Monday, July 6, 2009

Knit Confessions

Confession 1: I check for gauge maybe one out of fifteen projects.

Confession 2: Sometimes, when I make a mistake, I keep knitting for a very long time, hoping the mistake will magically go away. This almost never works--but sometimes, it does. And that very small percentage keeps me in bad knitting habits.

Confession 3: I have been known to pull loose stitches tight on the wrong side, and tie a knot that no one will see so as to keep the stitches looking even.

Confession 4: I have made maybe three swatches in my life.

Confession 5: I do not know how to long-tail cast on.

This last is, to me anyway, by far the most embarrassing. The others can be explained away as sneaky knitterly tricks all-but-the-most-perfectionist-of-us do, or we all know nobody really makes swatches, or I do mostly get gauge usually kind of so why bother checking?

But I'm a fairly dedicated knitter. I have a blog with the word "knit" in the title. Sometimes I make up how to knit things--and people go ahead and do what I did. All these things indicate that I should have a fairly good grasp of the basic skills of knitting.

And I cannot long-tail cast on. Believe me, I have tried. I have studied written directions, drawn instructions, watched videos, watched friends (surreptitiously, because all those other ones I can do without having to 'fess up to my ignorance), and all to no avail. It simply makes no sense to me. (Don't even tell me go check out this tutorial or that one. Believe me, I've tried them all).

I was taught knitted cast-on when I first learned. Easy peasy. It's knitting. Cable cast-on came easily enough. As did turkish, provisional, figure eight--I can follow written and drawn instructions, people. This is what I do. I was taught to knit a stitch, and to purl a stitch. Everything else I plucked out of the internets.

Long-tail cast on is my nemesis.

Theoretically, I don't need to know how to do it. I've gotten along just fine. It's just one cast on among many. But I know that when patterns say "cast on ___ sts," they mean long-tail cast on ___ sts. And I'm betting that means there's something to this technique. And anyway I will never admit defeat. In the face of such a powerful villain, I will turn to the only weapon I have left--people I know who know how to do this apparently very simple thing. I will swallow my pride and ask them to show me. Slowly. And many, many times.

....Ten minutes later....

Pride dutifully swallowed.

It didn't taste as bad as I thought it would (it helps when your knitterly teachers are really nice and really patient and not at all judgy).

And I can do it! Long-tail cast on lies at my feet, writhing in the agonies of vanquishment. I almost want to take a picture to show you, but I imagine anybody who has made it this far into this post already knows what long-tail cast on looks like.

It's really not that hard. I don't understand why I had such a hard time figuring it out. And it's not even fleeting, this knowledge--I've already put the needles down, gone about business, and gone back to it--and I can still do it!

Just don't anybody try and get me to make swatches. I already know how, I just choose to knit on in ignorance.


Jodi Meadows said...


I don't think I've ever checked for gauge, I leave mistakes in if I can fiddle enough to keep the stitch count right, I never thought of pulling loose stitches, and I think I made swatches when I was first learning how to knit, but never since.

I suspect most knitters are just like you! Though...long tailed cast on. I hadn't thought that one was an issue, but I'm glad you got it! If it makes you feel any better, the other cast ons make me flee in terror. I managed provisional cast ons for my love of socks and the desire to do toes up, and I think I did a knitted cast on once, but I think the pattern warned me there would be dire consequences if I didn't follow the instructions; I immediately forgot how to do it. :)

When casting on with the long tail, though, I usually have to do it about fifty times, because either I have too much tail left over, or not nearly enough. *sigh*

Nikki Van De Car said...

No kidding about the extra tail--in my readings, it said "a tail three times as long as the length of your cast-on row," but frankly I can't always visualize what 140 sts cast on in various needle sizes is going to be, much less multiply it by three.

How on earth do people deal with that? Also, and this is possibly a dumb question, can you use long tail when you're casting on more sts when you already have some knitting on the needle (i.e. when casting on straps for booties and the like)?

Jodi Meadows said...

For sock weight yarn, this seems to work fairly well: leave a few inches of yarn, then start wrapping the ball yarn around the needle as many times as you need cast on stitches. Use that end point as the starting point for your long tail cast on. I tried doing the same thing with heavier yarn, but that didn't work. I'm not sure why. (Maybe it was just me.)

A friend suggested using your hand to elbow for about twenty stitches. Wrap it around like you're skeining; one full wrap is forty stitches. This seems to work better on worsted weight yarn; on sock yarn, I have a mile of tail left. (And, as my friend said, if you use your forearm, you're never without your measuring tool. Or if you are, you have bigger problems than your cast on.)

I'm trying to think if I've ever used long tailed cast on while there was something already on the needles, and I don't think I have. I'm not actually a very experienced knitter; I knit sock after sock after sock with the occasional mitt in between. So I don't want to say it's not possible, because someone will just tell me how wrong I am, but I've never tried it. I'm pretty sure I've always just increased with m1, kfb, or picked up whatever stitch was handy.