One of the most common question knitters have when using the long tail cast on method is how much yarn do I need? It’s a great question.
It’s hard to gauge how much yarn to cast on if you don’t know how. The yarn ends up being too short or too long. It can be so frustrating.
But today we’ll resolve this issue so it’ll never be a problem for you again.
In this Knitting 101, I’ll show you four easy ways to measure for a long tail cast on. I'll discuss the different methods, along with their pros and cons, to help you decide which is best for you and your knitting project.
Please note, this post requires a working knowledge of how to cast on stitches. You can find the long tail cast on tutorial here.
Long Tail Cast On
When you learned how to cast on stitches, you probably learned the knitting basics of the long tail cast on. It’s a favorite for most knitters. It’s also one of the first cast-ons most knitters learn. The long tail cast on is a stretchy cast on and works well with many knitting projects.
But no method or technique is without reproach. The central complaint on this knitting technique has to do with yarn lengths. You can guesstimate all you want, but it’d be better to have a true go-to method that works for you.
Let’s get right to these knitting techniques so you can get back to knitting.
How to Determine Long Tail Cast On Length
There are four cast on knitting methods we’ll use to determine how much yarn for the long tail cast on. They are:
- Yarn Wraps Method
- Zig-Zag Loops Method
- Stitches per Inch (SPI) Method
- Two Strand Cast On Method
Yarn Wraps Method
You might already know this method or have heard of it before. As the name suggests, you wrap yarn around the needle the number of stitches you need for your project. Let me show you how.
To determine how much yarn for a long tail cast on using the yarn wraps method, follow these steps:
- First, unravel a small amount of yarn from your yarn ball.
- Second, wrap the yarn around your knitting needle as many times as the number of stitches required to cast on.
- Third, unravel the wrapped yarn marking the distance from start to finish.
If your stitch pattern calls for 20 stitches, make 20 yarn wraps around the needle. When you unravel your yarn from the needle and measure, you should have enough to cast on 20 stitches. You also want to add a little extra to account for your slip knot and leave a yarn tail.
Yarn Wrap Method Pros:
- It doesn't require a ruler.
- Works best on straight knitting needles.
- More accurate when casting on fewer stitches.
- Wrapping is a good option for smaller projects.
Yarn Wrap Method Cons:
- This method is not always reliable.
- Doesn't work well on circular knitting needles.
- You may cast on tighter or looser than you wrap.
NOTE: The Yarn Wrap Method is not to be confused with wraps per inch (WPI). WPI in knitting relates to yarn gauge, or the weight (thickness) of the yarn. It is not a way to measure yarn for long tail cast on.
And while you're thinking about wrapping, you might like Red Heart's It's a Wrap yarn. A superfine 50/50 cotton, acrylic blend with an astonishing 1100 yards (1006 meters) of yarn.
Now, let’s talk about the second method for measuring yarn in a long tail cast on: the Zig-Zag Loops Method.
Zig-Zag Loops Method
The Zig-Zag Method is similar to the wrap method. It’s different, though, in that it requires you to cast on stitches to measure.
With this method, imagine you have a hat knitting pattern that calls for you to cast on 100 stitches in the round. You probably don’t want to leave this cast on to chance. I know I wouldn’t. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t happened to me before.
Here’s how you do it:
- First, unravel a length of yarn. The length isn’t critical. You just need to be able to cast on at least 10 stitches.
- Second, long tail cast on until you can't cast on another stitch.
- Now, while holding the loop at the end, unravel these stitches.
- Then, fold the yarn and measure out the number of stitches you need end over end. The picture below gives you a better visual of this method.
Say you cast on 10 stitches but you need 60 stitches for a scarf knitting project. Using this loops method, you would measure out 6 lengths of 10, as shown above.
As you can see, each arrow designates a length. From the yarn tail to the end of Row 1, this demonstrates one length of ten stitches. You would then measure out five additional lengths for a total of 60 stitches.
Again, don’t forget to add a little extra yarn for your slip knot and enough for a yarn tail.
Zig-Zag Method Pros:
- Quick and easy to estimate yarn lengths.
- Pretty accurate and doesn’t require a ruler.
- A good option for any size knitting projects.
- Less likely to leave you playing yarn chicken.
- Works well on straight and circular knitting needles.
Zig-Zag Method Cons:
- For those who hate math, some minor mental math is required.
- Not an exact science and results may vary depending on how you zig and zag.
Now let’s talk about a third way to measure yarn for the long tail cast on.
Stitches Per Inch Method
This method requires you to measure how many stitches per inch. Thankfully, this is really easy to do. The stitches per inch method requires only a ruler or gauge tool, like the one shown below, and a calculator. This is how you do it.
Sounds too easy, right? Read on for the pros and cons of this method.
Stitches per Inch Method Pros:
- Requires minimal measuring.
- Works well with worsted weight yarn or thinner yarns.
Stitches per Inch Method Cons:
- Requires a knitting tool.
- Not always accurate or reliable.
- It may require multiple cast-ons to get it right.
- Doesn't work well on all yarn gauges or yarn weights.
- May leave you with extra yarn in your long tail cast on.
Here’s a handy knitting stitches per inch chart.
NOTE: The Stitches Per Inch Method is not related to knitting gauge.
You can learn more about knitting gauge here.
Finally, let’s discuss the last method in this post: the Two Strand Cast On Method.
Two Strand Cast On Method
This last method has been around for years but, for some reason, isn’t as well-known as the others. This is unfortunate because it is so incredibly useful. You'll see below.
The Two Strand Method requires just a couple of steps:
You could also cast on using one strand from two different yarn colors. This way gives you a lovely multi-colored edge, as shown below.
Read on for the tutorial!
How to Do the Two Strand Cast On
First, make your slip knot with both strands leaving a 4" – 6” yarn tail.
Next, slip it onto your knitting needle and tighten it gently. Then, separate the two strands and long tail cast on.
Again, you can find the Long Tail Cast On Tutorial here.
There is an additional step in this method though. You’ll need to cast on one extra stitch. Later, you will remove the slip knot, which is why you add the extra stitch.
When you have cast on all the required stitches +1, cut one of the two strands. Be sure to leave a long enough yarn tail to weave in later.
Now, knit your first row with the uncut yarn strand. When you come to the slip knot, do not work it. Slide it off the needle and undo the knot. From there, continue knitting.
* If you're using two yarn colors and knitting flat, the yarn in front (on your thumb) will be the smooth cast on edge.
* If you want to cast on in the round with a color different from the body of a knit hat or cowl, use two ends / balls of a single color. See my Lazy River Cowl example below. Then switch to the other color after you've finished casting on.
Two Strand Cast On Method Pros:
- Quick and easy.
- Most accurate method.
- Doesn’t require any extra tools.
- No knot on your cast on edge.
- No fear of running out of yarn.
- No measurement or math involved.
- Helps you cast on large stitch quantities.
- Can be worked with one or two colors of yarn.
- Fool proof!
Two Strand Cast On Method Cons:
- There’s extra yarn tails to weave in.
- You might forget to add the extra stitch or remove the slip knot.
- If you have a large amount of stitches to cast on, the yarn may begin to coil up on itself.
As I mentioned before, this method is really handy, especially if you have a lot of stitches to cast on. This picture below shows my Eenie Meenie Baby Blanket knitting pattern. I used the Two Strand Cast On Method to take the guesswork out of casting on 100+ stitches.
This wraps up our Knitting 101 on how much yarn you need for a long tail cast on. You’ve learned four different methods and their pros and cons.
So, grab your knitting needles and yarn and try them out for yourself and see what works best for you. One of these methods (or more!) is sure to work well for you.
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