on, read on.
4. Rotate the work 90 degrees clockwise
First, knit the 3 stitches of the garter tab again and do a yarnover. Then rotate the garter tab 90 degrees clockwise so that the long edge of the strip is on top. The stitches you just worked are on the right, the stitches from the cast-on edge on the left.
The garter ridges you created are now vertical. In the next step you will be picking up stitches from the edge the crochet hook is pointing to.
5. Pick up stitches from the long edge
Next, pick up and knit one stitch from each garter ridge along the long edge of the tab. Here I've picked up 7 stitches. The 3 stitches from the provisional cast-on edge (on the left) are still unworked.
6. Work stitches from the (provisional) cast-on edge
Do another yarnover and then knit the 3 stitches from the spare needle.
Cheater method: If you used a regular cast-on method instead, you can pick up and knit 3 stitches from the cast-on edge. This won't be entirely seamless since it leaves a small ridge on the wrong side of the work. No one (but you) will be able to tell the difference, though.
7. Continue with the body of the shawl
And that's the garter tab done! You can now start working on the body of the shawl. Here I've knit the beginning of a triangular shawl in which increases are placed at the edges and in the middle of the shawl. On each end of the row there are three-stitch wide garter-stitch edges that grow seamlessly from the garter tab in both directions.
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