Several people wrote to express surprise and/or commiseration that I was struggling with the join-twist problem on my camo-flash tee. It’s an easy problem to have, and one that’s not limited to beginners. I find some things exacerbate the chance of twisting:
- Having too many stitches for the needle’s circumference
If the stitches are jammed onto the needle they have a tendancy to ruffle the cast on edge, no matter what cast-on is used. Even more so if the cast-on edge is narrow. That’s why I ended up knitting several rows of stockinette in waste yarn. That gave my "cast-on row" some bulk and weight, and helped sort out the ruffle
- Using a circular instead of a flock of DPNs.
Now most people will disagree with me on this one. DPN fear runs deep. But I at least find it far easier to tame an in the round cast-on row if it has been done on several smaller straight needles than on one circ (or two circs). A couple of factors here get in my way with the circs. First, even if they’ve been carefully de-kinked using the hot water method, they still curve. Second, they are not uniform in girth around their entire circumference. Stitches twist more on the skinny cable part than they do on the fatter business ends of circs. Using DPNs all the stitches are held on areas of uniform thickness. I usually cast onto my DPNs in sequence, then lay the entire work out flat on the table, in a rough circle, making sure each needle’s cast-on edge is turned to the inside of the circle. On DPNs that edge stays where I want it, held in place by friction on the needle’s thickness. Circs aren’t as easy to sort out this way. The stitches on the skinny part twist every which way, and the springy cable parts themselves rebel at neat alignment. Keeping two circs in proper orientation is even harder.
- Lots of stitches in the absolute
The bigger the piece, the harder it is to keep the stitches in alignment. The hardest circular cast on I ever did was on a cardigan I knit for my grandmother. It was black, with an originalstranded pattern in white in the traditional Fair Isle yoke area. It was also in fingering weight acrylic (a slippery yarn) as she specified "easy care" for the gift. At 8 spi I had something like 340 stitches around. And around. And around…
So for the most part, I use DPNs to start off circular pieces. Even adult circumference sweaters. I do use a couple of tricks though.
First, unlike this piece, I do not often start out with a provisional cast-on. The need to go back and work the live edge later did introduce an element of complexity, and until I did the waste yarn thing, made an even more ruffly than usual bottom edge. This in turn made keeping it sorted out more difficult. For large circumference pieces, I usually use a tubular cast on, similar to the method Kris described in a comment on yesterday’s post. I use straights, and using a provisional cast-on, create half the number of stitches needed. I knit five or so rows in plain stockinette. Then I unzip the provisional cast-on and stick a second straight into the newly freed stitches, making sure that the points of both straights end up on the same edge of my now suspended strip of knitting. Next I fold the strip in half, and using a third needle (often in this case, a circ), alternately knit one stitch off the needle in front and purl one stitch off the needle in back. This gives me a sturdy and attractive edge, and enough of a bottom ridge that when joined into a round for circular knitting, avoids the twist problem on the first truly circular round. If people are interested in pix of this, I’ll try to take a demo sequence, but at this point I’m sure the tubular cast-on I describe can be found on photo how-to sites elsewhere.
My second trick is casting on using long DPNs. I adore Euro-style extra long DPNs, and buy them whenever I see them. My collection is far from complete, and the sizing and set numbers are a bit strange because many of my finds are yard sale orphans or even "antique" British needles that originally came in sets of only three. Even so, I do have several DPN sets in the 12-18 inch long range. Theyr’e very convenient for casting on, even if they end up being a smidge off standard sizing. A half or quarter size down is usually a good thing if casting on wool, to control stretch; conversely the same amount larger can be useful in casting on cotton or linen to introduce a bit more ease in a tight initial row.
Some people swear by using a contrasting color for the cast on row. As you can see from my problems with this project, having a white row at the bottom of a mostly-green piece didn’t help much. So there you have it. Reasons (not excuses) why this problem plagues so many people at all levels of expertise.