A Perfect Detail: The Italian Cast-On

Frosted CakeThink 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

Italian cast-on edge on worsted turquoise yarnJust like the Invisible Ribbed Bind-Off, the Italian cast-on makes a stretchy invisible edge that blends perfectly into 1x1 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.

"Did you know? The Italian cast-on blends perfectly into 1x1 rib because it's made up of both knit and purl stitches." Click to Tweet

Line Break
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

What??

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?

Italian cast-on with tubular set-up on worsted mittenAnytime 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.

Video Thumbnail
Italian Tubular Cast-On
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, cand

Tubular Set-Up Written Instructions:

  1. Cast on an even number of stitches using the Italian cast-on. Turn work.
  2. Row 1: K1, sl 1 wyif, move yarn to back. Repeat across row. P last 2 sts together. Turn.
  3. Row 2: K1, sl 1 wyif, move yarn to back. Repeat across row. P last st.

Abbreviations:
? 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!

Acknowledgments:
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!

Resources:

Pretty swirly divider embellishment
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:

Bikram Yoga Buenos Aires sign

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.


Videos from this post:

Related Course: Guide to Cast-Ons

"If you're one of those knitters who likes to find out the best way to do things, this video series is definitely for you." -Sarah E. White, Editor of About.com Knitting Learn 50 unique ways to start your knitted projects, using stretchy cast-ons, invisible cast-ons, center-start cast-ons, and more.

92 thoughts on “A Perfect Detail: The Italian Cast-On”

  1. iceland on ravelry

    All other videos and drawings suck. Yours is the only good one. It’s not even good, it’s great. It explains what no one else can, about the Italian cast on’s length and flexibility and delicate wraps which need reinforcement, how and why. Also, you have no mistakes or lack of clarity and no incomplete steps. Thanks, Liat!

    1. Thank you so much, Iceland! I haven’t read this post in a while and you’re right – it IS good! I’ll do my best to keep giving good explanations like this one.

      Thanks again for your comment :)

  2. Thank you SO much for the helpful post! I just tried your way of doing the italian cast on in the round and it made a HUGE difference, much more manageable. I would recommend uploading your video to YouTube as well so people can find it there. I had tried searching on there a ba-zillion times for “italian cast on in the round” and couldn’t find anything as good as what you have here.

  3. Very clear and helpful video. Too bad I didn’t find it BEFORE I cast on my mittens. Just finishing the first one and going to try it for the mate. Just wondering if this will work for a K2P2 rib as well? I would kind of like the mitts to match. Thanks, J

  4. OH THANK YOU! I consider myself an advanced knitter, but I can’t begin to tell you how many youtube video’s I have sat though trying to learn this. You were able to show me in just a few minutes..Thank you AGAIN!. Now, off I go to undo these and add more tail..I short-sheeted my cast-on row.

  5. Just stumbled on your website – it’s wonderful, thank you so much for all the ideas.
    Just a question about numbers of rows. As you’ve added two slip stitch rows after the cast on, should I reduce the number of conventional rib rows? My pattern calls for 7 rows of rib and I’m considering just doing 6.

    1. Hi there!

      No, there’s no need to reduce the number of rows. The set-up rows of this cast-on don’t really add to the height of the project – they just create the rounded cast-on edge. I would stick with the normal number of rows first and see how that looks. :)

  6. sob…sob..sob..Tears of joy..after watching your video…Perfect…After three days of searching for a ‘simple’ tubular cast on in the round…feeling like a fool wondering in the dark…I found my guide. I felt like you were in my head answering all my questions before I could voice them. You made it soooo simple and so relevant. You are my knitting savior.
    Obrigada

  7. Hi Liat,
    You’re the best :)
    I just turned 60 – but stillmaking plans for as when I grow up LOL- and I have to admit that you’re the one who got me hooked to knitting again.
    not that I’m a daily knitter – it still comes by flares.
    My middle name is impatience, so thin needles are not my friends, although I love the looks of fine knitting.
    Thanks to your continental knitting instruction, magic loop trick, the easy heels in sock knitting, knitting has become fun i.s.o. only one way to create a product.
    (In school I learned to knit on rusty needles with sturdy cotton when I was about 6 years old; my mother was more into crotcheting (faster) but still I educated myself by practising every stitch in the crafts book we had at home. But I did not enjoy the battle with dpn’s – no socks for me!)

    I owe you!
    Care for some artisan soap perhaps? One of my oter passions :D

    keep up the good work!

    Regarding the Italian cast on: Japan wouldn’t be so strange as the originator of this method: both countries are known for their delicacy when it comes to handwork.
    Often things go by names they don’t earn, like a “Dutch” treat, or talking Double Dutch – guess there’s no more doubt about my origin. ;)

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