Majoring in Lace - Part IV
Introduction; Shawl Construction Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101 The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings
Casting On For Lace
One of the most curious things about lace is the goal of having no real beginning and no real end. There might be a handy little parable lurking in there somewhere - shawl as ancestral blood, shawl as distinguished lifetime - but we're here to talk about knitting, not self-indulgent flights of metaphorical fancy. Onward!
The main problem with casting on for lace is the difference in elasiticity between the cast on edge and the rest of the fabric. Stitches worked with any openwork pattern will always stretch more than the same number worked in stockinette or garter, and the traditional long-tail cast on is too firm to accomodate the extra stretch during blocking. One way or another, the issue needs to be addressed for any lace project that will undergo a serious dressing.
**Note: The movment(s) of each technique are presented as a simple graphic and as a series of photos. The diagram should show you exactly how the yarn should sit and the directions of the movements - the photos a sense of the process. In the diagrams, working yarns are purple and the waste yarns pink, while in the photos the working yarns are blue and the waste yarns white. For clarity, I'm showing the techniques with a smooth cotton that shows the stitches well**
Invisible Cast Ons
Many traditional Shetland and Orenburg shawls are cleverly constructed to avoid a cast-on row altogether. An invisible, or provisional, cast on method is used to begin a given section of knitting, and the live stitches held to later be picked up or grafted.
All invisible cast ons are comparable in finished effect - basically, they all expose the purl bumps of a row and make them live stitches. The first and third methods shown here use the working yarn itself for the first row on the needles (what would ordinarily be the cast on row), while the second method works into waste yarn stitches on the needle. For the second method, I usually work that first row as a wrong side foundation row, turn, and then start the pattern.
Otherwise, the method you choose will depend only on personal preference.
Invisible Cast On
My favorite invisible cast-on is ridiculously simple - it amounts to making a series of yarn overs in a figure-eight around both the needle and a "holder," usually a bit of waste string. Using a smooth, fairly thick waste yarn for the foundation will go a long way towards keeping the stitches from twisting around the needle, and eventually make picking up the stitches much easier.
1) Anchor your working yarn to the needle by making a slip knot. Hold the needle in your right hand, anchoring the tail of the working yarn and one end of the waste yarn out of the way. Tension and spread the yarns with your left hand, with the waste yarn nearer you than the working yarn - you might find it convenient to tension the waste around your thumb and the working yarn around your index finger. Dip the needle under the waste yarn...
2) Grab the working yarn from the back, bring it under the waste yarn in front, and bring the needle back to position to make one stitch.
3) Now, tilt the needle back, pick up the working yarn from over the waste yarn, and bring the needle back to position to make the second stitch.
Repeat these steps until the required number of stitches, including the slip knot, have been cast on (when casting on an odd number of stitches, give the working yarn a twist around the waste yarn before turning and working the first row). Pull the waste yarn straight, and arrange the stitches on the needle carefully - as you knit, take care to straighten out and arrange any YOs that have started to twist around each other.
When it comes time to pick up the stitches from the cast on row, transfer the stitches on the waste yarn, one by one, to a spare needle. Undo the slip knot at the beginning of the row.
Invisible Crochet Cast On I
Crochet cast on methods are very popular, though I generally find them a little too demanding for my absent-minded ways - I nearly always have a bit of waste string in a pocket or buried in my purse, but I hardly ever remember to carry a crochet hook with me. Work crochet cast-ons with a hook similar in size to the diameter of your knitting needle (though size isn't crucial), and use a smooth cotton or other slippery yarn (this is crucial, unless you're a glutton for tinking punishment).
Version I is chained directly onto the knitting needle, creating a foundation row of waste yarn. The work is knitted onto this foundation row, leaving live stitches when the row is later unraveled.
1) Make a slip knot with the waste yarn and place it on a crochet hook held in your right hand, with the working end of the waste yarn running behind the knitting needle in your left.
2) Catch the yarn with the hook from in front of the needle, and pull it through the loop on the hook to cast on one stitch.
3) Move the working end of the waste yarn back behind the needle, and repeat steps 2-3 to cast on the required number of stitches.
4) When all the stitches have been chained onto the knitting needle, cut your waste yarn, pass the end through the last loop on the hook, and pull closed (not too tightly - you'll need to undo it later). Tie a knot in that end of the yarn to mark the end you will unravel from, and start working the knitting, treating the loops of waste yarn on the needle as your cast on row
Pick up the stitches by undoing the last loop of the crochet (marked by the knotted tail) and tugging on the tail to pop the chain open, one stitch at a time. Transfer the live stitches to a knitting needle as they are freed.
The crochet chain will only "unzip" in one direction - from the last chain worked to the first.
Invisible Crochet Cast On II
Version II should also be worked with a smooth, clean waste yarn and a hook about the same diameter as the knitting needle. You may wish to use waste yarn of fingering or heavier weight to show the loops clearly - picking up the wrong loop will keep the chain from unzipping later.
Despite its slight fiddliness, this is my preferred crochet cast con - the method is simple and sensible, without the awkwardness of manipulating the yarn around too much. From a seperate crocheted chain, the working yarn is pulled through the reverse-side bumps. The chain is later unzipped to expose live stitches.
