December 19: Take it Easy

A common problem we see from knitters on a regular basis involves casting on/binding off too tight. It isn’t that you’re doing anything wrong, it’s just the nature of cast on/bind offs to be too tight.
If you’ve ever taken mom’s full-blown cast on/bind off classes (that will blow your mind), you know there are dozens of ways with different applications. I don’t want to make your brain hurt today, so we’ll address some simple ways to keep your cast ons and bind offs from being tight without getting a brain freeze.
First, let’s talk Casting On. There are two easy ways to address this issue.
Cast On Tip #1
Do not bunch the stitches close together as you cast on. When you cast on, the stitches are sitting on the needle sideways, which makes them skinny. Once worked they face the front and become their actual size.
I intentionally cast on with no space between the stitches. I tightened them snugly on the needle, touching the previous stitch. In just this 12 stitch sample I have a vast difference in width. The cast on edge measures 2″, the knitting measures 2.75″. Imagine the difference on an actual garment or accessory!
To correct this issue, leave space between the stitches as you cast on. Use your fingers to keep the first few stitches spaced apart. I try to approximate the width the stitches will be when worked.
Cast On Tip #2
If you have:

  • edge with lots of stitches (infinity scarf!)
  • something worked very open and loose
  • cast on needs to match the bound off edge

you may need to do more than keep the stitches spaced. In these instances a provisional cast on works best.
There are numerous types of provisional cast ons, and they are cool to do. However, any cast on is provisional (or temporary) if done with a waste yarn. So you don’t need to learn any new tricks.
Simply cast on as usual with a length of scrap yarn, similar in size to your project yarn. Try to use something smooth and not fuzzy so it will pull out easily without leaving fuzzies behind.bo1
Begin your project with your main yarn and proceed as usual. When complete, you carefully put all of the stitches from the cast on back on the needle, pull out the waste yarn and bind off. Your beginning and ending edges will be identical!bo2
Cast On Myth
Do not, I repeat DO NOT cast on with a larger size needle. I don’t care what your pattern says, this tip falls under the category of knitting “myths”. Most traditional cast on methods involve working the first row as you cast on. Using a larger needle does nothing more than make the first row of stitches larger. It doesn’t control size of the cast on, or the connecting loops between the stitches. The loops connecting the stitches are what tend to become too tight and result in a constricted edge. Making the first row of stitches bigger does little if anything to correct this issue.
Bind Off
Patterns often tell you to bind off loosely, but sometimes no matter how hard you try to keep it loose it still turns out too tight. Again, there are many cool bind offs that you can learn but there is a very simple way to achieve a loose bind off.
Use a larger needle! This doesn’t work with cast ons, but it is the perfect solution for bind offs. Use one, two, three, five sizes bigger…whatever is needed to give the edge the desired flexibility.
Often I just automatically grab a needle one or two sizes larger, just so I don’t have to worry about trying to keep it loose. If it still isn’t as loose as I like, I just keep grabbing bigger needles until I get the result I want.
So Take it Easy…
Relaxing these edges isn’t difficult to do and can make a huge difference in the final result. It also has nothing to do with your tension.
I am a loose knitter. Very loose. Does that make me a lousy knitter? Hardly! I just have to  use smaller needles. Mom knits tight, she uses larger needles.
We see these cast on and bind off issues with all types of knitters, loose, tight and those with “perfect” gauge.
Everyone knits differently, and that is why gauge swatches are so important. In fact, there is no such thing as a knitter who knits perfectly to gauge. Unless you knit exactly the same as the designer, you stand a good chance of not getting gauge or just happen to get lucky.
So when I say take it easy and LOOSEN UP your cast on/bind off it has nothing to do with me knitting loose. Super-tight mom will tell you the exact same thing.


  • pharris824

    19.12.2013 at 06:52 Reply

    Thanks Keely, the visual of the sideways stitches at cast-on is the first time I’ve understood why there’s such a difference in cast-on width and finished width.

  • machelle

    19.12.2013 at 08:23 Reply

    I have taken Sherry’s cast on/bind off class and it is awesome. I have learned so much about knitting from her. I would not be knitting today if she had not taken the time to teach me the correct way to solve the many knitting dilemmas I have faced over the years. She has a wealth of knowledge and if you ever get a chance to take any of her technique classes, you will be amazed at the things you learn. Sherry rocks!!

  • hthrldwg

    19.12.2013 at 13:22 Reply

    I am completely guilty of pushing my stitches together. I have often wondered about the varying lengths, but because I have not yet tackled garments, it hasn’t been a big issue (who really pays attention to whether or not their dishcloth is perfectly square?). Thanks for the tips!!

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