Alternate Cable cast-on for 2×2 ribbing

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My favourite cast-on for ribbing is absolutely the Alternate Cable cast-on. Since I’ve been teaching it, and including it in my patterns, I’ve learnt that it isn’t a very well known method, which surprises me, especially as it is so much quicker and easier than any of its tubular cast-on cousins.

I think one reason for it being relatively unknown is that it’s related to the Cable cast-on, which often seems to get a bad press. Why, I’m not really sure, but I’ve heard many knitters complain that it’s strong edge is too rigid (especially for Hats) but that’s so not true! Give it a gentle tug and it slackens up to the same tension as the knitting it supports. It might not stretch through 5 inches, but would you really want it to? Personally, I think the Cable cast-on has so many merits – it’s strong, neat, can be used to cast on mid-row, is the perfect technique for picot cast-ons and much more.

I digress 🙂 So yeah, I’ll always recommend the Alternate Cable cast-on for 1 by 1 ribbing. It’s fab, quick, stretchy and gives a wonderfully neat edge.

But what about a 2 by 2 ribbing?

Well, we can use the Alternate Cable cast-on for that, too.

Essentially, with the AC cast-on, we’re casting on consecutive knits and purls, creating the 1 by 1 pattern directly into the cast-on. Which is why it’s so quick and easy, as it eliminates the need for all those other steps. So, you may think, shouldn’t a 2 by 2 ribbing simply be a matter of casting on 2 stitches knitwise, then 2 stitches purlwise, and so on and so forth? Well, let me show you what happens if you do that….

These are the cast-on sts, whereby 2 stitches have been cast on each knitwise then purlwise consecutively. They don’t look very neat, do they? No rib pattern emerging.
And here it is after a few rows. I didn’t knit any more and ripped it out – no point in wasting yarn. And this is where we are reminded that sure, a knit stitch is a knit stitch, but how it looks is also affected by the stitches that surround it.

After that fail, it may seem that a 2 by 2 AC cast-on isn’t going to be so easy, but really, it isn’t so difficult. In fact, we do pretty much the same with the AC 1 by 1 cast-on as we would other tubular cast-ons to get a 2 by 2 effect – we juggle stitches.

For this blog post, I won’t start from scratch with the basics of the Alternate Cable cast-on – I’ll direct you to the main tutorial for that, else we’ll have way too many photos in this post!

So, we’ll start with our 1 by 1 Alternate Cable cast-on:

As you’ll have noted from the Alternate Cable Cast-on tutorial, I treat the first slip knot of the cast-on as a purl stitch, and after casting on the required number of stitches (including that first knot), the last stitch cast on will be a knit stitch. I then work the first row flat, and join after that. It makes the first round sturdier, less likely to twist, and makes a much neater rib, as well as putting a knit stitch at the beginning of the round, which we’re most familiar with.

For a 2 by 2 rib, if we’re working in the round, we want a multiple of 4 stitches.

Our first flat row: knit the first stitch.
The next stitch we come to is a purl stitch, so before we do anything else, we want to swap that stitch around with the knit stitch following it.

This is a simple trick to do – you could use a cable needle but that would get way too fiddly. Instead, we’ll do it with the tips of our needles. Simply insert the tip of the right needle into the second stitch along, from the front, and slip both stitches off the needle. As you do this, use the tip of the left needle to grab the purl stitch from behind as it falls off the needle – once that’s safely back on, we can slip the knit stitch back onto the left tip, where it will now be in front of the purl stitch.

In short, you’ve just performed a “slip one stitch onto a cable needle and hold at back of work, knit the next stitch and purl the stitch from the cable needle” on your cast-on. Which is cool. But if cables make you wary, it’s best not to think of it like that. You’ve simply repositioned a purl stitch and a knit stitch to be in a better place!

(My yarn got a bit wayward when I took these photos, and it wouldn’t normally be hanging between the stitches like that. I’ll try and get fresh shots for the PDF. In this photo the yarn is in position to purl, whereas we really want it at the back, to be in position to knit.)

