In today’s Knitting 101, I’ll teach you how to long tail cast on in knitting.
Of all the knitting cast on methods, the long tail cast on is the easiest to learn. It is also the one knitters use most.
This is due to the fact that it’s a stretchy cast on, which creates a clean, neat edge. The image below gives you an idea of what I mean. Here you can see a knitted washcloth in 100% cotton yarn with a neat long tail cast on edge.
This elastic cast on makes it so useful for all kinds of knitting projects, which we'll elaborate on later.
Get the Happy Accident Knit Washcloth pattern.
Try I Love This Cotton yarn (100% cotton).
In addition to learning how to long tail cast on, I’ll also share some other names it goes by. I’ll tell you how to start a new row in knitting, and what to do with the long tail once you finish your knitting.
Before we discuss the long tail cast on method, a quick word on some knitting terms.
Knitting Terms for Beginners
You’re bound to come across the following knitting phrases as you learn to knit. I just want to call them out for clarification in case you’re not yet familiar.
- Active Yarn / Working Yarn - This is the yarn you’re knitting with. It relates to the yarn coming from the yarn skein or yarn ball, not the yarn tail.
- Turning Your Work - When you knit to the end of a row, the worked row will be in your right hand. To turn your work, return this needle to your left hand and work the next row, etc.
Turning your knitting occurs only in flat knitting, when you're knitting back and forth. This is also known as straight knitting.
- Knitting Tension - This is how tightly or how loosely you knit. Too tightly leads to smaller stitches and denser fabric. Too loose leads to large, uneven stitches. Both make your knitting look sloppy and unprofessional, and will affect your knitting gauge. Try for a smooth, even knitting rhythm for beautiful stitches.
You can learn more knitting terms and knitting abbreviations here.
Other Names for the Long Tail Cast On
Depending on where you live and knit, you may hear the long tail cast on called by different names. It's also known as:
- Double Cast On
- Continental Knitting Cast On
- Slingshot Cast On
- Two Strand Cast On
- Basic Half-Stitch Cast On
While it’s called different things in different regions, there’s really no difference in the long tail cast on itself.
So, let’s move on and talk about this knitting cast on method.
The Long Tail Cast On Method
When you cast on stitches with this method, you’re knitting the first row. This first row of stitches is what anchors the knitted piece together. This is why it’s important to learn the long tail cast on correctly.
As I mentioned earlier, this easy knit cast on is known for its elastic edge. This stretchiness is important to a variety of knitting projects.
Here are some easy knitting projects that use the long tail cast on:
- Arabesque Knit Cowl
- Fingerless Gloves
- Andalusian Risa Knit Hat
- Garter Stitch Scarf
- Eenie Meenie Baby Blanket
- Electric Love Mosaic Cowl (shown above)
Okay, let's learn the long tail cast on step by step. But first, let me list the knitting supplies I'm using for this tutorial.
For this knitting tutorial, I'm using:
Cascade 220 worsted weight yarn (100% wool)
ChiaoGoo interchangeable knitting needles, 5" tips.
These are just some of the knitting supplies I always keep on hand. You can learn about wool yarn here and what you should keep in your knitting kit here.
How to Long Tail Cast On for Beginners
Before you begin, measure out your yarn for your long tail cast on. If you're not sure how much yarn you'll need for the stitches required, this tutorial will help you.
First, make your slip knot and cinch it onto your knitting needle in your right hand. Your yarn tail should be in front, your working yarn in back.
Now, lift the yarn tail over your left thumb and the working yarn over your left index finger. It should be in the shape of a Y or a slingshot.
To keep the slip knot in place, hold it on the knitting needle with your right index finger.
Third, swing the knitting needle to the left and insert it under and through the loop. Your knitting needle is moving towards your right index finger.
Fourth, continue this motion from left to right over and under the loop on your index finger.
The motion is now moving back to the left and through the loop on your thumb.
Fifth, drop your thumb and allow the yarn to slip off your finger. Now, gently tug the strands of yarn to cinch it on the needle. You have now cast on your second stitch.
Remember, the slip knot is your first stitch in the long tail cast on.
Don’t forget to count it.
