Cast on methods for irregular rib patterns

Cast on methods for irregular rib patterns

I’ve been researching the best cast on method for irregular ribbing. There’s about a million options for 1x1 and 2x2 rib, but anything other than these and you’re going to have to compromise (dum dum duuuuum…)

Now, if you’re at all familiar with me, you’ll know I don’t like compromise. If I’m putting the effort in, the damned thing has to be PERFECT. I’ll cut a long story short though now and tell you that it isn’t happening here; there is no flawless way to cast on in a random rib pattern where every stitch goes in the right direction from the word go. But, I did find a method I could live with….

If you’re after a stretchy cast on that you plan to rib, the go-to methods are tubular cast on or alternating cable cast on (with various derivations of both):

Tubular CO

Traditionally, this consists of provisionally casting on half the stitches you need (+1), k1, yo to end, then working a few rows of brioche stitch to lock it all in place. Afterwards, you can remove the provisional CO without the stitches unravelling. It leaves a beautiful ‘tube’ at the edge which is both stretchy and super neat, and perfectly set up for the 1x1 rib (as in the photo above; so pleasing!) See Shibui Knit’s excellent tutorial here.

It is however, a pain the arse. The foundation brioche rows means you have a goodly 4 rows before you even get to the ribbing pattern. You could always try Judy’s magic method which does away with the waste yarn but it’s still a fairly long-winded process.

The long-tail tubular method

This is more or less the same thing as above, but it does away with the first row of k1, yo by alternating the direction of each stitch as you cast it on. It has the added benefit of being super fun and confounding spectators who wonder what the hell you’re doing. It’s the old slingshot method whereby you weave and duck between the two yarns (working and long tail) to create a row of alternatively slanting stitches. The excellent Purl Soho have a full photo and video tutorial here.

Or you can follow this: from top left to top right, then next row left, then right, etc.

Dance, magic, dance!

Now, fun as it to swashbuckle through your cast on, this does have the same problem of needing the subsequent rows of foundation brioche to form the tube. It also isn’t as perfectly neat as the waste yarn tubular method:

There is however a provisional yarn version, as shown by Donna Rosa here which gives more or less the same result as the waste yarn tubular CO above. Personally, I found working the first row to be a pain in the butt (in the same way that the wrap cast on is awkward to work) and, given my project has a CO207, I’m not putting that kind of effort in when there’s an easier method doing the same thing.

Now, for both the tubular and long tail methods (with or without waste yarn), in order to get a 2x2 rib, you have to start swapping the stitches around. Since the order naturally goes knit-stitch, purl-stitch, knit-stitch, purl-stitch, you have to flip the second and third stitch (as though you were cabling) to end up with k-s, k-s, p-s, p-s.

This works beautifully for the 2x2 rib but trying to swap for a 3x3 pattern just causes it to be a tight hot mess with no give at all.

So, busted… next method please

Alternating cable CO

This jumps straight into the cable pattern with no foundation rows and also involves putting stitches on the needle in different directions. Ysolda has a full tutorial here. This is more or less worked in the same way as a normal knit CO except after the first stitch, you insert your needle between the first and second stitch on the left needle rather than through the front leg of the first. This makes it nice and stretchy and has the added benefit of being knit and purl-able.

So far, this seems to be the answer to our prayers due to the nature of each stitch being able to be purled or knit in any random order. I worked a *k, p, k, p3, k3, p3* repeat; the result is below:

Um, yeah…

In its defence, the respective knit/purl stitches do start from the cast on edge, but I think it looks really messy (and wobbly). I’m not keen on the bunchiness at the bottom of the knit stitches either.

This was my last hope for a strictly ‘correct’ method and the point at which I conceded defeat. I was very taken with the tubular method on the 1x1 rib; the edge was near perfect. Neat, substantial, and stretchy. What if I just ignored the 1x1 pattern and went with whatever? How visible would a few wrong stitches be? Hardly at all, it seems!

There are a couple of little dashes but nothing I can’t live with. When I’m not stretching it out, it’s barely noticeable at all:

So, at the end of this arduous journey, the unfortunate fact is that there is no perfect method for casting on an irregular rib, but you can fudge it by using the tubular method. It also has the added benefit of only needing half the number of stitches cast on and, as any knitter knows, CO104 is infinitely better than CO207. Huzzah 😁


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