Crazy for Cast-Ons (Part 1): The Old Norwegian and Some "Tail Tips"

Remember my list of knitting resolutions? Number 1 was to learn the Old Norwegian Cast-On. Well I did, and I want you to learn it, too. I also learned some really cool tips for "tail management" when casting on, so keep reading to the bottom of the blog!

Back to the Norwegian: This cast-on forms a sturdy, very elastic foundation row. It's worked with two ends of yarn-one that comes from the working ball of yarn and the other that comes from the tail end of that same yarn (just like the long-tail cast-on).

Here's an illustrated tutorial, and if you want a video demo, there's one that follows. (I like the combo of the video and illustration so I can easily refer back to the illustrations if I need to.)

  Step 1: Leaving a tail the necessary length, make a slipknot and place it on a needle held in your right hand. The slipknot counts as the first stitch.

Step 2: Place the thumb and index finger of your left hand between the yarn ends so that the strand connected to the ball is around your index finger and the tail end is around your thumb. Secure the yarn ends with your other fingers and hold your palm upwards, making a V of yarn (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Step 3: Bring the needle in front of your thumb, under both yarns around the thumb, down into the center of the thumb loop, back forward, and over the top of the yarn around your index finger (Figure 2).

Step 4: Use the needle to catch this yarn, then bring the needle back down through the thumb loop (Figure 3), turning your thumb slightly to make room for the needle to pass through. 

Figures 2 and 3

Step 5: Drop the loop off your thumb (Figure 4) and place your thumb back in the V configuration while tightening up the resulting stitch on the needle (Figure 5).

Repeat steps 3 through 5 for the desired number of stitches.
(Instructions from Ann Budd's book Getting Started Knitting Socks)

Figures 4 and 5

My friend Mimi showed me how to do this cast-on, and she let me shoot a video of her doing it for you! There's a lot of "twisty-turny" in this cast-on, so watch carefully!

I've had many comments on the Knitting Daily site about how great this cast-on is for top-down socks, so here is a link to our free sock pattern booklet: Knitting Socks with Knitting Daily: 5 Free Sock Knitting Patterns!  

The Long Tail (and sometimes the not-long-enough tail!)

One of the questions I get a lot on the message boards is how to estimate the length of tail you need for a long-tail cast-on. I once had to cast on 790 stitches for a circular shawl. Eek! I used two balls of yarn to cast on, one for the tail and one for the working yarn, so I knew I wouldn't run out of yarn (I also placed a marker every 50 stitches so I only had to count to 790 once). See the video below for a demo of this technique.

Normally, though, I just leave an inch or so per stitch if I'm casting on to size 5 or larger needles, and a little less for smaller needles.

The following video shows several cast-on techniques and provides some tips, too. The segment is from Knitting Daily TV season 4 (which starts airing TODAY in Spokane, or get the whole season of DVDs here).

Part 2 of Crazy for Cast-Ons will come to you in February. We'll talk about provisional cast-ons in part 2, and I'll give you a couple of patterns to use to practice, too!


Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Cast on, Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

50 thoughts on “Crazy for Cast-Ons (Part 1): The Old Norwegian and Some "Tail Tips"

  1. I didn’t know any other way to cast on except with a tail. Will you be showing the other way. I don’t tie a slip knot but the pictures look like what I do.

  2. This is European cast on. I have always cast on like this and was taught by my Mother. I was born in Holland and have seen German people use this method as well. Wonder where it originated?

  3. I’m so confused – I’ve been doing this cast-on all along and calling it the Long-Tail cast-on…how is this different?

    (Also, when I’m teaching this cast-on, I like to refer to the shape as a heart, not a V. It seems to help folks envision where the needles are supposed to go.)

  4. I learned this variation on the long-tail 2 summers ago at a nice shop in Myrtle Beach, SC while on vacation. It is nice and stretchy and makes a much neater cast on edge. LOVE it. She called it a German Cast on, too. Either way, it ROCKS!

  5. I’ve never seen this thumb-twirl method. The Twisted German cast-on that I use is the exactly the same except you don’t have to do calisthenics with your thumb. You just bring your needle back through the “v” on your thumb from left to right and pull the stitch tight. Not as much chance of losing the loop while you twist your thumb.

  6. Thank you so much for the Norwegian cast on video! I was taught how to knit by my friend’s Norwegian grandmother taught me how to knit many years ago and I knew I was doing the cast on “wrong”! It’s so similar to the long tail cast on that my LYS showed me, it just felt wrong compared to what my fingers were trying so hard 15 or so years later to remember. 🙂

  7. Years ago, I was taught a terrific way of estimating the proper tail length for a long tail cast-on. It is pretty infallible and doesn’t require a second ball of yarn (and TWO tails to work in). Wrap your working yarn around the needle 10 times. This is the amount of tail you’ll need for casting on 10 stitches. Divide your total cast on number by 10 and then make a tail the length of your wrapped yarn times that number. For example, if you need to cast on 48 stitches, round up to 50, and make a tail 5 times the length of your 10-wrap piece. Add 4-6″ to make sure you have enough tail to hold onto.

