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Wresting with Stockinette Gremlins & A Cast-On Tip

Jul 9, 2009

Note from Sandi: Welcome to my new little corner of Knitting Daily! Every Thursday, I'll be sharing stories of my knitting adventures, as well as some tips and tricks I've learned along the way. Thanks for coming by!

I am now happily knitting away on the second set of stars on the Star Light, Star Bright blankie
--however, I have to admit that the knitting right before this new set of stars was not so happy. The knitting-before-the-stars was downright Cranky Knitting. This is not the blankie's fault; it is simply the fact that mixed in with the pretty sections of stars are long sections of my Knitting Nemesis: Stockinette Stitch. (The only thing that could be worse is my Knitting Doom: Garter Stitch.) Each section of my Nemesis on this project means nearly 4,000 stockinette stitches to be endured before the next star appears.

I don't understand it. I'm a knitter, down to the marrow of my bones. When I see anything stringy or vaguely knittable, I'm swatching it in my head. When I see sweaters on TV, I lose track of all dialog and plot because I am yelling at the screen: "MOVE OUT OF THE WAY SO I CAN SEE THOSE CABLES ON HER SLEEVE!" Stockinette stitch is the foundation of our beloved craft. Garter stitch is the mortar that holds everything together. Some of the most ingenious designs in knitting history are done in all-garter stitch (EZ's Baby Surprise Jacket is the most famous of these). Stockinette stitch not only brings drape and beauty to our lives; it also is the canvas upon which my beloved lace and cables are painted.

To despise wide swaths of stockinette stitch is illogical. To feel tortured by acres of garter stitch is un-knitterly.

And yet, I humbly admit: I seriously thought of handing over the blankie to someone else at the beginning of the 22 rows of stockinette (with the strict understanding that the blanket come back to me the minute a yarnover or k2tog was called for).

In the end, it was a four-hour movie marathon that kept me going, grimly working along until that first yarnover came into sight for the next band of stars. (At that point, there were Huzzahs and deep sighs of happy relief...we shall not speak of what happens when the next band of stockinette rears its impish little head.)

(By the way, the free pattern for the Star Light, Star Bright Baby Blankie is here.)

A Great Sanity Saver: Long-Tail Cast-On Tip

I promised you a cast-on tip that would rock your stars, so here it is. This tip was taught to me by some brilliant folks at my local guild.

It seems no matter how many little tricks and spells knitters use to measure the tail for the long-tail cast-on, sooner or later, that tail is either too short or waaaay too long--and you end up having to rip out the 873 stitches you just cast on for some lovely shawl or pullover or, er, baby blanket (you're a better person than I if the ONLY thing you end up ripping out is yarn and not a hank or two of your own hair).

So here's a nifty, never-fail tip: Every yarn ball has two ends, right? Pull out the two ends and, leaving 8" tails, tie the two ends together in a knot. Place the knot over your needle, and lookie what you have--two long pieces of yarn connected to the same ball of yarn to do the long-tail cast-on with! Wow! Go for it--cast on a zillion stitches--but don't count that knot-over-the-needles as the first stitch. When you are done casting-on, count, double-count, and triple count your stitches, then cut one end at the working end of the needle (leaving enough to weave in later), use the other end to knit with, and voila. Knit your heart out.

After you've worked a few rows, undo that first knot, weave in the ends, and you're done with that silly knot thing.

Brilliant, ay? No more long-tail cast-on agony ever again. (Thank you, Toronto guild folks!)

Next week: I have to knit a quick cute something for an important trip! (Oh c'mon didn't think I could knit only one project at a time, now did you?)

Knit for joy!
-- Sandi

P.S. Let me know what you think! You can leave a comment below or even email me at

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AnnWilliams wrote
on Jan 12, 2011 1:44 PM

I think this is my favorite "What's on Sandi's Needles"  post.  I go back and read them on a regular basis.

Ann@20 wrote
on Aug 21, 2009 6:40 PM

That is one of the best tips ever!  Thanks for passing it along. Hope I will remember it when I need it.

I am just now getting around to reading your new blog and am glad I can still get a dose of your wonderful sense of humor.

I think stockinette is not so bad when you knit continental style because the purling is so much smoother.

nancyi2 wrote
on Aug 13, 2009 7:25 AM

Hi Sandi,

Thanks so much for the long tailed cast on approach!  When I have a LOT of stitches to cast on, I use markers about every 25 stitiches.  That way, I can be confident that at least the stitches between the markers are counted correctly so I'm not having to recount them.  If there are a few hundred stitches, I use a different colored marker after the 100th stitch.  


on Jul 29, 2009 1:06 PM

I'm so glad I found your blog, Sandi. I've missed having your "purls" of wisdom in my in-box!

