The Alternate Cable Cast-on has long been a favorite of mine. I’ve been using it in my patterns and teaching it in my classes for going on 13 years and I never get tired of it!
What I like about it is it’s versatility, it’s a highly adaptable cast on method that can be mixed up for different types of rib such as 2×2 ribbing or 1×2 ribbing. It can also be combined with the Cable Cast-on method to create mixed edges, such as those used in my Kernmantle and Bubbles patterns.
I was recently asked on Twitter to help troubleshoot the cast on, and I thought it’d make a great blog post. The sticking points that come up are all things I teach in my workshops so why not explain them here and help more folks!
One thing to bear in mind that what creates this cast on isn’t which stitch you’ve just cast on, but how the yarn travels under the needle and which stitch is cast on next. This is why simply casting on two knits and then two purls doesn’t work.
I’ll break this down into sections – how to tell which stitch you’ve just cast on, how to count your stitches and make sure you’ve cast on knit and purl pairs, and what it looks like if you cast on the wrong stitch next.
Which stitch is which?
Once you know how to look at the stitches you’ve just cast on, working out which is which becomes easier.
1) When you’ve just created a knit stitch, the base of the stitch will come from the front of the work and the yarn will be at the back. It’s no different to your regular knit stitches – the yarn is always at the back and the base of the ‘V’ comes from the front of the work.
Do remember that where the yarn is indicates which stitch has just been worked, NOT which stitch is next!
2) When you’ve just created a purl stitch, the yarn will be at the front and the base of the stitch will be recessed, or anchored at the back. Notice how the yarn doesn’t just sit at the front of the stitch you’ve just created, but sits in front of the stitch before it – that’s because we needed to use that stitch to create the purl stitch. If you were to flip this cast-on around this stitch would be a knit stitch on the other side, which helps indicate where it’s anchored.
As with the knit part of the cast-on, where the yarn is tells which stitch has just been cast on, not what you cast on next.
Counting the stitches
You’ll need to count your stitches at some point, and this is a good time to check that you’ve got pairs of knits and purls and no stray extras.
3) You’ll remember from the main Alternate Cable Cast-on tutorial that you treat the first knot, or loop around the needle, as the first purl stitch. This helps you in two ways – you’ll end the casting on with a knit stitch for an even-numbered rib, which means you go straight into K1, P1 for the first row or round – much more intuitive than needing to swap things around or start the ribbing with a purl stitch!
And it also means that we can used the more pronounced knit stitch as an anchor for counting – again, I’ve found counting off in pairs easier to do if I use the dominant stitch as the marker.
4) All the way along your cast on the stitches will sit like this – one back, one forward; one back, one forward. The visual aspect of the stitches – which sits forward and which sits back – makes it much easier for us to check that we’ve cast them on correctly, and then count. I only count the knit stitches and I count them in pairs, e.g. “2; 4; 6; 8” and so on. You can use the tip of your needle to count or your finger, whatever works for you. The cast on finishes with one knit stitch for an even-numbered cast on.
How to tell when you’re out of sequence
This is a useful skill to have, and one you’ll quickly learn once you’ve got used to how your stitches sit, and where and how they are anchored. This is where the point of not being able to cast on extra knits or purls to create different ribbing patterns starts to make more sense, and also the fact that it’s how the yarn travels underneath the needle from the previous stitch that creates the ribbed edge, not the stitch itself.
Whether you’ve gone wrong with an extra knit or an extra purl, the way the stitches look once they’re knocked out of sync is very similar; the only real difference is where the yarn lays after the last stitch.
Looking at this example, we can see the stitches are evenly in pairs, purl then knit, up until the last three stitches. It looks like a further purl stitch was cast on, as we can see a stitch that sits back, but from there knowing which stitch is which is tricky because we can’t see the same distinct anchors that we see elsewhere in the cast on stitches. All we can tell is that the last stitch cast on was a knit stitch, and we know that because of where the yarn is.
If the correct stitches had been cast on, the last stitch should be a purl, so we know we have to unpick one stitch at least. My advice would be to unpick to the last obviously correct stitch, and usually the easiest point to unpick to is the last definite knit stitch, so in this example I’d unpick the last 3 stitches.
Unless you’ve made a mistake in the middle of a cast on and not noticed until it’s too late, you’ll not be unpicking too many stitches. Counting the stitches off in pairs as you go, even if you’re only visually checking that they are in pairs rather than counting how many you’ve cast on, will help you avoid having to rip right back.
I hope this has helped! If you’ve a question about this technique, pop it in a comment below or visit the forum.