Finally, repeat this process until you have cast on the desired number of stitches you need to begin your knitting project.
You’ve done it! You’ve learned how to long tail cast on. This is not the end of your long tail journey, though. Let’s talk about what happens next.
How to Start a New Row in Knitting
The image below shows your cast on row of knit stitches. This is what your first row of knitting looks like.
Now, when you finish casting on your stitches, you’ll start a new row in knitting. By this I mean you'll start knitting or purling. To do this, you’ll need to turn your knitting.
Take a look at the image below. This is what your stitches and yarn should look like once you've turned your knitting after the cast on row.
The knitting needle with the cast on row should be in your left hand. The yarn tail is in back, your active yarn / working yarn is in the front.
Now you can begin knitting (or purling) the first row after the long tail cast on. Follow your pattern’s instructions.
Here’s another example of a knitted washcloth pattern that’s both knits and purls.
Get this free Double Broken Rib Washcloth pattern.
Get I Love This Cotton Yarn for your next knitting project.
Ok, so we’ve covered how to long tail cast on step by step for flat knitting. What about casting on for knitting in the round? I’ve got you covered.
Long Tail Cast on in the Round
When you’re ready to try circular knitting, you’ll find it’s a very similar process. You’ll find a dedicated tutorial on how to cast on knitting in the round here.
Just keep in mind that although I’ve used circular needles here, circular knitting is different from flat knitting as you’ll have to join the yarn ends together.
Once you’ve mastered the long tail cast on in the round, you can knit hats, cowl patterns, or maybe even a knitted poncho. The possibilities are endless.
Can't decide? Here's a free headband knitting pattern I designed to get you started.
Get the Free Emerald Song Headband pattern here.
Okay, so we covered how to begin knitting and knitting in the round. What about after?
You may wonder, What do I do with the yarn tail when I finish a knitting project? This is an important question, one that doesn’t get mentioned much. Let’s talk about what happens when you finish a knitting project.
How to Finish Knitting
When you come to the end of your knitting, there’s a couple of steps that remain. The first step is to fasten off your knitting, or bind off. This knitting tutorial shows you how to bind off here.
The next step involves weaving in knitting ends. This includes the yarn tail from the long tail cast on, any yarn joins you’ve made, and the bind off tail. This video tutorial will show you how to weave ends in your knitting.
Then, you’ll need to wash your knit and block your knitting, if it requires it. Once that's done, it'll be ready to gift or wear.
Long Tail Cast On FAQs
Still have questions? That’s okay. I have answers. Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about this type of cast on.
How long should my yarn tail be for the long tail cast on?
Your yarn tail should be about five inches (5”) in length. This is to ensure that you have enough yarn to weave in ends later. If it’s too short, you won’t be able to do that and your knitting will unravel.
What happens if your long tail cast on is too short?
If your cast on is too short, you’ll know it because you’ll run out of yarn. The only way to fix it is to cast on again with a longer length of yarn. However, there IS a way to estimate the long tail cast on. Read on to the next question to learn how.
How do you measure the length of a cast on tail?
Believe it or not, there are several methods that work as a long tail cast on calculator. Here’s a knitting tutorial that’ll teach you how to estimate your long tail cast on.
Try each method, learn its pros/cons, and find one that works for you. No more playing yarn chicken!
Which side is the tail for the long tail cast on?
When you cast on, the end of your yarn (yarn tail) should be in front on your left. The working yarn coming from your ball or skein, should be in back on the right.
When you turn your knitting to work the first row, the yarn tail is in back and your working yarn is in front.
What if I cast on too tightly?
If you tend to cast on too tightly, there’s a workaround for this. Simply cast on using the next size knitting needles. Then, switch back to your project size knitting needles when you’re done casting on.
Another option is to long tail cast on holding two needles together. I find this particularly helpful with really fine yarns like lace or fingering yarn.
What if I have a loose cast on?
If you tend to cast on loosely in your knitting, do the opposite of the above. Try casting on with a smaller size knitting needle to keep your cast on from being too loose. Just remember to switch back to the correct size knitting needle once you’ve finished your cast on.
