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Exploring a Tricky Cast-On For Toe-Up Socks

Jul 28, 2008

Eastern Cast On

I was flipping through the final proofs of the new Fall Knits with a colleague who is a beginning knitter, and when I got to the chapter on different cast-ons and bind-offs, she looked mildly puzzled and said, "You mean there's more than one?"

When we are beginners, we learn The One True Cast-on, and the One True Bind-off (and of course, these vary depending on who is teaching you), and we may happily use these, and only these, for most of our knitting lives. However, yes, Virginia, there is indeed a variety of different cast-ons and bind-offs, each one with a particular talent, if you will--each one does something a bit better than all its fellow COs and BOs. The article in the new Knits presents "invisible" cast-ons and bind-offs, which give the impression that your stitches simply weave back upon themselves, leaving a lovely, flexible edge that does not take away from the beauty of your stitching. (Sign up for a subscription to Knits so you never miss any of these great technical articles!)

I noticed that one of the other patterns in Fall Knits uses another very special cast-on, one that frequently drives knitters to distraction when they try to figure it out: the Eastern cast-on. This cast-on, found in the Bacchus Socks, is used at the toe-end of toe-up socks; you can also use it at the fingertip end of mittens worked top-down, or any place where you need to start out working in the round with a small number of stitches on either side of a "pretend seam"--as in the bottom of a bag, for example. So let's take a little walk-through of this useful cast-on, which as usual, looks harder than it really is.

Step-by-step photo tutorial for the Eastern cast-on

If you want to play along, you'll need three double-pointed needles and some practice yarn.

Step 1: Hold two of the needles in the palm of your left hand, parallel to one another, with just a smidge of space between them. (Don't clamp them together, but don't have more than a bit of breathing space between them either.)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 2: Start with the tail end of the yarn under both needles, to the far left of both needles, so that the working end is at the top. You may find it helpful to anchor the tail between two fingers just so it knows who's boss. (Figure 1)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 3: Begin wrapping the working yarn around both needles: from the top down over the front, then up behind the needles, and so on. Do this until you have 8 loops over the fronts of the needles; end with the working yarn over the front of the needles so it is at the bottom. (Figure 2)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 4: Bring the working yarn up behind the lower needle and into the space between both needles. (Figure 3)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 5: Scootch the 8 loops close together, and give a little tug to both the tail and the working end to even up the tension. You're ready to knit! Using the third dpn, knit the first loop on the top needle using the working yarn (you can release it from its place between the needles to do this). Pull the stitch off of the top needle ONLY; leave the bottom half of the loop on the bottom needle. TIP: I find it helps to move the top needle back so that its point is at least an inch away from the point of the lower needle out in front. This way, I can easily drop the stitch off the top needle without accidentally dropping it off the bottom needle. (Figure 4)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 6: Knit across all 8 loops on the top needle in this fashion, until you have 8 stitches on the third dpn and no loops left on the original top needle. TIP: Hold the yarn tail in place, particular on the last couple of loops. If they get all loosey-goosey on you, tug that tail until they behave. You're the boss. EZ says so, remember. (Figure 5)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 7: You now have a new top needle with 8 pretty new stitches, and the original bottom needle with the bottoms of the original loops. Rotate the entire shebang clockwise so that the bottom needle is now the top and vice versa. Scoot the stitches to the other ends of the needles, scoot the top needle back so the tip is about an inch back from the bottom tip. (Figure 6)

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Knitting Cast-On - Eastern Cast-On

Step 8: Twisting the working yarn around the tail (on the back/wrong side of the work): Hold the tail to the right, and the working yarn to the left (refer to Figure 6 again), then bring the working yarn up around the back so it is in place for knitting, thereby catching the tail under the working yarn. Voila! That pesky tail stays in place. Now, knit across the loops on the (new) top needle, dropping the stitches off of the top needle only as before. Don't be afraid to adjust the tension by tugging on the tail or the working yarn as needed. (You still Da Boss.)