Then proceed to knit the next stitch….
…and purl the following 2 stitches. The first 4 stitches of your 2 by 2 rib have now been worked! And already it’s starting to take form, can you see?

You’ll then want to start the repeat all over again by knitting the next stitch, swapping the next 2 stitches, knitting 1 then purling 2. It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it, especially if you learn to identify how the knit and purl stitches look in the cast on (not dissimilar to how they normally look, which helps!)

And here it is after a couple of rows, looking much more like the sort of edge we’d like. As with a regular AC 1 by 1, I’d join after the first row if you’re knitting in the round. Depending on your tension, you may find you prefer the look of one side to the other, but they generally even up once your body of work grows.
In case that pink yarn is a little too pink and doesn’t really show the detail, here is the AC 2 by 2 rib on a Hat I knit recently for a new collection:
Looks pretty good, huh? Under duress you may find the 2 by 2 isn’t quite as stretchy as the 1 by 1, but you really won’t notice that when you’re wearing it – the difference is hardly noticeable. It provides more than enough stretch for a ribbed brim and looks pretty nifty, too.

And I’ll leave you with that for today! If there’s anything you’re not sure about here, or would like further clarification with, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Enjoy!

Support

As always, if you have a question about this technique or need some help with it, leave a comment below! I’m afraid I’m unable to offer help via email or private message, but you’re welcome to post in our forum.

 

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Woolly Wormhead

25 Comments

  1. Fiona Hackland

    Thanks so much for this! I have used your pdf on the Alternate Cable cast on for a couple of projects and love the professional looking edge. I've been puzzling about how to adapt for different ribs so this is extremely useful. I assume that a similar rearrangement of stitches could be used for other ribs such as k2, p1.

  2. Woolly

    Thanks Fiona! – a 2×1 rib may not be so straight forward, as it's an odd number of stitches and rearranging will leave you with an excess of purls.

    Let me have a play around with it, and if I get something to work out, I'll treat it as a separate tutorial.

    ETA/ I've found a way to make a k2, p1 or p2, k1 rib work with the Alternate Cable cast-on! Photos & details to follow (it's late & dark here, have been experimenting for the last few hours 😉

  3. torirot

    wow – how clever is that! Thank you!

  4. Elly

    Wow, what a great technique! Thank you for sharing and putting up a tutorial!

  5. Mary Ann

    I love the cable cast on, have picked it up from doing a couple of your hat patterns, but I'm finding the joining in the round with it to be clumsy. I'm finding it very hard to not get the stitches twisted. My daughter has also found the same to be true. We thought about actually doing the first couple stitches of the cast on using the long tail method and then going with the cable cast on. Any suggestions?

  6. Woolly

    Hi Mary Ann:

    I think with the Cable cast-on it's a matter of practice at preventing the sts from twisting when joining in the round. I find that smoothing them out and ensuring the ridge is always at the bottom before joining really helps, and this is easier to do on a circular needles (I think DPNs can increase the chances of twisting)

    In terms of combining long tail and Cable cast-on – I'm afraid to say that I've never really used the long tail cast-on so can't realy comment on it, but I suspect the 2 won't mix too well. Cable and Alternate Cable mix well because they're structurally similar (along with the backwards purl cast on) but they're the only cast-ons that can be combined easily that I know of. (there may be more – if anyone has any other suggestions, perhaps they could comment?)

  7. Mary Ann

    Practice, practice, practice, as always the best idea!

  8. DaisyF

    I'm so glad you have posted this tutorial.
    I was wondering how to cast on alt cable for 2×2 rib.
    Going to try it right away!

  9. Glynis

    That is brilliant!
    I taught my Mum the alternate cable cast on. She's been knitting for 70 years and wondered how she'd never come across it before- she's captivated by it and tells anyone who will listen just how effective it is.
    The method for 2×2 is going to really make her day! Thank you 🙂

  10. Ann Kingstone

    Ooh ooh ooh! That does look so neat! Thank you Woolly. :o)

  11. Jennifer/Thneed

    I found the 1×1 AC cast-on quite fiddley the first couple of times I used it, and I had the *hardest* time keeping track of stitches, not doing 2 knits in a row, etc. But after using it a few times I have come to find the rhythm in the casting-on and now it's pretty simple. I'm really glad to have it in my arsenal.