    This works much better than 1/2″ per stitch or 3x the width of your knitting, because it adjusts automatically for larger and smaller stitch size. 100 stitches in chunky weight yarn requires a much longer tail than 100 stitches in lace weight.

    I’m pretty sure I learned this in a knitting class, but can’t for the life of me remember who taught me (Meg Swansen? Lily Chin?).

  8. Looking at the action closely, this is the start of the German twisted, but the twist that she makes with her thumb untwists it so it finishes like the long-tail. Interesting.

  9. I have a question, please. If you do the long tail cast-on with the two ends of one ball as shown in your YouTube demo, do you cut one of the ends and begin knitting? I don’t understand – thanks Mikki

  10. I LOVE THE VIDEO. thank you i think i got this by doing it from a book but i never felt sure i did it right. i now know instantly i am doing it right. it was really hard to learn from the drawings but bang got right away from the video YEA! think i will only use this method from now on for casting on.

  11. wow.. I am learning so much from this website. I live in Australia and I only knew of two cast-on techniques, the fully knitted cast-on in the video, and mine which uses a long tail but a combination of twisting the tail around the left thumb and knitting it on with the needle and yarn from the right hand. What is that technique called???

  12. Thank you! I crochet and am just learning to knit so this information is invaluable to me right now. This past weekend I tried the Old Norwegian with a friend – she got it and I didn’t. I was dreadfully tired at the time, however. This has given me the initiative to try again.

  13. I teach knitting classes at the local A C Moore store; but teach a different long tail or two thread cast-on, in addition to a knitted cast on. A student told me she learned the Norwegian cast on at another place she had taken a class. I had seen it illustrated in my MARY THOMAS knitting book, but it seemed complicated. YOU have taken out the mystery out of it. I learned knitting as a teenager from my mother (I’m now 57). She taught me the cast on that I now use: I estimate the long tail and make the first loop with a knot. Then as I tell my students, grasp the loose tail as if one were going to milk a cow ( the loose tail is hanging down). Then I wrap the yarn over top my thumb twice. Next I insert a needle as if knitting in the back of that loop (my thumb acts as a left needle). Next, “dig” or “scoop” for the yarn coming off the skein side, as if doing continental style knitting and pull a loop through. The left thumb and hand tensions the thread properly on the needle. Then the wrapping process begins again for the next stitch and so on. I find this a neat cast on with plenty of elasticity, although I shall certainly try this new-for-me cast on. Thanks for the help in teaching an old dog a new trick! Rachel

  14. Not related to this way of casting on, but if I have a bunch of stitches to cast on I usually crochet around the needle, then I don’t have to worry about guesstimating how long the tail should be.

  15. When I do this kind of cast on, I first make a slipknot with a 20 inch tail. I then cast on ten stitches and remeasure the tail to see how much yarn it took to cast on ten stitches (e.g., if the tail is now 14 inches then it took 6 inches to cast on ten stitches because 20-14=6). I then divide my total number of stitches by ten and then multiply that number by the number of inches it took to cast on ten stitches (in my example, 6). So if I had to cast on 230 stitches, then 230/10=23 and 23×6=138. I need at least 138 inch tail. (That’s a long tail!) Then I add an extra 4-10 inches or so for good measure and that’s how long of a tail I leave. Hope this makes sense. It seems a little complicated, but is really quite simple.

  16. The old Norwegian… and not-enough-long tail…
    First of all: “Norwegian”??? well, might be, I’m Swedish and and this is the way it is done all over Scandinavia…. 😉 and most of Europe (not GB?)
    Then to the not-long-enough tail: take two “tails” of yarn, start with the knot in the beginning of those two tails and cast-on all your 700 stitches the same way as shown above, then skip tail number two (skip the first knot as well). This is easier and you may even have two colours in your cast-on this way.
    Kind regards, Cecilia

  17. Thank you, aagladew/Rachel for your cast on that I never heard about before. It’s much strechier than the German/Norwegian cast on. I am swedish too, but until I started to read about knittig on internet, I only used normal long tail cast on, which I nowadays find much too inelastic. Kind regards Åse

  18. IT would have been nice to see what the finished result of the Norwegian cast on looked like. The diagrams were good but didn’t provide that view.

    I couldn’t open and download the video’s so couldn’t get to see the result there either.


  19. This is fabulous. Just started a pair of socks and now will restart and use this method of casting on. I wanted the socks a little longer on top and with this cast on I know it won’t be too tight up higher on my calf. Thanks for the excellent video!

