Get the Perfect Edge: Tubular Cast-Ons, Part 1

I first encountered tubular cast-ons in machine knitting, where they are quite common. In machine knitting, tubular cast-ons set stitches on the needles so that the piece can be knitted as a tube, usually with a closed bottom edge (optionally, the bottom and the left or right edge can be left open).

Often, after the cast-on is complete, the top is also closed, and the knitting proceeds, not as a tube, but as a fully interlaced, flat piece of fabric. At first, I used tubular cast-ons because they were the easiest, most reliable way of getting the stitches onto the needles— then I began to appreciate their versatility. They made an attractive, stable edge.

As I became more experienced, I wondered how I could duplicate my machine-knitting techniques by hand and vice versa. (In fact, I’m quite sure that is how these cast-ons came into being and evolved—knitters saw the possibilities, then borrowed and adapted.) This series of three articles is designed to be used as a workshop that will walk you through several tubular cast-on techniques. Follow along, make the swatches, and begin to sense potential connections that will, I hope, lead you to your own discoveries. Let’s begin with a basic tubular cast-on worked over an even number of stitches.

Tubular Cast-On for K1, P1 Rib

The Folded Method (even number of sts)

tubular cast-on

With a double-pointed needle, smooth cotton waste yarn, and using the crochet provisional method, cast on half the final number of stitches desired. With working yarn, [knit 1 row, purl 1 row] 4 times. Carefully remove the waste yarn and place the cast-on stitches onto a second double-pointed needle (Figure 1), ending with the half loop at the edge of the fabric (Figure 2). Make sure you have the same number of stitches on each needle. Bring the needle with the cast-on stitches up behind the working needle, with wrong sides together. Work in k1, p1 rib as follows:

Row 1 (RS) *K1 from front needle, p1 from back needle (Figure 3); rep from * to end.
Row 2 (WS) *K1, p1; rep from * to end.
Work 4 more rows in rib patt, then BO all sts (for swatch).

tubular cast-on

 

tubular cast-on

 

tubular cast-on

Notice the smooth transition from the stockinette-stitch face of the tubular edge into the ribbing; it is almost undetectable. The edge looks like stockinette stitch, but it doesn’t roll back on itself. When paired with ribbing, the edge draws the ribbing in a bit without sacrificing elasticity.

Most tubular cast-ons will use various techniques to produce the same lower edge as this swatch, give or take a few rows of stockinette stitch. The more rows of stockinette you have, the easier it is to fold the edge over and the more prominent the double-layered edging will be. With fewer rows, less fabric is drawn in, and the edge looks less and less like stockinette. The swatches in this series of articles are worked over a consistent number of stockinette rows to better compare the results, but the number of rows worked both in stockinette stitch and rib can be varied as desired.

The folded method works equally well over an odd number of stitches.

Tubular Cast-On for K1, P1 Rib

The Folded Method (odd number of sts)

To calculate the initial cast-on stitch count, add one to the final number of stitches desired and divide that number by two. Proceed as for an even number of stitches, but when removing the waste yarn, don’t pick up the last half loop at the edge of the fabric; there will be one stitch fewer on the back needle than on the front. Work in k1, p1 rib as follows:
Row 1 (RS) *K1 from front needle, p1 from back needle; rep from * to last st, k1 from front needle.
Row 2 (WS) *P1, k1; rep from * to last st, p1.
Work 4 more rows in rib patt, then BO all sts.

You can work other rib patterns in a similar manner.

Tubular Cast-On for K2, P2 Rib

The Folded Method (multiple of 4 sts)

tubular cast-on

Cast on stitches as for an even number of stitches (over a multiple of 4 stitches). Work in k2, p2 rib as follows:
Row 1 (RS) *K2 from front needle, p2 from back needle; rep from * to end.
Row 2 (WS) *K2, p2; rep from * to end.
Work 4 more rows in rib patt, then BO all sts.

Tubular Cast-On for K3, P3 Rib

The Folded Method (multiple of 6 sts)

tubular cast-on

Cast on stitches as for an even number of stitches (over a multiple of 6 stitches).
Work in k3, p3 rib as follows:
Row 1 (RS) *K3 from front needle, p3 from back needle; rep from * to end.
Row 2 (WS) *K3, p3; rep from * to end.
Work 4 more rows in rib patt, then BO all sts.

In the previous two swatches, there is a slight distortion in the fabric as two or three consecutive stitches are worked from each needle. The distortion will be less noticeable if you work fewer rows of stockinette stitch before starting the rib pattern, but there’s another option. No rule says that stitches on the front needle must be knitted and stitches on the back needle must be purled. Working the k3, p3 rib while alternately working one stitch from the front needle then one stitch from the back will eliminate the distortion (although the rib face won’t grow out of the stockinette-stitch edge, as in the previous versions).

tubular cast-on

In the next installment in this series, we’ll look at other ways to cast on that use different techniques to produce virtually the same cast-on edge as the folded method.


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