Your goldilocks cast-on and other options

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.

Tip of the week: Use pins and wires to help block lace

26 laceblocking


Lace seems to be what most knitters associate with blocking. It generally requires a particular blocking method and some tools to get the best results.

A lace project rarely looks that great when it comes off the needles – it’s usually a bit scrunched up rather than looking floaty and ethereal.

To turn it into the finished item you will need something to pin your shawl out on, a lot of pins and if possible some blocking wires.

A lot of people use foam matts as the base for their blocking and I recommend T-pins – these a more robust than sewing pins and easy to see as you adjust your piece.

Collect your pins, wires, matts, measuring tape etc before you do anything else – juggling wet knitting while you look for the measuring tape isn’t that much fun.

Blocking wires are often the item that make people nervous. They are simply flexible wire rods that you can thread through your knitting. The main type are straight and unsurprisingly very helpful when you want to block one or more straight edge – thread them through your straight edge and then use a few pins to place each edge. You can also find finer wires that naturally sit in a curve.

The first step in the wet blocking process is to get your piece wet. Soak it in warm water – and no rinse wool wash if you want – for at least 15 minutes.

Once your knitting has soaked, lay a towel on a flat surface. Gently lift the knitting out of the water – let water drain off but DO NOT wring it out. Gently put your knitting on the towel keeping it as flat as possible. Roll the towel to create a knitting swiss roll and then gently squeeze it to draw the water out of your lace. You will end up with a damp but not dripping piece of knitting where the fibres have been thoroughly wetted through.

Then you are ready to lay out your knitting on your blocking surface. I generally start by threading the wires through the straight edges and pinning those in place then I work on curves, the points on edges etc.

Here I want the stocking stitch section to have straight edges,
so I’ve run a wire along at that point and then I am using pins
beyond that to open the lace border with a pin at the top
of each “leaf”.

 On this curved shawl I used wires for the straight side of the
semicircle and then pinned the curve at the halfway and then
the quarter way point, and so on, to help get the curve right.

Take your time to get the shape right and your lace opened nicely - you may move some pins several times. Then leave it to dry.
Don’t remove the pins or wires until you are sure your shawl is dry.

Tip of the Week: Don't think of blocking as stretching

25 blocking general

Be warned this is one of my hobby horses.

I often hear or read: “I have never blocked my knitting.”

Quite frankly I don’t believe this.

I don’t believe that there is anyone who has neither reshaped a damp piece of knitting nor ever washed a knitted item.

The problem is a common misconception the “blocking” always involves wires, pins and extreme stretching. In fact, blocking is a general term for getting your knitted pieces wet – by soaking, steaming, spraying with water or covering with wet cloths – and then shaping it. The shaping could be a small adjustment to get straight edges or persuade you stocking stitch to unroll, or it could be more aggressive to open up a lace pattern.

There are lots of good reasons to block and they are all about getting a great finish to your project:

  • Making your pieces the right shape
  • Opening up or evening out your stitches – for example gentle blocking can really improve the look of colourwork

The crown of the hat has been steamed to even out  the
stitches and dried over a curved surface
  • Letting your cables bloom.
  • Opening up lace to create the final fine fabric

Blocking changed the Firebird shawl from the top pic to the bottom

There are several ways to block:

  • Wash your knitting (following ball band instructions) and lay it out flat, gently adjusting it for size.
  • Pin your pieces to shape on a foam board or a folded towel and stray with water or steam (I recommend a travel steamer). Then leave to dry.
  • Pin out and cover with damp cloths, letting the moisture soak into to the knitting and then leaving to dry
  • Using a steam iron to steam your pieces through a damp cloth. Note, always make sure the knitting is covered by the cloth and never touch your steam iron to the cloth, let alone the knitting.
  • Wet blocking by soaking your pieces and pinning out – more on this tomorrow.