  20. According to Elizabeth Zimmerman you don’t need to start your long tail cast on with a slip knot. Sometimes that knot shows and doesn’t look nice. Just wrap the yarn around the needle at the point you would have made the knot, cross the two threads to make the v (you want the front thread over your finger and the back thread over your thumb. The loop you just created is your first stitch. I have done it for years since I saw EZ do it on one of her videos.

  21. Hello! Just like to compliment HaleyL on the great estimation tip! Thanks! Though I’m pretty good at guesstimating– this seems a surer method! And glad I could help Ase! Rachel

  22. I’ve tried this cast on before and I get so lost in all t he twists and turns. I know that I’m missing something in t his technique and if someone could help me with that, I’m sure I could do it. Sort of looks like you’re gathering around the yarn before the final loop. I just get a bunch of loops. Where and how do you pick up the yarn in the twists? I don’t believe that is covered in this short lesson. I’d love a better cast on for top down socks. Thanks bunches and tons. ;~)))

  23. on how to estimate the length of tail you need for a long-tail cast-on:
    i’ve been taught as a child that each length of a needle makes for 20 stitches -the needles then were all 40 cm needles.
    it works on approximatively all of my yarns except that i know for a fact i need more than just one length for 20 stitches when it’s one that requires a n° 8 mm and above and it’s less when it requires a 3 mm number of needles and smaller.

    i usually hit right on with around 10 cms hanging and that’s what i want.

  24. My mother taught me to knit many years ago now. I didn’t enjoy the technique she taught me to cast on and even to knit. I felt it was tedious and slow. So, I carefully watched how the process went and figured out a way to cast on with one hand. I since have found out that it is called continental cast on. It does look very much like the old norwegian technique minus the “twist” and untwist. I also worked on knitting with most of my work in my left hand: knit and purl. I found it to be so much faster. I thought how smart I was to create such a fantastic way to knit. No one else I knew could knit that way. The one day I was looking through a knitting book in the library and found that I had “created” the continental method for this as well! It is so intriguing to find so many different cast on and knitting techniques! I enjoy your newsletters!

  25. Wow! The old Norwegian cast on is the one my mother taught back in the 1970’s – it was just the way you cast on stitches (she was a casual knitter). I knit a sweater that didn’t fit (too big) and tried to correct it by fulling (uh, felting? Yup, too small) and that was the last bit of knitting I did until . . . 2005. A friend gave me a pair of needles and a ball of yarn, and showed me how to do what I know now as “purse stitch” (a la Mary Thomas), Ok, so that project qualified as a girl scout bandana (“miniture shawl”?).

    These days, however, I’m a bit wiser and more persistent, and folks (myself included) actually wear what I make. Where would I be without my Knitting Daily?

  26. Got it now! The Norwegian Cast-on… if you’re ending up with 2 stiches (I was in the beginning), then on step 4 you have to turn your thumb so that the thumb loop slides over the thread on the needle that you just placed from your index finger. I just love your tips and projects…thanks Knitting Daily!

  27. Hmmm………old dogs can learn new tricks. I read the instructions, watched the video several times and tried the cast on ……………..only to get two stitches on the needle without the nice edge on the bottom. Then, I did it right by accident once. That did it. I kept at it until I could do this cast on correctly. It is stretchy, even on the needle without any rows of knitting. Then I looked in the “Knitting in the old way” book and found the same cast on which I had tried before without success. This time it made sense and I was able to do this cast on.

    I plan to use it on the helmet liner for our troops on the next one I do. I’m sure it will be a better cast on for the heavy use the helmet liners are sure to get. Thanks.

  28. Thank you for showing this unique way to cast on AND for the video clip. Would it be possible to have a longer video clip and a picture of the cast on stitches to see what they actually look like? This looks like a challenge for a brand new pair of socks.

  29. I’ve found that when trying to estimate how long to make the “tail” for the long-tail cast-on method, one length of my arm to my collarbone equals roughly 50 stitches on size 8 or 9 needles w/worsted weight yarn. I estimate from that rule of thumb how much to adjust the length if I’m using larger or smaller needles or thicker or thinner yarn.

  30. Wow! What an informative clip. I really enjoyed both guests – they complemented each other’s skills, and were able to comment on the pros, and sometimes cons, of each cast on. I was familiar with the long tail and knitted cast on, but the tubular cast on was new to me. I can see using it on lots and lots of kids’ hats. Thanks.


  31. Interesting, I’ll have to try it. For the whole time I’ve been knitting I just cast on as if making a knit stitch (first in the slip stitch, and then between the two stitches on the left hand needle), twisting around and putting back on the left hand needle.

  32. it’s similar to what I do (Danish method!)…. however have a try ti CO on TWO needles, then slip one off and the first row will easiy be knitted!

  33. Guess what…the illustration you posted is what we call the German Twisted cast on, and it does NOT match the action in the video. Look close.