There are LOTS of ways to work a provisional cast on, I find this particular method a little less fussy than the crochet chain method, although both work just fine. Let’s get started!
- How to work the provisional cast on
- How to unzip and pick up the stitches
- When to use a provisional cast on
How to work the provisional cast on
To get started you will need a crochet hook, your needle, waste yarn. The size of the crochet hook isn’t critical, the tension of your cast on is determined by your needle, not the hook.
5 easy steps
- Using waste yarn make a slip knot and place it over the hook
- Place your needle to the left of your crochet hook with the yarn UNDER the needle
- Move your hook OVER the needle, grab the yarn with your hook and pull it through the slip knot on the hook
- Once you are finished pulling through the loop, the yarn will be OVER the needle. To put it in position to work the next next stitch you need to bring it BETWEEN the needle and the hook so it is again UNDER the needle. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the desired number of stitches are on your needle (do not include the stitch on the crochet hook). Once the last stitch has been cast on leave the yarn where it is (do not more it under the needle)
- With your hook, grab the yarn and pull a loop through the loop on the crochet hook. Work step 5 a few times – you are creating a small crochet chain that will help you when you are un-picking the provisional cast on.
Now that all of your sts have been cast on you can start working with the yarn for your project. If you are working in the round, your work will not be joined in the round until the second round.
NOTE: The first round after this type of provisional cast on should be knit or purled. If you work ribbing or a pattern stitch it will be difficult to un-pick the provisional cast on (it will work but it doesn’t ‘unzip’ easily like it does if the first row/round is entirely knit or entirely purled)
Unpicking the provisional cast on
- Unpick the knot in your crochet chain and start to unravel.
- As the live stitches become unpicked, start placing them on your needles. You can either insert your needle first, then pull the provisional cast on loop out, or you can pull the provisional cast on loop out first and pick up the hanging live stitch, whichever method makes you the most comfortable. Continue working in this way until all of your stitches have been picked up.
There you have it! Continue picking up stitches and un-picking the provisional cast on until you have them all. Sometimes there is one fewer stitch than you cast on, even though you don’t have any dropped stitches. This happens because the pick up is actually 1/2 stitch off and it’s easy to miss the first one. Not to worry, just increase by 1 stitch on the next row.
When might you use a provisional cast on?
A provisional cast on is sometimes a necessity, but it can also be used to work things in a different order. The Apple Pie hat has a doubled brim, so a provisional cast on allows for a seamless join where the brim fold over (we have a full tutorial on the Apple Pie hat here). In the Little Tern pattern, for example, the provisional cast on is used so stitches can be worked in one direction, and then picked up and worked in the other direction. In the Love Note sweater the provisional cast on is used so that the neckline ribbing can be worked last, making for easier adjustments. Check out this post for more examples of knitting things out of order with a provisional cast on.
July 24, 2021 @ 9:51 am
Thank you for the tutorial, and for adding that ribbing would be harder to pick up/unzip. I thought I’d done something wrong, but nope, it was just that I didn’t knit/purl that first row!
July 13, 2020 @ 7:00 pm
Thank you for the great tutorials. I am excited to try the provisional cast on. You have made it seem less intimidating. Many of the projects I am interested in use this method and I have usually avoided them! The photos are very helpful.
November 15, 2018 @ 11:32 am
I’m doing my first provisional cast on, and found all kinds of tutorials online on how to do it – up until the actual ‘join in the round’ step! So THANK YOU for including the pics of what to do after you finish that last cast-on loop! :)
June 8, 2017 @ 9:03 pm
Hi and thanks for the great tutorial. You specifically say the size of the crochet hook does not matter but never mention if the waste yarn needs to be the same / similar to the actual yarn or if it can be significantly different. I have some cotton yarn that is worsted weight (20 st/4″) that I was wondering if I could use it as waste yarn for provisional co for DK weight j(26st/4″) project. Will that mess up my 1st row or does it not matter? Thanks for your clarity. I have searched and searched & no one seems to clarify this point
June 9, 2017 @ 8:47 am
I would use yarn that is the same weight as my project. Because you are knitting into the waste yarn on the first row you would want it to be the same weight to keep your gauge right.
January 31, 2017 @ 2:04 pm
You don’t actually need a crochet hook for the crochet cast on – I find it much easier to just use my fingers.
February 2, 2017 @ 12:54 pm
It’s true, it is do-able without the crochet hook, I just find it a lot faster (especially when casting on 200+ sts) and my tension more even
August 30, 2015 @ 11:49 am
Thanks for sharing! A great tutorial that I have re-blogged on my site. Thanks again, Christina in Sweden
July 17, 2015 @ 4:28 am
Reblogged this on Pointe Shoes Punk Rock And Purl and commented:
One of the best tutorials I’ve seen for my favourite provisional cast ons.
This may be a little tricky to learn if you are less familiar with a crochet hook but it’s very worthwhile to learn, giving the most tidy and secure start to a piece IMHO. That says a LOT from this very OCD knitter / crocheter.
July 16, 2015 @ 4:13 pm
This is fantastic! So clear . . I always balk at doing P.C.O. Now, it seems super easy, thanks to your tutorial. Thank you!
July 16, 2015 @ 12:51 pm
This is my FAVORITE provisional cast-on, which is odd because it seems like there aren’t a lot of tutorials that show it! This is a great one, the photos are really clear.
July 16, 2015 @ 8:29 am
Yes! This is my favorite provisional cast on and I’m a lefty, so I can testify that it works very well. As a lefty, though, I hold the crochet hook in my left hand so I find that passing the yarn under the needle results in a ‘backwards’ stitch mount. I usually pass the yarn over, not under the needle. Sometimes I’ve messed up and created a bunch of stitches mounted the wrong way. Rather than take it all out and start over, I just knit into the back leg of the stitches.
July 20, 2015 @ 8:57 am
Thanks for the details on how you work this as a lefty! Super useful! Cheers – Emily
Andrea @ This Knitted Life
July 16, 2015 @ 8:01 am
Oh so very useful!
July 16, 2015 @ 7:37 am
Thank you for the lovely lesson! I only started using the crochet cast-on in the last couple of weeks. I was always a bit disappointed that my starts didn’t look like my cast-offs (self-taught knitter). Now they’ll look more alike! I’m going to share this with my knitting friend.
July 16, 2015 @ 6:35 am
I am a lefty and it works just fine for me! Thanks for posting this, i will flag for future reference as I usually have to look up crochet provisional CO.