How to Cast On Stitches

The cast-on row is the foundation row of knitting. There are many ways to cast on stitches. One method may be faster or easier for you or may work better for certain techniques, such as buttonholes. Try each of the cast-on methods below, and start with the one that appeals to you most.

Note: The cast-on should be as elastic as the body of your knitting. If needed, the cast-on may be worked using a needle two or three sizes larger than your gauge needle. Knit the stitches onto the smaller needle as you knit the first row.

Making a Slipknot

The first stitch on your needle for most cast-on methods is a slipknot.

Step 1: Hold the yarn in your left hand about 8 inches from the end. With your right hand, make a circle with the yarn (fig. 1a). If it's helpful, hold the circle together between your index finger and thumb to prevent it from slipping away.

Fig. 1a. Making a slipknot 1
Making a Slipknot: Figure 1a

Step 2: With the working yarn behind the circle, insert the knitting needle through the circle from front to back and catch the working yarn, pulling it through the circle and forming a loop (fig. 1b).

Fig. 1b. Making a slipknot 2
Making a Slipknot: Figure 1b

Step 3: With the new loop on the needle in your right hand, gently pull both yarns (the tail and the working yarn attached to the ball) beneath the needle, then pull on the working yarn to tighten the new loop so that it fits snuggly around the needle (fig. 1c).

Fig. 1c. Making a slipknot 3
Making a Slipknot: Figure 1c

Cable Cast-on

This cast-on is especially good when you need a firm edge. Work loosely, without pulling the stitches too tight.

Step 1: In your left hand, hold the needle with the slipknot and hold the working yarn in your right hand. Insert the right needle through the slipknot from front to back (fig. 2a).

Fig. 2a. Cable Cast-on 1
Cable Cast-on: Figure 2a

Step 2: Wrap the yarn around the right needle from back to front and pull up a loop, creating a new stitch on the right needle. Insert the left needle tip into the new stitch (fig. 2b), and slip it onto the left needle.

Fig. 2b. Cable Cast-on 2
Cable Cast-on: Figure 2b

There are now 2 stitches on the left needle (fig. 2c). Note: To prevent the cast-on edge from becoming too tight, insert the right needle from front to back between the 2 stitches on the left needle before tightening the yarn. Gently pull the working yarn to snug up the stitch.

Fig. 2c. Cable Cast-on 3
Cable Cast-on: Figure 2c

Step 3: With the right needle in position between the 2 stitches on the left needle, wrap the yarn around the right needle as shown (fig. 2c), and pull through a new loop.

Step 4: Using the tip of the left needle, slip the new stitch from the right needle as before (fig. 2d), and slip the right needle out of the stitch.

Fig. 2d. Cable Cast-on 4
Cable Cast-on: Figure 2d

Repeat steps 3 and 4 to cast on additional stitches. End with step 4 to complete the last cast-on stitch.

Long Tail (or Slingshot) Cast-on

The benefits of this cast-on method are that it's quick to do and makes an elastic edge. Both working yarn and tail are used.

The tail length should be roughly three times the width of your desired cast-on, or about 1 inch (2.5cm) per stitch for worsted weight yarn, plus several inches extra for the yarn tail allowance to weave in later. If you underestimate the length of yarn tail needed, pull out the work, add more yarn to the length, and begin again. Or, begin the cast-on using two balls of the same yarn: One serves as the "tail," and the other is the working yarn. Tie the ends together in an overhand knot, leaving about a 6-inch (15cm) tail, and then make the slipknot as usual and begin the cast-on. When the cast-on is completed, cut one of the yarns, leaving about 6 inches (15cm), and begin to work with the other. When the garment is finished, untie the overhand knot and weave in the loose ends.

Step 1: Place the slipknot onto the needle held in your right hand, with the yarn tail in front (closest to you) and the working yarn (attached to the ball) behind the needle. Pull the working yarn taut over the left forefinger, and wrap the yarn tail around your thumb from front to back. Secure both the working yarn and the tail between the remaining 3 fingers of your left hand and the palm. Place the forefinger of your right hand on top of the slipknot to hold it in place (fig. 3a).

Fig. 3a. Long Tail (or Slingshot) Cast-on 1
Long Tail (or Slingshot) Cast-on: Figure 3a

Step 2: Insert the needle under the yarn in front of your thumb, working from front to back and pulling the yarn slightly upward (fig. 3b). Insert the needle over the yarn on your forefinger, moving from top to bottom so the working yarn lies on top of the needle to form the new stitch (fig. 3b).

Long Tail Cast-on 2
Long Tail (or Slingshot) Cast-on: Figure 3b

Step 3: Pull the needle toward you through the loop on your thumb as you remove your thumb from the loop (fig. 3c). At the same time, pull down on both pieces of yarn, tightening the stitch by pulling on the tail, keeping the stitch firm and even but still loose enough to slide easily.

Long Tail Cast-on 3
Long Tail (Slingshot) Cast-on: Figure 3c

Repeat steps to cast on additional stitches.

Simple Cast-on (Backward Loop Cast-on)

This cast-on is probably the easiest to learn, but it doesn't have a neat edge like other cast-ons. Use it when working a few cast-on stitches or on buttonholes. This cast-on tends to grow longer and become less manageable as you work the first row of knitting, and the cast-on stitches tighten, making it difficult to insert the needle.

Step 1: Place the slipknot on an empty needle with the yarn tail in back and the working yarn in front. Hold this needle with the slipknot in your right hand.

Step 2: With working yarn in your left hand, wrap the working yarn over your thumb from front to back, and grasp it with your remaining fingers to tension (fig. 4a).

Fig. 4a. Simple Cast-on (Backward Loop Cast-on) 1
Simple Cast-on (Backward Loop Cast-on): Figure 4a

Step 3: Insert the needle under the yarn looped around your thumb, working from bottom to top (fig. 4b). Pull up on the needle a little as you slide the yarn off your thumb and onto the needle.

Simple Cast-on 2
Simple Cast-on (Backward Loop Cast-on): Figure 4b

Step 4: Gently pull on the working yarn to tighten the new stitch on the needle (fig. 4c).

Simple Cast-on 3
Simple Cast-on (Backward Loop Cast-on): Figure 4c

Repeat steps 2-4 to cast on as many stitches as desired. End with step 4.

Knitted Cast-on

This cast-on is easy to work and is very similar to the cable cast-on. The difference between the cable cast-on and the knitted cast-on occurs after the first stitch is made.

Step 1: Place the slipknot on an empty needle and hold in your left hand, with the working yarn in your right hand. Insert the right needle through the slipknot from front to back (see fig. 2a above).

Step 2: Wrap the yarn around the right needle from back to front, and pull up a loop, creating a new stitch on the right needle. Insert the left needle tip into the new stitch (see fig. 2b above). Both needles remain in the new stitch.

Repeat step 2 for each new stitch until all cast-on stitches are made. Withdraw the right needle after the last stitch is made. Although both needles remain in the new loop at all times, the stitches collect on the left needle only.

We'll dive into learning one of the two basic knitting stitches -- the knit stitch -- on the next page.

Knit Loops and Purl Loops

Before you venture any further, look at the six illustrations below. They will help you understand many things about knitting, so study them well and plan to return to this page often. When a cast-on or stitch pattern specifies working into the front loop or back loop, simply match the instruction to the illustration to see exactly which part of the stitch is being described.

Knitting into front loop
Front loopBack loop
Knitting into front loopPurling into back loop
Purling into front loop

Front loop
Back loopPurling into front loop
Knitting into back loop


Knitting into back loop
Purling into back loop

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