Personally, I tend towards steam or wet blocking because of the fibres and projects I choose.
How you block will depend on various factors:

  • Fibres – wool has lots of spring so can take some aggressive stretching and wet blocking but this would distort cotton or bamboo yarns. Acrylic yarns don’t like too much heat – so steam from a greater distance.
  • Stitches – take care not to over stretch of flatten cables. On the other hand, lace stitches need opening up so take more blocking and pinning out.
  • The project – how much reshaping does your project need. A lace panel in a sweater will need to be opened out but you may not need/want to stretch you piece as much as a lace shawl where you will want a very light fabric.

And a big note. Blocking will even out stitches, it will not make you item fit I you’ve knitted the wrong size (well not without causing other problems).

If you are not sure what the best way to block your piece is, test various approaches on tension squares or extra swatches – see, that tension square is coming in useful yet again.

Tip of the week: Working with charts


19 charts

There will always be some people who don't enjoy working from charts because of how their brains process instructions but for everyone else they are a useful tool for knitting a pattern or for checking it if you prefer using the written instructions. So it is worth understanding how they work.

A chart is basically a picture of your knitting using coloured blocks or symbols.

Colourwork charts are the simplest version of charts, in terms of seeing the picture. Each square represents a stitch and they are arranged in rows. On right side rows you read the chart from right to left. If you think of all your stitches being on the left needle, you will work along them from right to left. Wrong side rows are read from left to right - you are knitting back the other directions. If you are working in the round all your rows are right side rows, so you always read the chart from right to left on every round.

Lace charts are the ones people usually find harder to get their heads round, but they are still a picture. The symbols are designed to match the stitches they represent. For example, a yarnover is represented by a circle which matches an eyelet. A k2tog decrease slopes to the right and in a chart it is shown by a line leaning the same direction.

The picture below is of the pattern created by the lace chart above. You can hopefully see the same lines of eyelets and the sloped lines of the decreases.

The red box on the chart is the one thing that makes the knitting look different from the chart. The box represents the repeat of the pattern whereas you will see all the repeats in your work. But the chart should at the very least help you to see what shapes your lace should be making.

Why not try working with this chart and pattern - A Bench in the Clearing - or some of my other shawl or accessory patterns, to practice working with charts. There's 15% off all my patterns on Payhip until 24 November with the code SHAWL1511.


Tip of the week: Choosing your first lace project

17 big lace


Who says that lace has to be knitted in superfine laceweight yarn?

Yes, that will create a a very fine floaty item, but it isn't the only way to knit lace. You can use lace pattern in any yarn - for example this top I  designed for Knitting Magazine features a lace pattern knitted with two strands of a cotton bamboo DK.

In fact if you are completely new to lace, I recommend going for a DK or a 4-ply pattern so you can concentrate more on getting the hang of the techniques than worrying about tiny needle or seeing fine yarn. 

And while I generally say lace can be worked in any yarn you like, I would recommend avoiding something hairy like mohair for an early lace project because it is harder to see the lines of decrease and it can be a real pain to unpick, and most people will find the need to unpick when starting out with lace knitting.

If you need help with lace or any other knitting techniques, I can help. Find out more here.


Magazine pattern: Fun with shrugs


There's a new issue of Knitting magazine is out.

It's where you can find Diamond my new shrug design in King Cole Superfine Alpaca Chunky.

I've been playing with construction again. This starts from the centre of the diamond lace panel on the back and then is worked outwards for the sleeves and rib band. Most of the time it is worked in the round with some short row shaping, so it is an interesting make without seaming.

The pattern is a very relaxed fit coming in two sizes with advice of adjusting it to your preferences.

This is the first time I've worked with this yarn but I will be using it again. It is beautifully soft and great value.

Meanwhile the shrug sample is back with me and I must remember to take some pictures before I am tempted to snuggle up in it.

Tip of the Week: Life lines

13) life line

Life lines are something the you most commonly hear mentioned when talking about lace knitting but I would use one in any knitting project where I wanted to protect my work so far.

