Short-Tail or Long-Tail? The Fundamental Difference Between Cast-Ons

All the cast-ons in the world can be divided into two categories: short-tail cast-ons and long-tail cast-ons. In a long-tail cast-on, two strands of yarn are used: the working yarn and a long piece of tail yarn.

slingshot position still w caption

You can ONLY use a long-tail cast-on to START a knitting project, because when you're in the middle of a project, you only have one strand of yarn available to you.

If you need to cast on in the middle of a project, you can always do a short-tail cast-on, in other words, a cast-on that requires only one strand of yarn.

short-tail co still

The "short tail" refers to the six-inch tail you leave hanging from the slipknot to be woven in later.

Which to choose?

Long-tail cast-ons are generally much faster to do, although until you get good at estimating how much tail you'll need, you might waste yarn if you estimate too much.

When you are casting on for the beginning of a project, you will generally be casting on a large amount of stitches, so choose a long-tail cast-on unless there is a short-tail cast-on whose edge you greatly prefer.

Popular long-tail cast-ons are:

  • the Long-Tail cast-on,
  • the Old Norwegian cast-on
  • the Double-Start (Estonian) cast-on, and
  • the Channel Island cast-on.

If you are in the middle of a project and your pattern calls for you to cast on more stitches, choose a short-tail cast-on.

Example: The Knitted Cast-On
knitted co
The knitted cast-on is a very easy short-tail cast-on based on the knit stitch.

As you can see, it can be used to add stitches onto the side of your knitting at any point in your project.

It is moderately stretchy but only semi-durable- it tends to get stretched-out with use.
...

To do it, knit into stitch on the left-hand needle and then place the new stitch knitwise onto the left-hand needle. Then, knit the cast-on stitches through the back loops to tighten the cast-on.


Some of my favorite short-tail cast-ons are:

  • the Cable cast-on,
  • Tillybuddy's cast-on, and
  • the Chinese Waitress cast-on.

Video explanations of all these cast-ons and more available in...
Cast-Ons Ebook Coming Soon

This lesson is a small part of the upcoming video knitting course, The KnitFreedom Video Guide To Cast-Ons, coming out in early May 2013. Watch your email inbox for updates!

Leave a Comment

Did you learn something new from this post? Have a question? Leave a comment and let me know!


99 thoughts on “Short-Tail or Long-Tail? The Fundamental Difference Between Cast-Ons”

  1. Liat, I disagree — you can use long tail anywhere! You would use a separate piece of your yarn as the tail. Of course, you would have ends to weave in, but in some cases it may be more desirable.

        1. Rebecca Lindsey

          Wrap the yarn around the needle, leaving your 6 inch or so tail hanging off the end of your needle, as many times as you have stitches to cast on. Add a few inches for a fudge factor and make your slip knot at that point. I found at first I added too much fudge factor. Now I add about 2 inches and it works out perfect.

      1. About the long tail cast-on: For years I used the slip knot as in the picture, until it dawned on me, that I could just pick up the yarn between thumb and index finger on the left hand, pull back the needle with the yarn and hold it with my right index finger, while I cast on the next stitch. No knot and immediately you have two stitches on the needle. Hope this explains clearly.

  2. The Cast ON VIDEO IS COMING
    THE CAST ON VIDEO IS COMING
    THE CAST ON VIDEO IS COMING
    ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA
    (CAN YOU TELL I LIVE IN BOSTON?)
    LIAT, CAN’T WAIT!! XO

  3. I don’t know if you address this in your future video offering, but I learned a trick for a long tail style cast on that never wastes yarn. I use it if I need to cast on more than 50. Either use two balls of yarn or use each end of the same ball. Leaving 6 inches on each ball, make a slip knot using both. Hold as for the long tail cast on and cast away! At the end, you’ll have to choose one to cut, depending on whether you want to knit from the center or from the outside. No waste and no worry!

  4. Very informative. I also use the 2 ball long tail (or either end) for large COs. I need help with the provisional COs. Just don’t get it – don’t know why since I already know how to crochet!

    1. Joanne, in the upcoming ebook I teach two different provisional cast-ons, one with a crochet hook and one without. I bet you will get the hang of both of them!

  5. Marlene Fontana

    This will be a valuable tool to have in the bag! Your explanations are always so clear and logical. Thank you for that.

  6. Liat, I am so happy you are back and hope you feeling much better. I look forward to getting this course. Love all the ones I’ve bought so far. You’re the best!

