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.

32 thoughts on “Problem knitting the first row – Long strand of yarn between the needles”

    1. I have a question. I’m not a beginner knitter, I’d say middle intermediate. I’m having a problem knitting with lighter yarns making them look uniform in SS. I’m knitting summer sweaters. The yarn is not splitting, there’s no mistakes…….They just look lumpy and not smooth. I’m wondering if they’ll smooth out once blocked?

    2. I’ve been crocheting for 20 years, but only recently (January) began knitting. One of the problems with the cast on and in general is the stitches being too tight to get the needle into and tension in general.

      1. Try casting on with both needles then slide one out and start knitting…. They will be looser !

  1. Very helpful! What aboutcwhen doing cable how to lossen the stitch to knit off cable needle

    1. Thank you, Kendra! I am glad you found it useful. And thank you for the blog suggestion on cabling. The quick answer is to tell you to loosen up when you do cable work, but that’s much easier said than done. I will put it in my (fairly long) list of blog suggestions and see if I can come up with some good ideas that will help.

  2. Hello Henni, the problem I’m having is a long strand of yarn between needles that measures about 6 inches by the time I reach the first additional stitch I cast on. The pattern calls for casting on an extra 30 stitches all at once at the beginning of a wrong side row. Help !!!

    1. Hi Denise, thanks for reaching out. Am I reading this correctly that you already have a knitted piece, and then at some point, you are supposed to cast on an additional 30 stitches at the beginning of a wrong side row?

    2. If I understand it correctly, then my best advice is to avoid any version of the backward loop cast on (https://knitwithhenni.com/backward-loop-cast-on/). It is not well suited for that many stitches. Instead, I would suggest using a knitted cast on, but since you are on the wrong side, you have to purl the new stitches, rather than knit them. I could not find a good video for you demonstrating it, so here are two videos that together should help. The knitted cast on as a method to add stitches at the beginning of a row is demonstrated as method 2 in this video https://youtu.be/cb4fXwBNUkA and the Purled-on Cast-on is demonstrated in this video https://youtu.be/7vNqsuwT5Zs. Combine the two, and you have a good way to cast on a large number of extra stitches at the beginning of a wrong-side row. I hope this helps! Best, Henni

  3. While I agree with using a different cast on, the other suggestion I give is cast on one extra stitch then drop the last when you get to it. The extra is now your yarn tail.

  4. Oh my! I should have looked up for this before! Yesterday I started a 160-stitch project and it got ridiculous. Now let’s see if I can get that sling shot version right the next time! 🙂

  5. You can also suddenly get a big gap because you dropped a stitch, i.e. the next stitch in your needle fell off before you knit into it.

    Fix: twist yarn back to the proper orientation and put it back on the needle.

    This is straightforward for *some* cast on methods. but … Just because something is straightforward does *not* make it easy/simple.

  6. What I do is. If I need 150 stitches, I’ll cast on 100 then add the other 50 while knitting the first row..

  7. I just started knitting it said cast off 3 of next 2 rows 18 & 19 at the beginning can you show me

    1. Hi Mike, to cast off three stitches you do exactly the same thing you would do if you were to bind off all your stitches, only you stop after three: knit the first two stitches, then lift the first stitch on the right hand needle over the 2nd stitch and off the needle. You have now cast off 1 stitch. Knit one more stitch from the left needle so you again have two needles on the right hand needle, and again you lift the 1st stitch on the right hand needle over the 2nd stitch and off the needle. Repeat once more so you have cast off a total of 3 stitches. Then knit the remaining stitches as normal. When you have completed the row you will have 3 fewer stitches than before. Do exactly the same on the next row. Good luck

  8. I just started knitting it said cast off 3 at the beginning of next 2 rows row 18 & 19 to make 18 stitches can you show me

  9. Why are you using the thumb method to cast on when the cable method is easier, doesn’t leave you frustrated because you either haven’t enough yarn to cast on or you have used too much I don’t like losing expensive yarns. Also to achieve a neat edge you simply slip the first stitch and knit into the back of the last on EVERY ROW (knit or pearl)

  10. I need help to cast on knitting with my fingers.! I need help to do with my right and left hand while am I knitting.

  11. Hi! I’ve just recently learned how to knit, super excited to create things, I’m just always having a problem with the last loop from the first knit row. Once I bring the last loop onto the right needle, starting a new row, I’m not able to pull the excess yarn through. It tightens up right away leaving a large loop. Not sure if I should be pulling the working yarn or the end of the yarn, it seems like either ends in disaster. I’d appreciate any advice!

  12. OmG. I was super frustrated by this problem for two weeks & on the verge of giving up. YTube doesn’t have answer. 🤨 I was thinking I was doing it in wrong way.

  13. OmG. I was super frustrated by this problem for two weeks & on the verge of giving up. YTube doesn’t have answer. 🤨 I was thinking I was doing it in wrong way.

  14. The problem I have is that I cast on 39 stitches. Then I did the first row- which is k2, p2 except for the 3 selvage stitches (which are k1, k2 on first row at start and end of row respectively.) When I finished the first row, there are now 57 loops on the needle. I looked at it closely as I was doing it and only say one loop go over to the other each time. But at the end I straighten it out and I have 57 loops now. It is an increase of 18 stitches and I don’t know why. Thanks in advance for help. This is first time I have ever tried knitting something. Peace

    1. Glad your site was here to inspire solving this……I did it again and saw I was picking yarn up on each of the purl stitches, because I was inserting the needle from under the stitch and up instead of with the needles tip to tip. So I figured it out after I posted the question and felt the inspiration to really look for what was happening. Thank you again for having this website to help and inspire new knitters to figure out initial kinks. Peace

  15. Every time I knit my first row I end up with the tail and the yarn on the same needle. I have no idea how this happens and it’s INCREDIBLY frustrating. I also have no idea how to undo it and google has failed me. Any tips?

  16. Hi Henni, I am a beginning knitter. I am using 11″ circular needles to knit a baby blanket. I have cast on (knitting) 3 times. (127 stitches). I have made the stitches very tight but still end up with a big loop on the cast on row. i then knitted 2 rows and the cast on row is still big loops. What am I doing. (I took it all out 3 times! ) Help please!
    Would using the long tail cast on make a difference? Should I cast on using a size smaller needles?

    thanks for your help,

    1. Which method are you using to cast-on? I would definitely recommend trying the long-tail cast-on if you haven’t tried it yet. Practice on a smaller piece, perhaps 10 or 20 stitches, and knit a few rows afterward until you get the hang of it. You should not attempt to make the cast-on stitches extra tight. They need to move freely on the needles.

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