Did you find this long tail cast on knitting tutorial helpful? Still have questions? I’d love to know! Drop me a line below and I'll do my best to help you.
Don’t know if ya speak Spanish as my mother doesn’t as she used to knit a lot but because of age and her eyes doesn’t work well again! But she spoke french and English is hard for her to learn. But her Spanish is a lot better now and she would like to keeps knitting but on Spanish. She wants to get more info if U know how to get on Spanish as ur last name seems Spanish. ThNx
I know how to do Long tail cast on.
My problem is that when I do Rows 1-7 in K1 .p1 where should the working tail and cast on tail be. So, I can do Row 8.
Can You helpme.
Christina Garza-Brown says
Hi Rita! Good question. On the first row the tail and working yarn are at the tip (top) of the needle. This would go for all odd numbered rows. Even numbered rows, the tail will be at the end (bottom) of the needle. I hope this helps you. Cheers!
Feeling like a video of this process ( especially if I could put it on a continous loop and watch it a bazillion times) might help 🙂
Christina Garza-Brown says
Thanks for your suggestion, Tom. I hope to have video tutorials in the future. For now, one project at a time.
I hope you were able to master the long tail cast on. I believe in you! Let me know if you have questions.
Marge Johnson says
Why is long tail cast on necessary? I cast on a different way that results in a look just like the Long tail.
Hi Marge! The long tail is the most common cast on but is certainly not the be-all end-all of cast ons. You can absolutely stick with what works for you, but it can't hurt to know other methods. I hope this helps!
Marge Johnson says
Thanks for your input. I will experiment with this and see if I like it any better.
Merilyn Croft says
This is, by far, the best post I have seen on the long tail method of casting on. As opposed to the video presentations, your simple photos enable one to zoom in on the configuration of the strands. This is impossible to do on a video.
So - thank you for your post. At last I have an alternate version to my two needle method which I have used since the dawn of time. You are never too old to learn new things. I am 74 years young and Internet is the best teacher.
Blessings from South Africa
Merilyn, you absolutely made my day! It makes me so happy to hear that my tutorial was just what you needed. That's my goal and it thrills me that you were able to learn something new.
Thanks for taking the time to drop me a note.
With much appreciation from the ❤️ of Texas, USA
Brittney L Bailey says
Hi. I just wanted to let you know that this is a life saver! It's easy to understand and I like that I can zoom in on the photos. I have been knitting for a little over a decade (I started knitting when I was 11 and I'm 22 now) and I had never heard of this type of cast on. I'm starting a new project and wanted to try something new. Thank you so much for this!
Brittney, I'm so glad you found this tutorial helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feedback! I really appreciate it. Happy knitting!
Karina Kalmbach says
Hello! I was wondering, how long should my tail be when casting on? I’m following a pattern for a sweater (first time knitter) and the first step says to ‘long tail cast 60 stitches’.
Hi Karina! I think what you're asking is how much yarn do you need for the long tail cast on. This tutorial here shows you different ways on how to calculate the yarn you need for 60 stitches. The yarn tail itself (not the working yarn) is for weaving in later; this should be at least 5 inches. I hope this helps. Let me know if you still have questions.
After viewing nearly a dozen videos, I did not find one that said what you do with leftover tail when you start knitting. You can't just cut it off or it will unravel. Do you work it in like the end of a color when you're doing Fair Isle? Thanks.
Hi Pat! That's a great question. Yes, you'll need to weave in the yarn tail on the wrong side of your knitting when you're finished with your project. Duplicate stitch will do, unless it's a textured stitch or ribbing. Let me know if you have more questions.
Rosemarie Guerra says
continuing to dec 1 st at front edge on every 4 th row, cast off 6 sts at beg of next row.
Work one row then dec. 1st at armhole edge on every row until 41 sts remain.
Can you please explain for me.
Decrease 1 stitch every 4th row = decrease this row, then work 3 rows before decreasing again [dec.row, then work rows/rounds 2,3,4]. Repeat as instructed until you're required to cast off stitches. Cast off the 6 stitches. Work 1 row, then decrease 1 stitch on EVERY row/round until 41 sts remain. Good luck!