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Knitting for Beginners: How to Cast On and Bind Off

Posted by Lee Ann Petropoulos on

If you’re new to knitting, the process of starting and finishing a project can seem daunting. But don’t worry - with a little practice, you’ll be able to cast on and bind off like a pro!

How to start a knitting project: Casting On

Casting on is the first step in any knitting project. It creates the foundation stitches that everything else will be built upon. There are many different methods of casting on and they are all useful in different situations. Beginners are often taught the backward loop method, because it is the easiest and least confusing. However, because the loops slide around and tighten when you try to knit into them, the first row of knitting is unnecessarily difficult.

I teach the long tail method to beginners for two reasons - it is more stable, and because of that, it makes the first row of knitting much easier!

You will be using two strands to make this cast on - one strand comes from the skein of yarn, the other is the “tail”. (These instructions are for right-handers - reverse the hands for lefties).

To learn to cast on using this method, pull a long length of yarn from your skein (about 18” - there are ways to figure out exactly how much you will need, but for now just estimate). Make a slip knot 18” from the end, place it on the needle and snug it up.

Hold the two strands of yarn together with your left hand, trapping them against your palm with your ring finger and pinkie - leaving the other fingers free.

Insert your ring finger and thumb on your left hand in between the two strands of yarn close to the needle and spread them apart a bit. Make sure the “tail” or shorter piece is around your thumb. You can remember which strand goes where by remembering that the shorter yarn goes around the shorter digit! Pull the needle slightly back and down so that it looks like a slingshot. 

Now take the tip of the needle and slide it from the base of your left thumb to the tip, getting under the loop around your thumb.

Without removing the loop from your thumb, grab the strand around your finger and pull it through the thumb loop, then drop the loop from your thumb.

Continue repeating steps 3 and 4 until you have enough loops to begin knitting. As you cast on more stitches, the strand of yarn around your thumb will begin to untwist. This is natural because you are working against the twist with that strand. Just drop it every now and then to let it twist back up.

One more little tip - try to space your stitches out a little as you cast on. The thicker the yarn, the farther they should be spaced. It's not an exact science, but leaving them a little breathing room will prevent them from pulling up the beginning of your fabric.

Now that you have cast on your stitches, it is time to start knitting! The pattern you are following will tell you what stitch to repeat across each row. Usually, it is either a knit or a purl stitch. As you work each row, the fabric of your project begins to take shape.

When your knitting project has reached the desired length, it's time to bind off!


How to finish a knitting project: Binding Off

Now that you know how to cast on, it’s time to learn how to finish up your project by binding off. This is an important part of the process - you need to make sure you have a neat edge, whether that’s a finished edge or whether you need to seam it to something else!

The most common method of binding off is the knit two, pass one over method. To begin, knit the first two stitches on your needle as normal. Then with your left needle tip, take the second stitch you knitted and pass it over the first stitch on the right needle (this will cause the first stitch to come off of the needle). Knit another stitch and then pass it over the second stitch you just knitted - this process repeats until you have only one stitch left on your needle. Finally, cut your yarn and pull it through that last loop to secure your work.

If your need your cast off edge to be stretchy (for a neckline, for example), use this stretchy bind-off:

Begin by knitting the first two stitches, then insert the tip of the left needle into the front of both stitches on the right needle and knit them together. This leaves you with one stitch on the right needle. 

Knit the next stitch on your left needle, insert the tip of the left needle into the front of both stitches on the right needle and knit them together.

Repeat step 2 until you have only one stitch left on your needle, cut the yarn and pull it through.

There are other methods for binding off a knitting project that you will come across, but these two bind offs will cover nearly all of your project needs. The other techniques are for later posts!

Now that you know how to cast on, knit, and bind off a knitting project - you’re ready to get started on your first project! With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to cast on and bind off like a pro - so don't be intimidated, just grab your needles and get to work. Happy Knitting!

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