Magic Cast On

The third provisional cast on of the series is Judy Becker’s magic cast on, which was described in the spring 2006 issue of Knitty. It’s the most seamless of the cast ons if you’re doing stockinet or garter, and it’s perfect for making closed tubes, like socks and purses; for projects that start in the middle, like scarves and afghans with ends that are mirror images of each other; or for the start of a top-down triangular shawl. . It’s also fairly stable, so unlike the figure-8 cast on, you can freely put lots of stitches on the needles. The original directions are pretty clear, but Steps 4 and 5 of Becker’s article, where the actual stitch is being described, require much rereading and experimentation, so here’s an alternate explanation of the way it works.

For this cast on, you’ll need two needles (circs or dpn’s) or maybe one long circ and some practice yarn. My instructions aren’t identical to Becker’s, but they’re very close. The biggest difference is that, in Step 2, she has the knitter hang the tail end of the yarn over the index finger (opposite from the long-tail cast on), while I’m satisfied with holding the yarn in the standard long-tail cast on way. I’ve tried both methods, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, so ….

1. Tie a slip knot around one of your needles, leaving a longish tail (about 12 inches or 30 cm).
2. Hold the yarn as if you were doing the long-tail cast on.
a. Your left hand is holding an imaginary glass of water.
b. Lay the yarn over the thumb and index finger of your left hand, with the tail end hanging from your thumb and the ball end hanging from your index finger.
c. Curl the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your left hand into the palm and tuck the hanging strands of yarn into them.
d. The yarn itself forms an inverted triangle. A horizontal strand goes from your thumb to your index finger. One diagonal goes from your thumb to your middle finger, and another diagonal goes from your index to your middle finger. The needles are resting on the horizontal line at the top of the inverted triangle. The one with the slip knot is farthest from you, but we’ll get into that in the next step.

As you continue reading the instructions, it helps to think of the clock: 9:00 is to your left; 12:00 is in front of you; 3:00 is to your right; and 6:00 is behind you.

3. Hold both needles in starting position.
a. The needles are in your right hand. They point left to 9:00, and the needles are lying side by side, like the planks of a floor or the seat of a rocking chair.
b. It’s helpful to put the thumb of your right hand on this floor, so you always remember which side is the top.
c. The slip knot is on the needle that is farthest from you. Call this Needle 2.
4. Twist the needles so they point away from you to 12:00.
5. Tip the needles so that Needle 2 is above Needle 1. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the left; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the left.
6. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left index finger slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
7. Twist the needles so they point toward you to 6:00.
8. Tip the needles so that Needle 1 is above Needle 2. Imagine they’re a rocking chair you’re tipping to the right; your thumb is no longer on top, but to the right.
9. Twist the needles back to 9:00. On your way, make sure the horizontal part of the triangle that is nearest your left thumb slides between the two needles. When you are all the way back at 9:00, tip the needles back to starting position, with the right thumb on top and Needle 2 behind Needle 1.
10. Repeat Steps 4 to 9 until you finish casting on all of your stitches, ending with Step 6. If you do things right, you should feel a ridge forming on the underside of the needles.
11. Twist the working yarn and the cast-on tail once.
12. On Needle 1, knit all stitches (k), and on Needle 2, knit all stitches through the back of the loop (ktbl).
13. After that, do as the spirit moves you.

Once you get the hang of this cast on, the movements become smaller and subtler, a flick of the right wrist as the needles swing back and forth catching the yarn on their way.

Instead of starting with a slip knot, you can just twist the yarn around Needle 2. This sometimes produces a tiny hole at the end farthest from the cast-on tail, so if I’m making socks, I often work a couple of rows back and forth and just pick up stitches at the ends.

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