Figure 7 shows how the right side will look when you are finished; Figure 8 is how the wrong side will look when you are finished.

Take a look at what you have--it's a toe tip! Knit on to sock glory, my friends, knit on.

Sandi recommends

Each issue, Interweave Knits publishes an outstanding technical article in a series called Beyond the Basics. Eleven of the best Beyond the Basics (many from sold-out issues) have been updated and reprinted in the book The Best of Interweave Knits--including Ann Budd's classic article on cast-ons. Other technical articles in the book cover increasing, decreasing, short-rows, and blocking, because after all: Knits isn't just a magazine filled with beautiful patterns, it's also a great source of information that will help you learn to be a better knitter. Sign up to subscribe to Interweave Knits and then buy the Best of Interweave Knits to own some of the best patterns and technical articles from the past ten years.

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Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily. She is flying along on the Camisa (dang, that's pretty yarn!!), and hopes to be able to wear it for you before she leaves for Canada!

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BarbaraK wrote
on Nov 28, 2009 4:16 AM

Thank you very much for explaining this so obviously! I'm ready to start the William Street socks!

kind regards from France,


on Aug 2, 2008 12:16 PM

I have been starting socks with this cast-on for quite a while now, but I use two dpns and a short circ in a smaller size.  The cast-on goes around 1 dpn and the >cable< of the circ.  This way you get CO stitches the same size as all the others.  Hope this helps!  Lucille

Barb.E wrote
on Aug 2, 2008 9:15 AM

Excellent and clear explanation of what seemed like such a mysterious cast-on!!  I tried it as I read the article, and it like it.  Thanks!!  I'm going to try it on my next pair of socks....

PattiR wrote
on Jul 31, 2008 11:19 AM

Is there a pattern for Toe Up Socks?  I am interested if anyone can help, please contact me at Thanks, Patti

spinnergirl wrote
on Jul 30, 2008 6:21 PM

The pictures and word descriptions are not clear enough for me.  How do you wrap around the working yarn around which needle?  I'm completely lost and challenged.   Thanks.  

AnnB@2 wrote
on Jul 29, 2008 10:21 AM

OMG Sandy - this is wonderful!  I have tried toe up several times but just couldn't get it.  The pictures of the tutorial made it simple.  I spent five minutes (listening to my Celtic Thunder cd - if you haven't checked out these fellows - DO - they will blow you away - see YouTube)  Anyway five minutes and here's my first successful toe up toe. (Even took a picture but it won't paste here.)  ANyway, great job, keep it up!

Yalebabe wrote
on Jul 29, 2008 7:21 AM

I am a relatively new knitter, so I want to thank you for the tutorial.  It was *extremely* helpful.  I would love for you to do one on the "Emily Ocker" cast-on.  It's very tricky for me, and I want to knit the beautiful Nomad Scarf from the Winter, 2007 (?) Interweave Knits.  Thanks.

Kim wrote
on Jul 29, 2008 6:18 AM

This is also the cast-on for the Safari Hoodie; it uses 2 circulars which is a blast!

KlausW wrote
on Jul 29, 2008 3:53 AM

An even better cast-on than the Eastern one: The Magic Cast-On by Judy Becker.  You don't have any tension problems with the Magic Cast-On.

HeidiW wrote
on Jul 28, 2008 4:16 PM

Hey! I actually did this once!  (Out of the book mentioned by Pam) When you only read about it, it looks scary, but when you do-along it's really sort of like magic. As always, I'd say tension is the tricky part - but well worth a trial or two (or 10) for the effect it creates. Thanks for giving it a Proper Name, Sandi - I can't wait for the Fall Issue (tho' I can't say I'm looking forward to winter...)

AnnR wrote
on Jul 28, 2008 4:08 PM

The Eastern Cast-On looks like a makes a very neat toe.

But when, does one stop knitting with the 3 needles?

Pam@2 wrote
on Jul 28, 2008 3:59 PM

I think this also might be the cast on that Anna Zilboorg uses in Magnificent Mittens.  It's pretty fun!