Saturday, October 8, 2011

It Depends: Casting On

So, this question was raised on Ravelry about whether or not the cast-on row counts as the first knitted row. I answered with the classic, "It Depends." Long-tail cast-on and all of its cousins counts as a first row, or so I'd been told. For the record, tubular cast-on also counts as a first row. Other cast-ons, like knitted, backwards loop, cable, and provisional, do not count as the first row. It's all about how you cast-on.

Being who I am, a lab geek, I had to know The Truth. So I grabbed my new camera (Thank you, Sean!!!), a bunch of DPN's, and some yarn. I proceeded to cast-on. Starting on this little adventure, I hypothesized that a backwards loop cast on would create the same effect as a long-tail cast on. I was wrong. It actually creates the same cast on as German twisted cast on! I was rather surprised. Don't believe me? I took pics!

That's your basic backwards loop cast-on, with the next loop ready to slip on the needle. Pay attention to the frayed end of yarn, that's going to be our identifier for the backwards loop needle in these series of pictures. After I cast on 8 stitches, I proceeded to turn and knit the row.

Sorry, that was the best of the bunch of pictures I took of the first knitted row with the backwards loop cast-on. I was rather surpized that it didn't look like a long-tail cast-on, but couldn't shake the feeling that it looked hauntingly familiar. So I started a German twisted cast-on. Please note, the frayed end of yarn. We'll be following its progress.

I was rather surprised at how similar they looked. As a matter of fact, I had to use the frayed end of yarn to identify which needle was which cast-on method. After staring at them closely for several minutes, I could see a few differences. The first stitch in the backwards loop cast-on had a looser base than the slip-knot I used for the first stitch in the German twisted cast-on. Other than that, they were practically identical. I won't comment on tension, because I was purposefully knitting everything very loosely to make sure I could photograph the stitch definition. But here's a comparison highlighting how the stitches are formed. Remember that German twisted cast on is on the top, and backwards loop is on the bottom.

The stitches are formed the same way, despite going about it in a very different manner. After staring at the stitches for so long, I understood why the backwards loop cast-on didn't create a long-tail cast-on. When I knit the row of backwards loop cast-on, I twisted the loop as I knit it, creating that extra twist seen in the highlights. Of course, I couldn't stop there. What cast-on would create the same base as long-tail? Believe it or not, it's this one.

I've never used this cast-on in my life. I'd heard about it, heard how fiddly it was, and pretty much cursed the 5 stitches I knit into it. For the sake of my sanity, I used a slip knot to make and hold the first stitch. Otherwise, the yarn just cheerfully unwrapped itself from the needle, thereby undoing all my hard work in trying to cast it on. Once that was done, I proceeded to knit into the first few loops.

There it was! Long-tail cast-on in the most obnoxious way I could imagine attempting to create it. It's the stitches on the bottom, with the second needle shown on how I knit each stitch. Long-tail cast-on is on the top needle, pinned in places so you can see how the loops go. I won't ever be using that cast on again, I will cheerfully use long-tail instead. There were a few subtle differences between the cast-on methods. The direction of twist was different - if you'll look carefully, the loops that form the base twist in different ways. I'm sure if I went back and wrapped the yarn the opposite way around the needle, I'd get the exact same loops as long-tail cast-on.

So, yeah, if you use long-tail cast-on or any of its cousins, you will get 1 knitted row after you cast on. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter, because when you look at row gauge - we're only talking about ONE ROW. One row at the cast-on edge of a sweater will not make a difference. I went and grabbed the knitting gauge off of the Hey, Teach! sweater, a popular pattern to put things in perspective. It's 24 rows for 4 inches, or 6 rows to 1 inch. 1 row = 1/6th or 17% of one inch. Yeah. Not that big a deal. But, if you're like me and a little OCD is actually a successful career trait, then it's just nice to know.

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Welcome to Crazytown, where my friends have proclaimed me queen. Why did they do that you ask? For some reason, there's very little that I fear about knitting. Hmm, a dress in laceweight done in lace knitting written by vogue? Sounds great! I have very few inhibitions when it comes to knitting, and that sometimes ends disasteriously. Apparently, other people think this signifies a level of crazy that only the royalty can attain. Follow along with my escapades as I dive head first into all sorts of insane techniques and projects without much more than an "Oh! That looks pretty, I can make it!"

Those will probably be my famous last words.