Stockinette is a kicker for me too. I entertain myself with audio books, preferably with ear-buds/phones in/on as opposed to a regular speaker. I don't know why, but, a little voice in my head (other than my own shouting, "When is it going to end?") makes the stockinette so much easier to manage.

MadokaG wrote
on Jul 25, 2009 10:01 AM

This is quite possibly the best tip I've ever received!  I guess you can tell that I've frogged a few cast-ons in my many years of knitting.  So simple, so practical - the best kind of sanity-saver.

BTW - I'm so glad to find  you again, Sandi!

20purls wrote
on Jul 24, 2009 8:00 PM

Thanks for the cast on tip. Not sure I understand it but will definitely give it a try.  I am so glad you are still here!

AngelaV wrote
on Jul 23, 2009 2:47 PM

I just gotta say that I love stockinette!  Texture is fine and lace work is lovely but the thing I love more than anything is COLOR!  And color just  looks so perfect in stockinette.  I do agree with the "post-er" that suggested you just add more stars to the design.  If you're breathing bad karma into the project with every stockinette stitch, well, that just can't be any fun!  Knitting should be about enjoying the process and anticipating the finished product.  Enjoy!

nancy@5 wrote
on Jul 23, 2009 7:14 AM

WOW, this is genius...

Thank goodness your still blogging.

KimW@2 wrote
on Jul 15, 2009 2:11 PM

Oooooooh, I like it!  Thank you for sharing this tip with us...can't wait to try it out on my next project.  Must finish my first pair of "2-socks-on-1-circular-needle" first, though...I have too many other projects that have already been started.

RebeccaW@2 wrote
on Jul 15, 2009 1:53 AM


The long-tail cast on tip is great.  One I will be sure to try next time.

But since you are in Canada now -  it is not 'ay?'; it is "eh?"

Thanks again for the tip.


Mcg262 wrote
on Jul 14, 2009 7:02 AM

Sandi, you have the best ideas!  I always enjoy your columns.  I enjoyed the daily interweave email as well.  Thank you for all your great ideas and inspiration.  Carolyn

UlrikaE wrote
on Jul 14, 2009 5:34 AM

I fight off the boredom of stockinette stitch with variegated yarn.

tnm wrote
on Jul 14, 2009 2:51 AM

Sandi, This tip about long-tail casting on by using both ends of the yarn is the simplest, most brilliant knitting tip I have heard in 54 years of knitting!!  "Now why didn't I think of that?" said I after reading it!  Many thanks to you and the Toronto guild folks for easing the way to begin most of my projects!!  ~NM in MN

FaiWay wrote
on Jul 13, 2009 11:27 PM

ok so do you take out the cast on edge when you do this? and how would it work with say a varigated yarn? it sounds like a truly good idea. I always hate when I have to short of a tail and want it for the seam or it is too long and I have to cut it off. The blanket looks lovely. I can't even get yarn that thin here. which means a lot of patterns I have to attempt with a larger yarn or choose a different pattern. we get sports weight or baby yarn here. right now I am waiting to see if I get my spinning magazine to test drive. that might be a solution for me.


PamelaK@5 wrote
on Jul 13, 2009 11:07 AM


cranmere wrote
on Jul 13, 2009 7:19 AM

Please, do we have to suffer this cringe-making childish language? "Blankie" is surely something that a 2 year old would refer to.

JacquelineS wrote
on Jul 12, 2009 12:36 PM

I left out an important point in my previous post .  When you start casting on with the above mention cast-on method, you have the tail toward you (over your thumb) and the yarn that's attatched to the ball away from you (over your forefinger).

Kasoli wrote
on Jul 11, 2009 1:39 PM

I think Stockinette Stitch is why I haven't finished my first sweater yet. But I'm getting there! Even though I have more interesting lace knitting to do as well.

And that long-tail cast-on tip is wonderful! I'm patient enough to keep trying when the tail is wrong, but it's so irritating!

JacquelineS wrote
on Jul 11, 2009 10:39 AM


 I'm so glad that you are still doing "What's on Sandi's Needles".  I've always

enjoyed reading about what you're knitting.

 I have never had problems with Long Tail Cast-on.  When I learned to knit I was

taught a pretty precise way to get the correct length of tail.  Decide how long of a

tail, for weaving in, that you want, and hold the beginning of the tail between your right thumb and the needle, with the tail dropping down.  Then start wrapping the length of yarn attatched to the ball around the needle, with your left hand, wrapping toward the tip.  When you reach the taper of the needle, pinch the  yarn between your left thumb & forfinger and let the wraps fall.  Then put the pinched part between your right thumb and needle and continue wrapping.  Keep wrapping until you reach the number of cast on stitches you need.

 I wrap the yarn around the needle in a such a way as to keep the yarn from

untwisting.  Which is generally over the top, toward the back, and around.

