The flexible long-tail cast on was created when I mis-leaned the double-needle cast on. I use it almost exclusively because I love the flexibility it gives me. I use other cast ons situationally, but this is my “go to”. It can be done with a smaller needle (or a larger needle) used as the bottom needle to control the amount of stretch.
What this cast on accomplishes that other types of cast ons (there are other variations of this too) don’t do is make the bottom edge of the cast on more flexible by putting extra yarn there. Using a larger needle to cast on puts the yarn in the stitch, not the base of the cast on.
Flexible long-tail cast on
The needles. The top needle is the needle you will begin working you piece with and the lower is another needle of the same or a specified size.
The long-tail. Like the long-tail cast on, you need a long tail for this. It is impossible to say with any accuracy how much yarn to pull off, so it is always a guessing game. If you don’t like playing yarn chicken with your cast on tail, I suggest using yarn from either both ends of your skein or ball, or an end from a second ball. When you are finished casting on, cut the yarn coming from the end you will not be proceeding with.
The set up. Put a slip knot made from the yarn that will go over your forefinger onto the top needle. Alternatively, drape the yarn over the top needle without the slip knot. Pick up the lower needle and hold it below the top needle with the slip knot or the yarn tail between them.
The cast on. *Hold both yarn ends as for a long-tail cast on in left hand. Go up into thumb loop with both needles (it works nicely to hold the lower needle back about 0.5” from top needle tip). Twist the needles over and scoop the forefinger yarn with the top needle only, bringing both needles back out of the thumb loop, following the same path the needles went into it. Don’t take your thumb out yet! Straighten the needles and put the thumb loop yarn onto the lower needle. Now remove your thumb from the loop and gently tighten the loop to lower needle. Repeat from *
Counting loops. Repeat from * until the correct number of stitches/loops are on the top needle (the lower needle will have 1 less stitch).
- If you prefer not to use the slip knot loop, do not count it and you will end up with the same number of loops on both needles. Drop the slip knot and untie it at the end of your first row.
- If you drape the yarn over the needle, you need to use that loop, but if you prefer, it can be worked together with the last stitch on the first row. Do not count it as part of your stitch count.
Remove the lower needle from the cast on unless otherwise directed.
The lower needle
Sometimes I want to mark the cast on when I am going to be picking up those loops later on. I then run waste yarn through the loops before removing the lower needle. I will tell you to do that if that is part of my directions.
When casting onto dpns the same lower needle can be used even as you change dpns. The only problem with doing this is that the needles can twist if they are allowed to dangle, so I usually keep them corralled in my right hand and it can feel a little like juggling. If you don’t want to do this, you can always cast onto one needle, then move the stitches to the other needles after removing the lower needle.
Variations to the flexible long-tail cast on
I sometimes want to use a different color for the bottom edge, and this is easily done by joining a second color as the thumb yarn. In this case I either slip knot the two colors together and put the slip knot on the top need (to be dropped later), or I knot the two colors and begin the cast on without yarn looped over the top needle, but the knot being held in my right hand.
Two colors can also be used to work every other loop in the opposite color. The yarn needs to be picked up in the opposite manner for every stitch, but it is quite effective. Always twist the two yarns in the same direction each time.
Pattern Specific Variations to the flexible long-tail cast on
Sometimes, I include technique variations that are for specific patterns. I always include directions for specific techniques in the pattern itself, so be sure to also read any patterns you’re working on closely.
Condensed Variation – this variation is sometimes used to save space in the written pattern
The top needle is the needle you will begin working your piece with and the bottom needle is another needle of the same size. You will need a very long tail for this CO. Use the other end of your skein then cut the yarn from the end you will not be continuing with.
Put a slip knot on top needle. Pick up bottom needle and hold it below the top needle with the slip knot between them. *Hold yarn as for a long-tail cast on in left hand. Go up into thumb loop with both needles. Twist the needles over and scoop the forefinger yarn with the top needle only, bringing both needles and the scooped yarn back through the thumb loop. Don’t take thumb out yet! Straighten needles and put the thumb loop onto the lower needle. Remove the thumb from loop and gently tighten to the lower needle. Repeat from * until the correct number of loops are on the top needle, not including the slip knot. Remove the lower needle. Do not work the slip stitch when you come to it – slip it off the needle and undo the knot later.