1) Crochet a waste yarn chain of as many or more stitches as you want to cast on (more is better). Cut your yarn, pull it through the last loop, and knot that tail to mark the end you'll start unraveling from later. Consider the front and back of the chain - the front presents the familiar nested V shapes, while the back shows a series of bumps straddling the loops.
2) Starting from the knotted end, pass the tip of a knitting needle through the first bump (and only that strand - take care not to grab any other strand or ply of the chain with the needle). Catch a strand of working yarn with it, and pull it through the bump to cast on one stitch.
3) Pick up a second stitch in the same way.
4) And continue until all the stitches have been cast on. If the bumps become too tight to work into, it's fine to skip one or two chains - you'll be glad to have worked more chains than strictly necessary.
Expose the live stitches in the same way as in Crochet Method I - undo the last loop of the crochet, and tug to expose the stitches one by one. Tranfer them to a needle as they are freed.
Regular Cast Ons
Sometimes, of course, a hard cast on edge is unavoidable. Many stoles and rectangular shawls are knit in one piece, starting at one cast on short edge and worked toward the other. Triangular shawls, too, are occasionally worked from the outer (long) edges towards the top center, starting from a very long cast on edge and decreasing steadily towards the endpoint.
A long-tail cast on may be used, but it should be cast on very loosely - around two or three needles, even. However, I tend to think the sturdiness of the edge (no matter how loose) can be jarring in a very delicate piece. One of the following is probably a better bet.
Backwards Loop Cast On
This is the very simplest cast on a knitter can do. It works beautifully in lace, because there are hardly any extra loops or twists - the edge is as delicate as a single thickness of yarn, and will even stretch farther than the fabric. This can be a disadvantage - an edge made in this way should be pinned carefully to avoid flare.
The twisted loop may be placed onto the needle with either a forward or backwards twist.
- It is simply a matter of how the loop lies around the creepy disembodied thumb, and how it's placed on the needle. I tend to think that version A looks better when the next row is a knit row, and version B when the first row is a purl row.
Lace Cast On
This is a peculiar cast on, not overly popular or well-known, but very useful. It forms a loopy, open edge, sturdier than a backwards loop, but far more elastic than the long-tail. Worked loosely, this cast on is suitable for any lace project that requires a real beginning row.
The movements are basically that of a cable cast on, except the new stitches are drawn through the last stitch, rather than between the last two stitches.
1) Make a slip knot, and place it on the left needle. Pass the right needle through the back of the slip knot, catch the working end of the yarn, and pull it through. Without twisting the loop, place it on the left-hand needle.
2) Continue in this way, working into the front of each loop (for next row knit) or the back of each loop (for next row purled). The finished edge is appropriately lacey, but sturdy and firm.
Many square and circular shawls, of course, are knit entirely in the round. They start from a tiny center point of less than ten stitches joined in a circle, and rapidly grow (increased throughout for circular shawls, and increased only at corners for square shawls).
There are a couple problems with the usual methods of casting on and joining circular rounds with such small numbers: for one thing, it would be impossible to close the center hole perfectly; for another, it's very very hard to cast on only one or two stitches onto four DPNs and avoid twisting something. The popular methods of starting circular shawls try to address these issues.
The surest sign that the apocolypse is here? After casting on, I heartily reccommend Magic Loop for dealing with those first 4, 6, 8 stitches. Though I hate the feel of Magic Loop, it's infinitely easier to keep those stitches from slipping and twisting when there are only two needles to worry about.
Emily Ocker's Circular Beginning
Very popular, this method produces a very strong, very sturdy center with a distinct "bellybutton." Basically stitches of single crochet worked over double thickness of looped yarn, the foundation stitches are somewhat raised - when blocked, it's hardly noticeable, but I don't especially care for the final effect.
1) Make a loop of yarn with the working end in front, pass the crochet hook through it from front to back (under the tail), grab the working end of the yarn, and pull it through the loop.
2) Grab the yarn once more, and pull it through the loop on the hook. This makes one stitch of single crochet, and one stitch casted on.
3) Leaving the last loop on the hook, repeat until the right number of stitches have been made, always passing the hook through the loop and under the tail.
4) Transfer the stitches on the crochet hook to DPNs or to a circular, pull the tail of the loop to close it, and join.
Lighter Circular Beginning
While the last beginning's heaviness comes from working the foundation stitches over a double strand of yarn, this circular beginning is much lighter. It's actually an invisible cast on (the first thing this post went over) worked over the looped tail of the working yarn rather than a waste strand.
1) Form a large loop of the yarn with the working end on top. Keep the loop open with the fingers of the left hand; tension the working end of the yarn with the left index finger or thumb.
2) Put the knitting needle through the loop, catch the working end, and pull it through (under) the loop. Return the needle to position for one stitch casted on.
Continue to cast on stitches exactly as you would in an invisible cast on, first grabbing the working end from under the "waste yarn" loop and then over. If you are casting on an even number of stitches, stop one short of the total.
Pull the loop snug by tugging on the free tail and distribute the stitches. If an even number of stitches is required, YO before joining and knitting the first round.
Did I miss anything?
All posts in this series:
- Introduction; Shawl Construction
- Yarn Choices; Needle Choices; Gauge: Chart Reading 101
- The Structure of Lace; Role of the YO; Role of the Decrease; Movements in Lace Knitting
- Provisional and Invisible Cast Ons; Hard Cast Ons; Circular Beginnings