Three Easy Provisional Cast Ons

Sometimes you don’t want to start a piece of knitting at the top or bottom edge. For example, you may want to make an afghan or rectangular shawl that you will be putting an edging around, or you may want to make a sweater, mittens, or socks, but you don’t know if you have enough yarn, so you start with the essentials—the body and sleeves of the sweater, the hands of the mittens, the feet of the socks—and leave the button bands, collars, cuffs, and thumbs for a matching yarn. When this is the case, you don’t want a real, definite cast on. What you want is a provisional cast on: a cast on that lets you have live stitches to knit from along the starting edge.

There are a number of ways to cast on provisionally. This post covers 3 easy methods that are technically not provisional cast ons, but when the project is finished, no one will ever know.

Leave a needle in the work

This method doesn’t necessarily produce a row of live stitches, but it does help you find stitches to work with, and it is definitely the easiest of the three described in this post as well as my favorite at this time.

It requires the use of a very thin needle, a needle that is 2 or 3 cm in diameter. Even if you have no intention of ever knitting with such an artifact, including one in your kit is a good idea as such needles are great for lots of things, lifelines being the most practical.

1. Hold your project needle and your skinny needle together as if they were a single needle; then cast on in the usual way. Hold them in your right hand for the simple and long-tail cast on, or hold them in your left hand for most other cast ons. When you finish, you have a row of stitches with two needles inside.
2. Place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle so the needle doesn’t accidentally slip out of the work.
3. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project needle as you ordinarily would.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, you can either knit or graft directly from the skinny needle or knit a preliminary row with the skinny needle in the left hand and the project needle in the right.

Cast on with Scrap Yarn

This seemed the least complicated method when I decided to learn a provisional cast on. It takes some practice, but it works.

It requires the use of a piece of scrap yarn that is smooth, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord. Its texture should be different from the project yarn so you can easily tell the two apart by touch, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about a foot long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 3 feet long.

1. Cast on with the scrap yarn in the usual way. The crochet cast on is definitely the best method; just remember to put a pin in the last cast on stitch. The cable cast on is probably the second best method. If you prefer the long-tail cast on, tie the scrap yarn to the project yarn, lay the project yarn over your index finger and the scrap yarn over your thumb, then proceed as usual.
2. Work the first and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
3. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. Start with the last stitch you cast on. If you used the crochet cast on, simply pull the pin out of the last cast-on stitch, and tug gently on the tail. If you used another cast on, pull the scrap yarn out of the work, using your fingers or a knitting needle.
4. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 2.

Give Yourself a False Start

When I tried this method, I found it to be easier than the previous one. It gave me a chance to settle into my gauge, but when I was anxious to get a project going, the first few rows called for in this method felt like a big waist of time.

It requires two types of yarn in addition to the project yarn.
• The starter yarn can be anything though it helps to choose a yarn of a similar gauge to the project yarn. You’ll be working 3 or 4 rows with it, so you need a not so small amount.
• The scrap yarn is a piece of smooth yarn, like dishcloth cotton, bamboo, modal, or nylon cord, and it should be a little over 3 times longer than the cast-on edge, so if the cast-on edge will be about 30 cm long, then you need a piece of scrap yarn that is a little over 90 cm.
I use yarns with different textures so I can easily tell the starter yarn, scrap yarn, and project yarn apart by touch.

1. With the starter yarn, cast on the correct number of stitches, and work 3 or 4 rows. You can work in pattern just to give your hands a chance to learn it, or you can do some basic stockinet or garter.
2. With the scrap yarn, knit one row.
3. Work the next and subsequent rows with the project yarn. If you have a skinny needle, hold it together with the project needle to work the first row; place rubber bands around the tips of the skinny needle; and continue working with the project needle only.
4. When you finish your project and are ready for live stitches at the cast-on edge, pull the scrap yarn out of the work. You can start at either end. While you can use your fingers to remove the scrap yarn, picking and lifting it with a knitting needle works very well.
5. As you pull the scrap yarn out of the work, put the live stitches onto a needle. Obviously, this step is not necessary if you inserted a skinny needle into the work in Step 3.

The next few posts will cover other provisional cast ons, which actually do produce a row of live stitches. The methods described in this ost, however, work and are especially easy to do.

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