Knitting 101: The Long-Tail Cast On

long tail cast on in knitting
The Spruce
  • 01 of 03

    A Long Tail and The Slip Knot

    Beginning the long-tail cast on.
    Beginning the long-tail cast on. (c) Sarah White licensed to, Inc.

    Many knitters choose to begin their knitting projects with a technique called the 'long-tail cast on.' This is an easy method to learn and is one of the fastest ways to get stitches onto the needles. There are a few tricks to it, but once you get it, you'll have no problems.

    The long-tail cast on method is versatile and will work for almost any knitting project. Better yet, the cast on makes a row of bumps that count as a row of knitting. If you're working the stockinette stitch, you can start with a purl row instead of a knit row when you cast on with this method.

    Setting Up for a Successful Long-Tail Cast On

    As with many other cast-on methods such as the German twisted cast-on method, the long-tail cast on begins by forming a slip knot.

    Unlike the knit cast on or cable cast on, this one does not begin near the beginning of the ball of yarn. Instead, you have to start with a long tail and the stitches are formed using both the tail and the yarn attached to the ball.

    The trick is to make sure that the tail is long enough for your project. There are a variety of ways that you can estimate how long your tail needs to be. Yet, it never fails that at some point you will underestimate and have to begin again and that's okay, it happens to everyone.

    • Once you've measured out how long your long tail needs to be, ​you can form the slip knot.
    • After the slip knot is secured, hold the needle in your right hand.
    • Position the work so the yarn attached to the ball is in front. Wrap this strand around your left thumb, so it goes counter-clockwise around the thumb.
    • The tail should go over your index finger and be held loosely between the two fingers.

    Some knitters wrap the ball-end yarn around the thumb as described, but many also do it with the tail end around the thumb. You basically get the same result.

    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    Making the Loop

    Making the loop.
    Making the loop in the long-tail cast on method. (c) Sarah White licensed to, Inc.

    To make the loop in​ a long-tail cast on:

    • Slip the tip of the needle under the thread that is around your thumb (the yarn attached to the ball). 
    • Stretch the needle back over the other strands and behind the yarn around your index finger (the long tail).
    • Slip the needle under the long tail thread and then through the loop that is formed around the thumb.

    Essentially, you're going back over the thread that is around the back of your thumb and under the loop that is around the front of your thumb.

    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    Finishing the Stitch

    Two stitches cast on using the long-tail method.
    A completed stitch (two stitches with the slip knot) using the long-tail cast on. (c) Sarah White licensed to, Inc.

    The final step in making a stitch for the long-tail cast on method:

    • Simply slide the loop of your left thumb and pull the thread so that the loop holds onto the needle. Make sure not to pull too tightly. 
    • To continue making stitches, loop the yarn that is attached to the ball back around your thumb and repeat as many times as needed for your project.

    Tip: Remember that the slip knot loop counts as a stitch.

    The great thing about the long-tail cast on is that once you get the hang of it, you can complete the stitches very quickly.

    Are You Struggling?

    It can, admittedly, be tricky to figure out the needle movement at first. There is really only one way to twist around the pieces of yarn to successfully get a closed loop onto the needle. If you don't weave the needles around the yarn correctly, you will end up with a loose wrap of yarn around the needle. The goal is to get a sort of knot.

    If you're struggling, start over with the slip knot, reset the yarn on your fingers, and try again. Once you get it, it's truly an AHA! moment. You'll see.