You can put a life line anywhere in your knitting by threading a blunt tapestry needle with sewing cotton and threading it through every stitch in a row.

You don't need to take your stitches off the needle to do this but be careful not to thread your cotton through any stitch markers.

Once your thread is through all the stitches just ignore your lifeline and work on with your knitting.

If you get to the end of your work without needing to go back you can just pull the cotton thread out. But if you do make a mistake above the life line you will not be able rip back beyond your life line so the work you are happy with is protected.

This is why I am such a fan and recommend using a life line anywhere you are happy with your work so far and are about to start a new stitch pattern, colourwork section, shaping or anything else where you think you could go wrong. 

I guess I've just added a reel of sewing cotton to your knitting bag essentials.

Tip of the week: Think of lace as the art of making holes

18 making holes


When we learn to knit, one of the big obstacles to progress is the appearance of random holes, so we put a lot of effort into not making holes.

Then, a lacy pattern catches the eye and it's suddenly about learning to make holes.

And that's what lace knitting is all about, making holes in particular places by putting the yarn over your needle as you work.

These yarn overs will either be matched with decreases keeping the number stitches the same in each row or used as increases.

In the two charts above don't think about the over all pattern  or the repeats but just count the number of circles (representing the yarnovers) and the number of stitches decreased (the various sloping symbols). In the top chart from the Shetland Summer Stole the two totals should be the same because it is rectangular pattern. In the second, from A Bench in the Clearing, there should be more yarnovers than decreases because the outmost yarnovers are used as increases to make a triangular shape.

If you think about your lace pattern as sets of yarnovers and decreases rather than worrying about the whole pattern all at once it can be easier to get your head around. This is true whether working from a chart or a written pattern. 

Checking sets of yarnovers and decreases is also a good way of working out if you have gone wrong with a lace pattern.

Off Kilter: A no pressure knit-along

Off kilter kal

At this time of year, I like to a have a relaxing knit in a beautiful yarn as one of my projects. For me this is to pick up to distract me when fireworks are going off outside. The noise of fireworks sends me a bit off kilter and the knitting something lovely brings me back again.

This year I’ve decided to dive into my tub of 4-ply #singleskeinsofloveliness and knit myself another Off Kilter shawl.

Then I thought: why don’t I invite other people to join me in a super-relaxed knit along.

Off Kilter is a free pattern I made available during the covid lockdowns as something to cheer people up. I think there are many reasons why people might want a lovely but straightforward project and one that they can join other people in making.

It may be you have been looking for a pattern for a skein of 4-ply you have treated yourself to, it could be you love comparing progress with others, or you might want an introduction to shawl knitting. Or like me you want a sport of distracting selfish knitting.

If you can knit, purl, decrease and make a yarnover you’ll be fine with this pattern – and even if you’re not completely sure, I’ll be on hand in my Facebook group to help with advice, lives and videos as needed. There’ll even be some info about making a DK version.

Taking part is really simple – download the pattern for free here, pick out 100g of 4-ply that makes you happy and join the Facebook group (where you can share your yarn choice).

I’m naming cast on day as Friday 29 October – but remember this is a super-relaxed knit along, so if you start a few days before or save it for mid November, that’s up to you.

I love helping people with their knits and seeing how they use my patterns so make my autumn and join in.

October magazine patterns - part one

My two patterns in  Knitting Magazine this month (issue 223) are all about comfort and as I am having a sofa day today, I'm delighted to have the samples on hand so I can try to replicated the pictures in my own home.

Duality chunky

Duality is a chunky lace wrap/bedrunner with an unusual construction that I hope you will all enjoy. The lace is worked separately on either side on the central spine running along the full length. The yarn is Cascade Yarns 128 which gives a soft, cuddly finish.


Slouchy small

The Slouchy Sofa Socks are intended to be indoor socks for relaxing in and feature cables and ribs as well as a ribbed short row feel. For extra squishyness, they're knitted in #SocksYeah DK.