Do you have a favourite cast-on? The one that’s not too tight, not too loose, with a bit of elasticity (but not too much) and gives an edge you like. Just right like Goldilocks and the bears’ porridge.
Some people’s goldilocks cast on is the first one they ever learned. It works for them and they don’t have a good reason to change it. Other knitters will have tried several or have strong views on why they use the cable cast on rather than long tail or vice versa. Personally, my cable cast on is neater than my long-tail so that’s my “just right” option. But that doesn’t mean it will be yours – we’re back to different options suiting different hands again.
While your goldilocks cast-on will be great for most of your projects there will be times when you need something a little different. With 30 to 40 cast on methods to try. It can be worth experimenting with a few specialised ones – there are plenty of resources including books and videos to help. I'm a fan of a useful little book called Cast On Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor
Swatching your cast on
When (if) you make a tension square or swatch a knitting idea, do you think about your cast on at all?
It’s most likely that you give the cast on little more thought than as a way to getting to the gauge test. But if you are working on a new stitch or type of project, or trying a new yarn, it can be useful to knit a few rows in the edging pattern to see if your cast on is right. For example, some cast ons could be too tight or loose for the ribbing on a sock. Or pull too tight for a lace section.
When do you need a different cast on?
Among the times you might need to test and change your cast on include the neck of a top-down sweater, the cuff or a sock or a shawl that starts with a lace section that will be blocked.
The first two examples, the neckband and the sock cuff, are times when you might need more stretch in your cast on than usual. Luckily, there are plenty of stretchier cast-ons, including “alternating” versions for both the popular long-tail and a cable cast ons. These are versions where you cast on in rib, alternating the usual “knit” version of the cast on with a purl variation.
For the lace project, it may be worth swatching your pattern with your normal cast on and with one that can come out a bit loose such as the thumb (or backward loop) method or the basic knit on cast on. I find these cast ons can be a bit loose compared to my knitting tension so on a garment they’d give me an untidy edge but for a section of lace I am going to aggressively block out, that slack could be useful.
Other cast on types
Provisional cast ons – for example the crochet cast on. These are cast ons that allow you to “release” stitches from the start of your work to be knitted later. They are useful in lace and in some top down projects.
Decorative cast ons , such as a picot cast on and the Old Norwegian cast on, can give a different look to the edge of your work.
Multicolour cast ons create braided or contrasting edgings – great options for colour work hats and gloves.
Once you start building your cast on repertoire, you will find lots of interesting options but this doesn’t mean you will abandon your original goldilocks cast on. This is workhorse choice that will still be a good choice for much of your knitting. But you’ll have more choice and more confidence about knowing when your cast on is doing what you need.