 Sometimes, when I have a lot of stitches to cast on, the tail will come out a little longer than  I want, so I will eliminate a few inches before I start casting on.

On the whole, I find this to be a great way to do Long Tail Cast-on.

BSmolko wrote
on Jul 11, 2009 8:45 AM

Love the tip!  And thanks for confirming my original reaction to the title of your blog which was, "If she's a real knitter, she'll have a LIST of projects, not just one."  For your stockinette nemesis, I have two potential strategies:  1) go watch some kid you love play Tball. Since you're SUPPOSED to be paying attention to a wildly unpredictable game, sneaking in the stockinette becomes more challenging and feels a little illicit.  2) Knitty Gritty had a guest that did her purl rows backwards.  Instead of flipping the work, she knit from right to left through the back.  That should add a bit of interest until the novelty wears off. ; )  Thanks Sandi!

on Jul 10, 2009 4:34 PM

I think I would just make the star rows happen a lot more often!!  Who needs all that space between the star rows anyway?

MezzoKat wrote
on Jul 10, 2009 4:08 PM

There's just something about cats and knitting! Thanks for the long-tail tip.

jeanc@55 wrote
on Jul 10, 2009 3:22 PM

Great tip for long-tail casting on!  When I'm faced with stocking stitch or garted stitch, I read while I knit :)  

ChristineB@3 wrote
on Jul 10, 2009 1:34 PM

Hi Sandi,

I've missed you on the front page of knitting daily, so it' so nice to see you here! Thanks for sharing your story about the blanket. (And the great cast-on tip, too.)

I've always hesitated to say that I love to do the knit rows, but don't care much for the purl rows when I'm knitting stockinette. The good news is that I've gotten a bit more comfortable with those purls with experience, so I don't hesitate so much now when I know they're coming!

cindy1017 wrote
on Jul 10, 2009 12:24 PM

I miss you being on the front page smiling every time I open up KD.  Cindy.

AliceB@33 wrote
on Jul 10, 2009 10:05 AM

Stockinette Stitch is the greatest if you are a Continental knitter and a smaller needle is used for the Purl side since it tends to become looser and your hands tense up trying to keep that side tighter to match the front.  

on Jul 10, 2009 1:36 AM

Wow. That long-tail cast-on tip is genious. Thank you!

And greetings from sunny Finland!

sue@129 wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 7:56 PM

Where have you been all my casting on life - and why didn't I figure this out on my own.  Bless you!

AJW@2 wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 5:37 PM

Falls into the category of 'why didn't I think of that instead of screaming at it and becoming more determined to get it right.'  WOW!!

Carol Y wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 2:52 PM

Good tip! I've never tried this before but I have definitely fallen victim to yarn shortage while casting on so I know this'll come in handy.

jmlf63 wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 2:08 PM

I am really excited about the cast on tip- I plan to try it out on my next project- oh who am I kidding- I will be looking for a new project tonight ,with the excuse I really need to practice this technique-lol

on Jul 9, 2009 1:56 PM

Re long tail cast on: if your project calls for more than one ball of yarn, you can use the center pull from the second ball of yarn for the tail also, doesn't lend itself to as much of a tangle, maybe if you're trying to use both ends of a single ball.

buddhafly wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 1:29 PM

Hi Sandi!  It's great to have you back!  I have to say, I did miss you a little!  And thanks a TON for the long-tail cast-on tip!  I've had my own trials and tribulations with too long and too short tails - this is a fabulous technique!  And about the stockinette and garter stitching - I save those for 'zone out' knitting times, like for movie watching, riding in the car, and talking on the phone.  And sometimes I just need a little zone out knitting!  The repetition is meditative.  Ommmm...

JessicaD wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 12:55 PM

I so feel your stockinette agony!  I am working on the second front piece of the soap bubble wrap and it is nothing but stockinette until I get to the the soap bubble lace, but hate the huge stockinette sections!

LindaM@3 wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 11:46 AM

that is one beautiful baby blanket  Iam so glad you are so witty. Linda

MitziB wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 10:21 AM

love the long tail tip!

Knit2Run5 wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 8:04 AM

I'm so pleased you now have a blog here!  To sum up one of my suggestions to KD, I said "More Sandi!" and this fits the bill nicely.  It is always so fun to read about your knitting experiences.

ALA wrote
on Jul 9, 2009 8:03 AM

Thanks so much for the long-tail cast-on tip! That's my favorite cast-on method and I am usually fairly close with the tail length, but I've had enough double or triple attempts at casting on to prefer doing this!

BTW, the endless stockinette/garter blues? Me too. There are a lot of pattens out there that are lovely, but I don't even start them because there's so much stockinette without a break. I view that as a flaw in my character, but still. (The baby blanket you're knitting? I'd probably just grit my teeth through those sections).