A provisional cast on is a knitting technique that keeps your stitches live (to be knitted later). They are used for multiple purposes in knitting patterns. Cast ons are the first step of your knitting projects as you lay the foundation on your knitting needles. The provisional cast on is a fun technique that assists in multiple projects. The temporary cast stitches on the knitting needles can be unraveled whenever you need to work them later. This is very useful for folded trims, hems and when you are working without measurements or design and relying on the fit of the person you are knitting for.
Generally, you cast on stitches on your needles but another alternative is using a combination of knitting needle+ and crochet hook, preferably of the same size. Many beginner knitters who’ve dabbled in crochet find it easier to cast on stitches with a crochet hook on the needle. Even many advanced makers find it convenient to make a neat foundation for their knitting project. The choice of needles can be any pair of single points, a set of five double-pointed needles, fixed or interchangeable circular knitting needles as per as your comfort and the pattern you’re working on.
Provisional Cast On Around Waste Yarn
To knit a provisional cast on, you will need a smooth waste yarn in a contrasting color, your main working yarn, knitting needles and a crochet hook (optional). Follow these steps to perform a provisional cast on:
Prepare your waste yarn
Cut a length of waste yarn that is longer than the number of stitches you want to cast on. Make a slip knot at one end of the waste yarn.
Hold both your waste yarn and working yarn together, with the waste yarn in front.
Make a Slip Knot
Make a slipknot with both yarns, placing the slipknot on your knitting needle. This slipknot will count as the first stitch of your cast on.
Insert your needle into the slipknot and tighten the yarns, treating them as one strand.
Cast on Stitches
Now, proceed to cast on stitches using the waste yarn and working yarn together. The method you choose for casting on (e.g., long-tail cast on, knitted cast on, etc.) will depend on your preference.
Cast on the desired number of stitches using both yarns.
Once you have cast on the desired number of stitches, set the waste yarn aside, leaving a tail to later unravel it.
Continue knitting your project using only the working yarn, treating the provisional cast on stitches as regular stitches.
To later remove the provisional cast on and continue working with the live stitches, follow these steps:
- Unravel the waste yarn carefully from the cast on edge until you expose the live stitches on your knitting needle.
- Pick up these live stitches using another knitting needle or by transferring them onto your working needle, ready to continue knitting in the desired pattern.
Provisional cast on with a crochet hook
If you prefer a crochet hook method for the provisional cast on, you can use any of your crochet hooks to create a row of chain stitches using the waste yarn. Then, pick up the stitches from the bumps of the chain with your working needle, treating them as regular stitches.
Remember, the specific technique for the provisional cast on may vary depending on the knitting pattern or personal preference. It's always a good idea to consult the pattern instructions or seek guidance from experienced knitters if needed.
However, you always don’t need to use waste yarn. You can work with the yarn from the skein or ball you are knitting with or could just as well just cast on around the cable of a circular needle instead. Working with a cable of a circular needle will not allow stitches to get lost. But make sure to use circular knitting needles of the same size as on the rest of the project. Or at the very least mark the difference because you will have to use a different needle to knit with later if you aren’t just grafting the stitches together.
To conclude, which cast on you choose is entirely up to you and your preferences. They all create (almost) the same result but may be offset by half a stitch. The difference is hardly noticeable on stockinette, garter or ribbing stitch patterns but may stand out with more intricate patterns (colorwork, lace, cables) you will have to work around it. Most designers add a block of a different stitch in the center if you knit down from both sides of the provisional cast. So, if you plan on designing a pattern using a provisional cast on then make sure to keep this in mind.
Things to look out for
- Use slippery yarn such as acrylic, silk or even a nylon blend when you do a waste yarn cast on. Never use wool that felts or fuzzy yarns. Cotton and pure merino wool are generally avoided. It will only make it harder to unpick later and make it much harder to see the stitches.
- Work the provisional cast on by using a slightly larger needle to cast on with. Work with a small swatch just to be on the safe side. Or put the held stitches on a circular needle early on, when it’s not as painful when it doesn’t fit. The easiest way around this is to indeed cast on around a spare circular needle instead of waste yarn.
- Always remember the stitch count when casting on with waste yarn. It can sometimes be quite hard to see the last stitch as it will usually be placed after the last original stitch (remember they are offset by half a stitch) and not even look like a regular stitch at all. So count your stitches thoroughly.
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