Think details don’t matter?
Consider the difference between a breakfast muffin and a four-dollar cupcake.
Or between the morning coffee you fix for yourself and the after-dinner coffee service you prepare for guests.
Between the epsom-salt bath you take for your tired feet and the petal-strewn, candle-lit bath you prepared for that second date.
Finishing touches are special, because they require extra effort.
They take love and intention and often they require skill – and all three are clearly visible in the end product.
Haven’t you found that this is true in knitting? Don’t you treasure the projects you’ve made with care?
One of the special details I included in the mitten pattern I published last week comes right at the beginning: the Italian Cast-On.
A Finishing Touch That You Can Do At The Beginning
Just like the Invisible Ribbed Bind-Off, the Italian cast-on makes a stretchy invisible edge that blends perfectly into 1×1 ribbing.
See how the cast-on edge seems to be hemmed, or rounded off? – – ->
The trick is the stitches that are used in the cast-on.
The Secret: Alternate Knits and Purls To Make A Ribbed Edge
With a normal long-tail cast-on, the stitches that go on the needle are knit stitches, with a chain of stitches around the bottom to hold them together.
With the Italian cast-on, you actually cast on a knit stitch and then a purl stitch (I’ll show you how), thereby avoiding any line or separation when you start ribbing.
The trouble is, even though the Italian cast-on makes a perfect edge for ribbing, it’s not very sturdy on its own. It’s just one strand of yarn, like the backwards-loop cast-on.
So in order to make a gorgeous edge, the Italian cast-on needs reinforcement.
To Protect The Cast-On Edge, Add Tubular Set-Up Rows
I know, right – “Tubular set-up rows?”
For whatever reason, that’s what they’re called, and they are the perfect partner for the Italian cast-on. They add sturdiness and strength to the edge by creating a reinforcement of alternately slipped and knitted stitches.
Know how when you slip a stitch, the working yarn makes a little ladder across the back of the stitch?
On projects like Fair-Isle sweaters, the unused colors “float” across the back of the work, adding strength and warmth.
When we use that same technique on the Italian cast-on, the little floats pull the knitting together while the slipped stitches reinforce the columns of the ribbing and make the knit stitches stand out.
Use This Cast-On For Projects With Worsted to Bulky Yarn
When should you take the trouble to do a stretchy, invisible cast-on like the Italian cast-on?
Anytime you have a project that starts with highly-visible ribbing, you can add a nice edge using the Italian cast-on.
I especially recommend it for projects using bulky yarn, like my bulky-weight mitten pattern.
The reason for that is, the thicker the yarn, the more visible the cast-on edge.
You can see how it looks above on my Basic Worsted-Weight Mittens.
Tip: Brioche projects are a great opportunity to use the Italian cast-on.
Brioche knitting is just ribbing at heart, only stretchier, so you do need to use a special cast-on like this one to make sure that the edge doesn’t look funny.
In the video below, I use a bulky-weight yarn to demonstrate the technique. You can see what the edge is supposed to look like and how nice it looks, especially on thicker yarns.
Video: How To Do The Italian Cast-On And Tubular Set-Up
Written directions are below the video.
Italian Cast-On Written Instructions:
- Measure out a long tail of yarn for your cast-on.
- Place the yarn over your needle as you would normally do with a slipknot. No slipknot needed.
- Position your yarn in slingshot position.
- To cast on a knit stitch: Bring the needle towards you, under the far loop of yarn on your thumb, over the loop of yarn on your forefinger, back under the far loop of yarn on your thumb, and tighten the stitch up on the needle.
- To cast on a purl stitch: Bring the needle away from you, over the loop of yarn on your forefinger, down and under both the yarn on your forefinger and the far loop of yarn on your thumb, up and over the far loop of yarn on your thumb, and away from you again and under the loop of yarn on your forefinger. Bring the needle up and tighten the stitch to your needle.
- Repeat steps 4-5 until you have the number of stitches you need for your cast-on. When you knit to the first loop you have placed on the needle, knit it together with the last stitch.
Tubular Set-Up Written Instructions:
- Cast on an even number of stitches using the Italian cast-on. Turn work.
- Row 1: K1, sl 1 wyif, move yarn to back. Repeat across row. P last 2 sts together. Turn.
- Row 2: K1, sl 1 wyif, move yarn to back. Repeat across row. P last st.
sl 1 wyif – slip 1 with yarn in front
Are you going to try this technique out? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
1) I learned this technique from Nancy Marchant’s fabulous book, Brioche Knitting.
2) I have no idea where the name “Italian cast-on” came from, but it sure sounds fancy!
- Try this on the new Worsted-Weight Mitten pattern
- Learn the matching invisible ribbed bind-off: the Italian Bind-Off
- Use this technique on a brioche project: Beginner and Intermediate Brioche Knitting
In other news, I am now in Buenos Aires, Argentina! It’s the middle of winter here, and wow, even though I expected it, what a change from California!
I’ve started to explore my neighborhood, usually while rocking my chunky cabled legwarmers, the Aspen Ice hat, and some cashmere fingerless mitts.
First impressions of Buenos Aires: not sunny enough! I guess I’ve never lived in a city with tall buildings before – I see the sun on buildings outside my window, but when I go outside, it’s nowhere to be found.
Thankfully, if I get too cold, there’s always my daily driver:
The class is totally in Spanish, of course, and to me it sounds very beautiful.
The food: I found out right away that you don’t go to the grocery store if you want fresh produce. You go to the fruit-and-vegetable stand, and there are lots of them, and they’re open late.
They stack up the food in pyramids, and if they don’t have change for you, they just tell you they’ll give you another banana and call it even.
Speaking of food, we had a peanut butter tasting, with little spoons and everything.
Dani loved it right away: “Mmmm… qué rico.” Gi wasn’t so sure: “I guess it’s an acquired taste?” and their little one, Vera, refused to try it at all! Well, I suppose that’s how I feel about some of the food down here too…
Up next week, another long-awaited free pattern: Toe-Up Socks with a Heel Flap. See you then!
For another slick way to cast on for a ribbed project, check out Edge Treatments: How to Knit a Picot Hem.
Leave a comment below – I love to hear your thoughts.