Monday I posted about teaching my sock class, and as part of it – teaching the backwards loop (half-hitch) cast-on for sock tops. I wrote that I thought the half-hitch cast-on was the stretchiest one I knew. I use it often both for sock tops, the bottom edge of lace pattern pieces, and the edge of watch caps – in fact, most things I want to stretch to their maximum potential. Sockbug wrote in to say there were other, stretchier choices.
I’ve heard people express skepticism on the durability of a simple half-hitch sock top edge, but not its potential for stretch. (For the record, out of around 30 pairs of socks in my own drawer, and easily another 75 knit for other people, I’ve never experienced nor had feedback that a half-hitch cast on edge has failed). Still, I’m always open to learning new things (there’s a nifty one below I’ll be trying out soon.)
Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, here’s the half-hitch cast-on:
Now I can’t say I’ve used every other cast-on out there (there are dozens and dozens). I’m always looking for more. Here’s a round-up of what I can find on the Web, and in some standard reference books. Today’s group is the family of half-hitch/backwards loop cast-ons, including a couple of rarely seen variants.
Reference book key:
Vogue Knitting. I have the old edition, (c) 1989. Page refs are good for that one.
DMC Encyclopedia is also known as Therese de Dillmont’s Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. It exists in dozens of editions. Mine is the Running Press one put out in 1974. Page numbers can vary, but the fig numbers accompanying the text are uniform in all editions. Where possible, I’ve given the fig numbers as they appear in the knitting section.
Bantam Needlework. The Bantam Step by Step Book of Needlework I’ve reviewed this one before. It also exists in several editions. Mine is the 1979 issue. To my knowledge, page numbers are constant across editions.
Dictionary of Needlework. The Dictionary of Needlework by S. Caulfield, and B. Saward. This is a big wandering needlework omnibus, first put out in 1882. I have the 1972 Arno Press reproduction.
Stanfield. Encyclopedia of Knitting. This is a newer book, (c) 2000 – and is one of the easiest to grasp, yet unpatronizing or project dependent of the current crop of books for beginning knitters.
Apologies for not citing Mary Thomas. That book is Somewhere. Somewhere being defined as "within the house, but AWOL."
Half Hitch (Backward Loop; Single) Cast-On
This one is the simplest of all – just a series of loops mounted on the needle. I’ve seen people work the half-hitches in either the right or left orientation. I like to follow up this particular cast-on with a single row of plain knit before I launch into a ribbing. This seems to firm it up a bit, and avoids the untwisting purl problem that some people experience when working in the round.
Advantages: No need to measure out a long length, then hope you have enough set aside to accomplish all the required stitches. Very stretchy. Easy to teach to absolute beginners. A standard choice for adding stitches at the end of rows, or replacing stitches mid row (as in some buttonholes).
Disadvantages: Purls can untwist the simple loops of the cast-on row. Not the sturdiest, most stable edge. Some people think makes a sloppy, loose looking edge compared to other methods.
On line references:
DMC Encyclopedia, Fig 420
Vogue, p. 25
Bantam, p. 16
Stanfield, p. 17
Double Loop Variant of Half-Hitch Cast-On
I haven’t tried this one myself, and just ran across it researching this note. The source cites it as being very suitable for lace edges in which multiple increases occur rapidly on the succeeding row. That leads me to believe it’s also quite stretchy. It also looks a bit more open than the plain half-hitch cast on.
The best way I can describe it is to form a standard half-hitch loop, but before pulling it snug up against the previously formed stitches, to take it and give it a half twist, then place the loop formed by the half twist on the end of the needle – in effect making two stitches from every half-hitch loop.
DMC Encyclopedia of Needlework: Figure 421
Double Cast-On or Thumb Cast On
I learned this one only recently. It’s a useful addition to my bag of ticks, but I haven’t settled on a best use case scenario for it yet, although I could probably substitute it for other places in which I’d do a standard long tail cast-on.
I’m grouping this one with the half-hitch family because the ultimate row formed at the bottom of the work is secured by half-hitches, although it could be argued that it more properly belongs in the long-tail family. It’s a simpler version of the long tail method, and starts by leaving an ample tail (about 3x the width of the thing to be cast-on); and making a slip knot. The knitter forms a half-hitch using the long tail, but holds it open with the thumb. Into this loop around the thumb he or she then knits a stitch using the working strand of yarn (NOT the long tail).
Advantages: Firmer than half-hitch. Slightly easier to teach than some other long-tail methods.
Disadvantages: Has a tendency to become too tight. I correct this by casting on over two needles held together. Needs a guesstimate on how long the tail needs to be to accommodate the required number of stitches (I sometimes cheat by knotting together two strands for the first row, cutting one at the end of the cast-on and accepting the fact that I’ll have an extra end to darn in later). Because the bottom end is half-hitch, it isn’t as firm as some other cast-ons. Some think it may be as prone to wear as the half-hitch.
http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/basic_techniques/index.php (last link under long tail)
and an interesting variant – doing this in pattern for ribbing to create an edge with no visual ridge along it. I’d not seen this one before today either. I’m going to have to try this one out myself!
Bantam, p. 16
Vogue, p. 25 (long tail thumb method)
Dictionary of Needlework, p. 281
Stanfield, p. 17