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Garter Tab Cast-On – How to start a triangular lace shawl

August 2, 2009

Many triangular lace shawls – including my own designs – begin at the center back, with a small number of stitches, and then grow in ever-lengthening rows, which form 2 triangles, separated by a center stitch. 

To begin this type of shawl, a garter-tab cast-on is recommended, as this technique creates a small rectangle of garter stitch, which blends seamlessly with the garter stitch edging which forms the top horizontal line of the shawl.  It is a bit more work than just casting on stitches normally, but the results are worth the extra effort.

This tutorial will illustrate how to execute the following instructions to form a garter-tab cast-on:

CO 3 sts provisionally.  Knit 14 rows.  Knit 15th row, then pick up 7 stitches along the border of the small garter stitch rectangle you have just knit, then undo the provisional cast-on, put the 3 cast-on sts on a needle, and knit them (13 sts total).

So, first you will use a provisional crochet-chain cast to cast on 3 stitches.  A provisional cast-on is any type of cast-on which creates live loops or cast-on stitches that you can later knit.  The crochet chain provisional cast-on is just one of many options.  To work it:

1. Using scrap yarn, tie a slip knot.

2. Insert a crochet hook through the slip knot, then yarn-over to wind the yarn around the hook.

3. Use the crochet hook to pull the yarn which was wound around it through the knot, creating a new loop. Repeat steps 2 and 3, wrapping, and then pulling the yarn through the loop below to create a chain of loops.  You should chain a few more loops than the number of stitches you want to cast-on.

4. The completed crochet chain. This is the top side – it looks a little like a flat braid.

5. Flip the chain over to see the underside – it looks like a little row of bumps.

6. Insert your knitting needle under a bump.

7. Wrap working yarn around the needle, as though you were knitting a stitch. Then, just as though you were knitting a stitch, pull a loop back through the crochet chain, creating a stitch.

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you have the required number of stitches on your needle.

You have successfully cast-on 3 stitches provisionally!!  Now proceed to creating the garter tab:

9. Knit 15 rows (or the number called for in your pattern). This creates a tiny rectangle of garter stitch, which is your ‘garter tab’.

10. To pick up stitches along the edge of the garter tab, insert the tip of the needle through the work, 1 stitch in from the edge, wrap the yarn around the needle, and pull a loop through the work, just as though you were knitting a stitch.  Repeat this step until you have picked up the required number of stitches (in this case, 7).

On the needles, I now have the 3 stitches I started with, plus the 7 stitches that I picked up along the edge of the garter tab.

11. Now undo the crochet chain by pulling the end of the yarn through the last loop which had secured it, and tugging gently on the end to unzip the crochet chain.

Now you can see the exposed cast-on loops or stitches.

12. Put these cast-on stitches on the left-hand needle, then knit them.


Voila!! You now have cast-on a total of 13 stitches!  This is your first RS (Right Side) row, so you will work a WS (Wrong Side) row, and then begin knitting your shawl!  Soon it will begin to look like a tiny triangle, and it will almost certainly be love at first sight!

After working the first chart, the pattern begins to appear!

More lacy designs from Tin Can Knits:




30 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 2:50 am

    Oh thanks! so much. I have finally just understood!!

    Muchas gracias!

  2. Ruby T. permalink
    September 23, 2011 2:32 pm

    Yours is the first explanation of provisional cast-on that has made sense to me. Thank you so much for this valuable tutorial. I’m now looking forward to trying several patterns I once was afraid to attempt.

  3. Carlota permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!!!
    Muchísimas gracias, es perfecto para el chal que quiero hacer.

  4. Wendi in Biarritz permalink
    July 23, 2011 7:44 pm

    Thank you! I just started the Daybreak shawl and ripped it out because I knew I’d done something wrong. I’m so glad I found this!

