long strand of yarn between knitting needles on first knitted row

Problem knitting the first row – Long strand of yarn between the needles

You have learned how to cast on, and full of excitement you begin knitting your first row. But after only a few stitches you notice that the strand of yarn connecting the knitting needles is growing with every stitch you make. You try to pull on the working yarn (the yarn connecting your last knitted stitch to the ball of yarn) to tighten things up, but it doesn’t seem to help. You knit a few more stitches, and it’s only getting worse. Your excitement turns to frustration, and for many unfortunate would-be-knitters this is where the knitting adventure ends – failure on the first row.

It doesn’t have to be this way AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!

Somebody (I’m looking at you Google!) gave you bad advice when you were investigating/asking/googling how to cast on stitches and get started knitting. All you have to do is learn a better cast-on method that it is much easier to knit from, and then you will be knitting scarves in no time. Before you know it, you will be a pro.

Read on to learn what went wrong, and which cast-on method I recommend for new knitters.

There are many different Cast-On Methods

Before you can start knitting, you need to create a number of stitches and put them on a knitting needle. This is called casting on, and it can be done in at least a dozen different ways. Each method looks a little different (or a lot different) from the rest, and each method has unique characteristics and uses. For example, if you are knitting a pair of socks from the cuff down, you will want to choose an elastic cast-on so that you will be able to stretch the opening of the sock when you put it on, yet the sock stays snugly on your ankles. Learning a variety of cast-on methods is extremely useful, and you should absolutely explore this at some point of your knitting journey. However, if you are a new knitter (or about to become one), then it’s a good idea to learn a single, all-purpose cast-on technique that will make it easy for you to knit the first few rows successfully, and get you started on your first knitting project.

What went wrong?

If you are experiencing this problem, then you most likely casted on using the backward loop cast-on, or a variation of it. Maybe somebody showed it to you, telling you that it’s the easiest method to cast on, or maybe you googled “easy cast-on” or something similar. The backward loop cast-on is indeed very easy to learn and fast to do, but it’s not actually intended as a general cast-on that you do at the beginning of a project. Instead it’s a highly specialized cast-on that you should only use when you are casting on a few extra stitches at the end of a row, or in the middle of a row. This is not a situation that new knitters are likely to encounter, but you might eventually come across it when you knit top-down sweaters or mittens.

illustration of the backward loop cast-on
You have cast on using the backward loop cast-on or a variation thereof, and everything looked just fine…

The backward loop cast-on doesn’t create proper stitches, only loose loops of string wrapped around the needle, and that makes it very difficult to knit the first row after casting on. If you are not super careful, keeping the needle tips close together, then you create slack between the needles with every stitch you knit, and if you have more than a few stitches, the strand of yarn will grow to ridiculous lengths. Even experienced knitters will encounter the problem if they cast on more than a handful of stitches with this method.

the yarn connecting the needles grow longer with every stitch
… but then you start knitting the first row and things go wrong – with every stitch you make, the yarn connecting the needles grow longer.

Some knitters will tell you that this is normal, and you should ignore the problem and keep knitting. I disagree. The excess yarn will move with you, growing with every stitch and the final loop at the end of the row will be huge. It’s true that once you turn the work and start knitting the second row, you don’t see it as much as you would expect. But the cast-on edge will be loose and sloppy, and the corner and edges of your knitwork will not look great either. That first row will be frustrating and unsatisfying, every single time.

Please do yourself a favor and learn another cast-on technique! Knitting your first row should be fun and exciting, not frustrating. I advocate learning the long-tail cast-on first, but the knitted cast-on is also an excellent all-round cast-on that many new knitters have success with.

The Long-tail cast-on

The long-tail cast-on is one the most popular cast-on methods, because it is relatively easy to learn and a fast way to get stitches on your needles. It is also super versatile, meaning it works well with almost all knitting projects. Finally, it’s easy to knit from this cast-on, so you will not experience the same problems that you did with the backward loops method.

Purl Soho has a great video showing the long tail cast-on, starting with a slip knot. NB! if your are casting on a specific number of stitches, the slip knot counts as the first stitch. Go ahead – watch the video and practice casting on 10 stitches a few times. Keep at it till it feels natural. If necessary, you can slow down the speed of the video. Once the video is playing, click the settings button at the bottom of the video panel and select “Playback speed”.

There’s an alternative to beginning with a slip knot, so I will show you one more video of the long-tail cast-on. This is actually how I prefer to cast on. The video is from Suzanne Bryan. She also demonstrates a method for estimating the length of yarn you will need to cast on a set number of stitches. This trick will come in very handy once you start casting on for a larger project.

If you are still experiencing excess yarn

Choosing a cast-on method where the stitches are secure on the needles will greatly help when you knit your first row, but as a new knitter you are still very likely to build up a slack of yarn between the knitting needles. Not just on your first row, but on every row. It will not be as bad as when you are knitting from the backward loop cast-on, but it can still be frustrating. I have written an article addressing this particular knitting issue: Big Loop on the Final Stitch of the Row and Uneven Edges.

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What other problems are you experiencing, knitting your first rows?

I am open to suggestions for what knitting issues I should write about next. What problems are you having? And what would you like me to write about next? Please leave your questions, suggestions and comments below.

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