Estimating Long Tail Cast On

Birdwatcher Sweater by Casapinka

It is spring, at least in my mind (we had eight inches of snow Monday evening), and spring makes me want to work on light, airy sweaters and shawls. Couple that with the desire to use the new Baah La Jolla yarn that arrived in the shop recently, and we have the beginnings of a new project.

The Birdwatcher by Casapinka fits the bill.  It is knitted bottom up and in the round.  As you can see from the picture, there is a simple lace pattern at the bottom. The body is worked straight up with no increases or decreases, so it is easy to make it longer.  The shoulders are joined in a three-needle bind off. 

Casting on 220 stitches to start the sweater can present two challenges:

  • Getting the correct number of stitches on the needles and
  • Estimating the correct amount of yarn for a long tail cast on.

I hate to waste yarn at the beginning of my project, so I try very hard to estimate the amount that I need to cast on—not too much and not too little.  Estimating gets harder when I need to cast on 220 stitches.  I have used several methods for estimating yarn needed for long tail cast ons, including the wrap method and the two-strand cast on.

The wrap method is pretty simple.  Just wrap your yarn around the needle that you plan to use the same number of times as stitches you plan to cast on.  For example, if you are casting on 20 stitches, wrap the yarn around your needle 20 times.  Just remember to wrap the yarn gently; pulling too tightly may result in a short end.  I had 220 stitches to cast on and so I used the wrap method for 20 stitches.  I marked the place where I started unwrapping with a slip knot, then I laid out that length of yarn and folded my yarn back and forth until I had length for 220 stitches.  Below is a video, by Patty Lyons, that demonstrates the zig-zag method. 

I still ended up with way too much yarn for my cast on.  At this point, I unraveled my cast on and decided it was best to use a method that required no estimate at all.  I have used this method before and I should have used it from the get-go.  Below is a demonstration of the method, Knit Purl Hunter’s video, Long Tail Cast On - No Tail Yarn Estimate.

No matter which cast on method I use, if I am casting on more than 50 stitches, I slip a stitch marker on my needle every 20 stitches as I go.  Once I have more than 75 or 100 stitches on my needle, I find that counting and recounting them wastes time.  While casting on the 220 stitches for the Birdwatcher sweater, my husband asked me questions and remarked on a movie.  I would have been lost without my trusty markers. 

I would recommend that you try different cast on methods and find out which one works best for you and your project.