    (I don't understand why anyone would dislike the cable cast-on? But then, I learned it from an EZ book when I was in my teens and I trusted her when she said "attractive and stretchy" and it's true. It's no less elastic than a knitted cast-on — both need you to keep the yarn loose during the process; going up a needle size is helpful, etc.)

    Thank you, WW. I learn a lot from your patterns and postings.

  12. Carmen

    Thank you so much for the tutorials! I have been so frustrated about doing a 2×2 tubular cast on. I will give them a try.

  13. Kaitlin

    This is such a great tutorial – thank you! It's been a very long time since I've picked up knitting needles and I have a question. The tutorial says not to join the round until the 3rd row (cast-on row, straight knit row, then adjust for 2×2 row). If I'm knitting in the round on circular needles, won't I end up with a couple rows at the bottom of the hat just hanging out below the join? I'm just a little confused on how to join the at the 3rd row instead of the cast-on row. I hope that question made sense…

  14. Woolly Wormhead

    Hi Kaitlin – yes, there will be two rows that aren't joined – simply use your yarn tail to close these after you've joined in the round, it really won't notice 🙂

  15. Vivien

    Hi WW, I noticed that you mention to cast on a number of stitches divisible by 4 for the 2×2 AC cast-on. I have a scarf pattern with 42 stitches. Do you think your method would still work?

  16. Woolly

    Vivien – the multiple of 4 is for knitting in the round, as you need an even number of knit and purl sts (2×2) – if your scraf is worked flat you could certainly still use this method. I'd have 2 knit sts each end, and then I think it should work.

  17. Vivien

    Thanks for your reply! I went ahead and cast on 42 sts and it turned out beautifully.

  18. Allison

    I've been practicing this a few times now and find it to be superior to an Italian tubular cast on, thank you fir sharing it. I'm so glad I found it.

  19. Janeann

    Brilliant, many thanks

  20. Joan

    My issue is that the bottom of my hats seem bigger than the rest of the hat, even though I used the same needles and yarn. Will this alternative help get rid of the over-stretched bottom of a hat?

    • Woolly Wormhead

      It should do, yes – this cast-on isn’t as effective as elastic but it’s pretty close, in knitting terms. You can see from the photos above that it sits neatly against the knitting, doesn’t flare out, and provides elasticity when worn 🙂

  21. Selena

    Thank you Woolly! I just used this cast on for a sweater neckline w/ 2×2 ribbing and it’s looking great. Is there a matching bind off you would suggest for the sweater hem and sleeve cuffs? Many thanks!

    • Woolly Wormhead

      So glad it worked for you! No, I’m afraid I don’t know of a matching bind-off but I will add this to my list of tutorials to work on!

      • Selena

        I found Knit Freedom’s invisible 2×2 rib bind off which worked really well! It is a sewn bind off though, so I always felt like I’m playing yarn chicken when I bind off a sweater hem. Ha! Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UBE-CuHXYM

  22. Kathleen Bacon

    I was so excited to find this, as I always use the alternating cable cast on for my hats. I’ve deviated from a pattern calling for 2×2 rib in order to use the 1×1 alternating cable cast on. I finally gave this a try, and it’s great.

    It seems that I do a twisted alternating cable cast on, though. It makes a very tubular-looking edge. I also incorporate a tip from Roxanne Richardson, her Revised Cable Cast On. I do a revised alternating twisted 1×1 cast on:
    Cast on 3 stitches more than you need, then knit back on your cast on row in pattern (either K1, P1, or K2, P2 as you rearrange your stitches). Because the first two stitches of a cable cast on and an alternating cable cast on are done slingshot, they’re not in the cable technique. And, because the third stitch cast on is a knit, and you want to end with a purl, you pull out those first three stitches when you come to the end of your first row. Then you join your work. If I can add photos of the end result, I will.