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Knitting Hack: the provisional cast-on

November 10, 2017

Sometimes when you start a project you haven’t made all of the decisions, but really want to get moving anyway. This happens to me quite often, especially with design work, and so I have become very good friends with the provisional cast on. When is this useful you might ask? Quite often when it comes to designing your own Fair Isle sweater!

Since the Strange Brew KAL is running right now I thought I would share a few purls of wisdom on knitting your sweater out of order.

For Hunter’s North Shore sweater I added the waves chart to the cuffs and hem.

 Case 1: details at the cuff and hem

When starting a bottom-up sweater you may be unsure if you want to add patterning at the cuff and/or hem. Perhaps you haven’t decided on your yoke pattern, and want to choose motifs from the yoke to bring into the other details later. If this is the case you can use a provisional cast on and get going on the body and sleeves!

Remember as you will be adding a motif and ribbing you don’t want to knit your body and sleeves to their full length. You may decide you don’t want to add patterning after all and that’s okay too, you can unpick your provisional cast on and simply knit a few rounds before working the ribbing. This is also a good method to use if you’re a little unsure how far your yarn will stretch!

Strange Brew is knit bottom-up…but sometimes you want to do the yoke first!

Case 2: I wanna knit a yoke first!

Do you want to eat dessert before dinner? Want to get going on that yoke first thing? You can provisionally cast on for your yoke, knit and design to your heart’s content.

Once the yoke is complete, you will unpick the provisional cast-on, exposing the live stitches. Then you can work downward, reversing the body and sleeve instructions. Or alternatively you can knit your body and sleeves from hem and cuffs upward, then use the Kitchener stitch to join it all together. Warning: while you CAN do it, working Kitchener stitch on a really large number of stitches like this is kind of annoying.

Case 3: I like my sleeves last

I sometimes like to knit my sleeves last. I often cast on the body of a sweater first to get the biggest chunk of knitting done, but by the time the body is done I’m ready to get moving on my yoke! And so, when following the instructions for the yoke join, I provisionally cast on the number that would be ‘held sts from sleeves’.

When you are finished with the yoke, unpick your cast on and place the live sts on the needles. You will also place the held underarm sts from the body on the needles. The beginning of the round is in the middle of those underarm sts. Then you can work the sleeve in reverse, working a couple of inches without decreases, then decreasing rather than increasing down the rest of the sleeve. Or if you feel the need to knit those sleeves from cuffs upward, you can do that, then graft the sleeves to the body using Kitchener stitch once they are complete.

So, if you are feeling the need to knit your sweater out of order, provisional cast on is your friend! We have a full tutorial on my personal favourite, the hook and needle method here. Or if that one doesn’t suit you, Emily’s favourite is the crochet chain provisional cast on. And another that you might like to try is Judy’s Magic Cast-on.

More sweaters to knit out of order:



5 Comments leave one →
  1. LilyS permalink
    March 31, 2021 7:47 pm

    This is the best! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. November 13, 2017 10:20 am

    I cannot thank you enough for this great post, and the link to your ‘hook and needle’ method. I had been ‘anti-provisional’ until now because it seemed too difficult and fiddly, but using your method I have successfully cast on a new project and am a total convert. :)

  3. florapie permalink
    November 10, 2017 2:49 pm

    So many great tips in this post! Thanks!

  4. Catherine Martin permalink
    November 10, 2017 9:14 am

    I am wondering what the gray yarn is in Hunter’s North Shore Sweater, shown at the top of Knitting Hack for Nov. 10.

    • November 14, 2017 11:14 am

      Hi Catherine – It is Sweet Fiber Yarns Merino Twist DK in ‘smoke’, isn’t it lovely?!

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