  5. Vivian permalink
    May 24, 2011 7:10 am

    Dear Emily,
    Thank you so much. This is just what I was looking for. I knew how to begin a triangular shape without the tab, and wanted a more complete way to do it.
    Isn’t it lovely that all of your good cheerful work is being found and used almost two years later. May there be many more. Thank you, again.

  6. Savannagal permalink
    May 18, 2011 9:49 am

    I wish I had found this tutorial when I made my Ishbel. I must have ripped out 20 times. I had to cut off the end of my yarn because it was so frayed. Thanks much for a wonderful, easy to follow tutorial.

  7. sarah permalink
    April 19, 2011 10:05 am

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!!! I tried several times to figure it out from the directions but failed miserably. I really needed the pictures to describe it. Thanks again!

  8. Tara permalink
    March 17, 2011 4:23 pm

    Thanks for the pictures and explaination. I got to “see it” to understand. I appreciate the time you put into this.

  9. Diane permalink
    January 28, 2011 6:12 am

    Thanks for the help. I am starting the pattern from Knitty of Citron:)

  10. jaudon permalink
    January 8, 2011 5:50 am

    Thanks so much for this great tutorial! The pictures are very clear and I am now ready to go!

  11. Corinne permalink
    October 11, 2010 12:52 pm

    Beautifully illustrated garter stitch tab!! Thank-you!
    As a visual learner, I struggled repeatedly with the written instructions for the garter stitch tab. And then, I found your instructions and photographs. And voila,… I am finally able to get my lace project started.
    Again,… very nicely done!!


  12. October 4, 2010 2:34 pm

    This tutorial makes sense and since I am a visual learner, I will save this and use it when I start my shawl.


  13. Eve permalink
    August 14, 2010 5:30 am

    Very helpful!!!

  14. Bev permalink
    June 18, 2010 9:55 pm

    Thank you-this is so clear with great photos!

  15. May 21, 2010 9:27 am

    This is a wonderful cast-on. Thank you for a photo-riffic tutorial!

  16. SeedStitch permalink
    January 22, 2010 5:17 pm

    This is just wonderful! I’m starting my first lace shawl and was so sure I was doing things wrong. Thanks for a great tutorial with clear pictures AND written instructions.

  17. Tracy permalink
    December 1, 2009 6:39 am

    Thank you so much for the clear explanations and illustrations!

    I am an absolute beginner of lace shawl knitting and have a hard time understanding how to begin my first shawl by reading the instructions on the pattern…

  18. jaïs permalink
    November 14, 2009 12:06 am

    Oh many thanks! I have finally just understood!!

  19. Jessica permalink
    November 9, 2009 3:00 am

    These instructions are extremely helpful! Thank you for making this tutorial.
    I’m wondering if you can help me with something else. I’m working on the Swallowtail shawl and I have finished everything except the border, because I can not for the life of me, figure out how to start it. Could you maybe explain this or point in the direction to a tutorial? It would be greatly appreciated.

  20. September 5, 2009 1:38 am

    Oh, bless you for this! I’ve just started a triangular shawl which starts with a provisional CO and the garter stitch tab (nice term!) but doesn’t clearly identify taking the CO out to get the last three stitches. I thought I knew what to do but your post clarified it beautifully, thanks so much!

  21. August 7, 2009 10:25 am

    Great instructions! thanks!

  22. August 2, 2009 1:52 pm

    These instructions are very clear, but — using this method — will I still get the points such as on the Entomology shawl or your Photosynthesis shawl?

    • dampcityknits permalink
      August 2, 2009 2:29 pm

      Nancy – The Garter Tab Cast-on method is how you start your shawl – when you get to the very end of the shawl, and work the lace edging and bind-off, you are working the part of the shawl that forms the scalloped edging. So the little garter tab is almost invisible at the end, because it is in the center back of the piece of lace. It is the last few rows (at the bottom edge), and the way that you block your shawl which determine how the edge will look.

      So Yes – you will still get the scalloped edge with points as you see on the Etymology or Photosynthesis shawls!
      Cheers – Emily


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