How To Do The Long Tail Cast On And Helpful Tips

The Mosaic Sisters pattern- a set of colorful mosaic knit kitchen towels, washcloths, and coasters - is here! Meet the sisters and get the pattern.

Check out the other tutorials for the Mosaic Sisters: Mosaic Knitting 101 & Stripes And Carrying Yarn Up The Side


The long tail cast on was was one of the first cast ons I learned after branching out from the backwards loop cast on that most new knitters learn right off the bat. After years of knitting, the long tail method has become one of my favorites and my default cast on when a pattern doesn’t ask for a specific method. It’s stretchy, makes a tidy edge, and works up quickly once you get the hang of it. It can be worked in knit, purl, or ribbing (this tutorial focuses on the knit version). 

The long tail cast-on creates the first row of your work - which is why I especially love this cast on when working with non-stretchy yarns like cotton or linen which can be hard to start from a backwards loop cast on. Having a row already made is also great for when you join to knit in the round because it’s much easier to check that the stitches haven’t twisted around the needle. Plus, if you mess up and knit too many rows like I did on a recent project, you can even un-pick the cast on to fix the mistake. The process is a little finicky, but completely doable. 

Even better, for all of this long-tail goodness, all you need are needles and yarn. 

Getting Started

Pull the yarn over the needle with the tail end to the front. There’s no need to tie a knot. The photos above show how to hold and position yarn on the needles with and without my fingers in the way. Hold the yarn in your left hand with the tail end of the yarn over your thumb and the working end over your pointer finger. The needle goes in the middle. The yarn over your thumb becomes the bottom edge and the yarn over your pointer finger becomes the first row.

How much yarn do you need to pull out? Eventually, you’ll be able to eyeball the amount, but a good trick is to cast on 10 stitches, then unravel to find out how much yarn they used. Multiply the amount and had a few inches to weave in later and you’ll have a good estimate. 

Here’s an interesting fact: if you reverse positions and hold the needle in your left hand and the yarn in your right, you’ll make purl stitches instead of knit stitches. 

The 4 Steps To Make A Stitch

How to make a stitch with the long tail cast on. Also, gifs are perfect for when you don't want to watch an entire video.

How to make a stitch with the long tail cast on. Also, gifs are perfect for when you don't want to watch an entire video.

There are 4 distinct steps to make a stitch which seem complicated at first, but your hands will learn. Cast on enough stitches and you won’t even have to think about doing them. I exaggerated the motions to make the steps clearer, but I usually work with much smaller and faster movements.

Step 1: Bring the yarn in front and up underneath the yarn in front of your thumb. This is the loop that will secure the stitch. 

Step 2: Move the needle behind the forward strand on your pointer finger from right to left.

Step 3: Move your thumb backwards which bring the the loop over the needle and the yarn.

Step 4: Take your thumb out of the loop and pull on the front piece of yarn to secure the stitch.

Repeat those 4 steps until you have all the stitches you need on the needles and your first row. If you’re working in stockinette, purl the next row.  

When Casting On Lots of Stitches…

The main complaint about the long-tail cast on is when making a lot of stitches. I’m going to be conservative and say 50 stitches and up. If your yarn estimate is off, you’ll have too little yarn and have to rip out to start again or too much yarn and have a long tail hanging off the end of your work. To avoid both of these hassles, work the cast on with two strands of yarn instead of one.

You don’t have to knot them together either. Just hold the ends in place on the needle with your fingers. Once the first 2 stitches are on the needles, the yarn is secure and isn’t going anywhere. When the cast on is finished cut the front strand of yarn long enough to weave in. Yeah, it’s another end to weave in but it’s still less time and energy than having to repeatedly redo the cast on.

How To Weave In Ends Without A Tapestry Needle

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit! | withwool.com

There are two great reasons to learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle. One, you don’t have to stop knitting to look for that one tapestry needle which has probably wandered off already. Where do they go? Ahem. Two, you can weave in ends as you go instead of putting it off until after the bind off or, if you really loathe working them in, never doing it all. 

Learning to weave in ends without a tapestry needle can be finicky the first few times you do it, especially if you’ve never done color work, but it’s worth the effort. Not only does it save time during finishing but it’s also versatile. You can use it with stockinette, garter, and in pattern. It still works if you’re increasing and decreasing. The ends will follow the curves and angles of short rows and chevrons without creating extra bulk. While it is noticeable on the wrong side, weaving in ends sans needle is neat and tidy. Plus, it even works with slippery yarns.

Sounds pretty cool so far, right? I thought so too which was why I used this method to weave in the ends when I switched colors on the Cuddly Chevron Baby Blanket. The deadline for that blanket left me in a dust with half finished knitting and weaving in the ends without a needle as I went cut out one last step at the end. 

Step By Step

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

efore we get started, there’s one you need to know that’ll make learning this technique much easier. It might seem like you’re just knitting as usual with the new yarn but it’s actually wrapping around the tails as you move them back and forth.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

When it’s time to switch colors (or time to add another ball of yarn), work one stitch in the new color. The tail should be about 6” so you have enough yarn to hold on to.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

In the opposite hand of your new yarn (if you have the dexterity to do all this with one hand, mad props), hold the tails of both colors together.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

Wrap the tails around the right needle from top to bottom.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

Work the stitch normally with the new yarn. Just the new yarn will be caught in the stitch and the tails will fall to the back. This is exactly what you want.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

Work the next stitch with the tails held behind the needle.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you’re satisfied with how much you’ve woven in. I usually aim for 1 - 2”. Drop the tails, cut the old color, and keep on knitting with nary a tapestry needle in sight.

See how all the steps come together below.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com
Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

Here’s what the woven in ends look like on the wrong side of the knitting. The tails follow the curve of the chevron with no problem and are quite secure. A quick note: I waited to cut the tails until after the blanket came out of the washer and dryer.

Tips  & Tricks

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

t the switch between the grey and the blue, the blue yarn isn’t evenly woven in. Since the tails are just wrapped in the working yarn, there’s no need to redo it. Just tug on the tail until it’s neatly in place.

Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com
Learn how to weave in ends without a tapestry needle as you knit!   | withwool.com

What if the tails were woven in too tightly? As shown above on the left, the stripes will pull in and pucker at the change but it’s easy to fix. Gently pull the edge out until to loosen up the tails and straighten the edge like in the right photo. If the tails get pulled out to far, just tug them back into place.


5 Ways To Use Stitch Markers

Stitch markers come in lots of shapes, sizes, and materials. They can be flexible rubber rings, simple metal triangles, intricate jeweled baubles, or cute beads on wire. You can even make them on the spot from small pieces of leftover yarn, paper clips, rubber bands, or hair ties. Stitch markers can be one continuous piece or able to be opened up and “locked” on a specific stitch. These little tools can do a lot to help with your knitting even if they are easy to lose between couch cushions.

Use them to mark the Right Side of your work. When you first cast-on for a garter stitch project, it can be hard to tell the Right Side from the Wrong Side when you pick it up after a break. Take a stitch marker, different from the rest if you’re using a lot of them, and put it a stitch or two in from the starting edge of the Right Side. Pick up your needles and don’t see the marker near the tip? Then you’re on the Wrong Side of your work. 

Stitch markers can be used to mark more than just stitch repeats. On the Cuddly Chevron Blanket, I placed a marker every time I had to increase or decrease. It kept me from having to count (or miscount) every stitch and left my mind free to listen to podcasts or watch a movie while I knit. 

Clover-Locking-Stitch-Markers.jpg

Lockable stitch markers are great for tracking your progress. When you’re working on a big project and it starts to feel like a slog, start your knitting for the day by putting a locking stitch marker on a just knit stitch. When you’re done, you’ll easily see how much you’ve accomplished. This trick is great for seeing progress on sleeves, sweaters, and socks, but can be a bit discouraging if you’re knitting a blanket from the center out.  

stitch-marker-tips.jpg

Stitch markers are also great for counting rows. Here’s also where locking stitch markers come in handy again. When you’re starting a new section of knitting and need to knit a certain number of rows/rounds, say for the ribbing on a pair of toe-up socks, put a locking stitch marker on the first row and count from there. You could also put a marker every 5 or 10 rows so you can see how many rows you’ve knit at a glance. 

Stitch markers are really helpful when you’re casting on a large number of stitches. I can count 20 stitches without losing my place much easier than I can count 400. So, after you cast on 20 sts, place a marker and repeat until you have the required number for your pattern. No miscounting here.

P.S. Here’s one last tip for all the hand spinners out there. Locking stitch markers make it much easier to measure the yardage of skeined handspun. 


Cuddly Chevron Baby Blanket Tutorials

1. Tips for Using Stitch Markers

2. Working lifted increases in garter stitch (January 27th)

3. Weaving in ends as you go without a tapestry needle (February 3rd)