    1. Thanks! I’m so happy you like my videos! I really think you’re going to like the new one about cast-ons. I learned so much- I think you will too.

  7. Looking forward to these cast on’s…..I usually use the long tail but would like to learn others as knowledge is always a good thing !

    Thanks for all you do

  8. Hey Liat,

    So glad to have you back. Take care of yourself. Looking forward to whatever you have for us next – it is sure to be great!

    Linda

  9. I use long tail for everything. So much so that I have to look the How-To if I need a different CO. Have 2 ways to decide how much yarn I need for a CO.

    1. Estimate 1″ per stitch – or –
    2. Wrap yarn around needle the same number of times as the number of stitches I need to have.

    If I want a long tail for sewing I just leave 6″ extra.

    Can’t wait to see your video!

    1. Hi Anita! I’m so glad you are finding this all useful. I don’t have a badge but it would be great if you could link to me on your blog like this: “A great knitting videos website” or something like that. When you use descriptive words to link to me it helps a lot. Thanks!

  10. I had never heard of 2-ball cast on and can’t wait to see just how it’s done. I am excited about you explaining pros and cons of the various cast on methods. I had no idea the knit CO was not sturdy in the long run and tended to stretch out over time. This type of information is invaluable and it’s the stuff no one ever tells you. Thanks.

  11. Hi, I just wanted to thank you for all your tips and advices, because even though I think I can knit, there still are million things it’s better to know. And here you’re coming handy… awesome!!!

    1. Cecilia I’m so glad! It happens to me too, I’m always learning new things. I learned so much while writing and filming this new cast-ons ebook…. I hope you like it!

  12. Pamela O'Hearn

    I can’t wait to see these, as I don’t know most of them. I hope they are helpful. I am self-taught for these, and left handed, so I do everything with the wrong hand. It makes looking at videos a challenge sometimes.

  13. Connie Lippert

    Well, you read my mind on this one! I was just starting a new project and it has buttonholes and I’m going to have to do cast ons right in the middle of it. Don’t have a clue on this one, so can hardly wait to see the video’s!

  14. No meaning to hurry you Liat, but could we also have another piece on cast-off’s? I would be so grateful to find some videos of different – and matching where possible – examples. Thank you so much for all the wonderful learning you give us all.

    1. Hey, Janet, of course you will have a course just for cast-offs! I intend to do that one either next or right after the Lace course.

      Also, in the cast-ons ebook I will be linking to matching bind-offs if I already have them up on the site.

  15. Karen Berridge

    Learned two things – so always grateful knit-on cast on will stretch with use – and when knitting the knit-on cast on, knit through the back to strengthen. Glad you’re back.

  16. my speling is not good bud in german i am i am so hppy i found you i never know about the short row i feel so lucky nou if i culd find inaxspency jahrn i have it maed
    also wher cud i find a videos four c swether ? thank you so matsh waltraud

    1. Walt,
      Have you tried eBay for inexpensive yarn? If you buy from an eBay seller from Germany, the shipping would be less expensive (cheaper).

      I too would like a sweater pattern from Liat because she explains how to knit things better than anyone else I’ve found.

      Good Luck!
      Mary

      1. Thanks Mary! I definitely have one or two sweater ebooks on my “to-do” list. :) I’m excited to demystify basic and custom sweaters for my students.

    2. Hi there! You can always write in German and I can use Google translate to read it. I will be making a video class all about sweaters in the future, so stay tuned!

  17. I am so glad you are back —- I am starting a new pair of socks and I am using the “Judy’s Magic cast-on. Love the toe up socks, they fit so much better. Again SO HAPPY YOU ARE BACK?

    1. Yay! Thank you so much, Jean! It’s SO good to be back!! I’m happy you’re knitting toe-up socks – you are on the fast track to Knitting Superstardom!

  18. Cheryl Brocher

    I never realized there were so many different types of cast ons. I learned to knit using the long tail method, so that’s the one I’m most comfortable with. When I have to add on stitches, I used the short tail method. I would love to try the knitting method. Can’t wait for your video! Thanks so much!!

    1. You’re welcome, Cheryl! There are so many fun cast-ons. Now that I’ve filmed the ebook I have new favorites, like the Old Norwegian cast-on for my go-to long-tail cast-on, and the cable cast-on, Tillybuddy’s cast-on, or the Chinese Waitress cast-on for my fave short-tail cast-ons. You are going to love them! The knitted cast-on is just the beginning… ;)

  19. Really I didn’t know there were so many different cast on’s . I found this CO that uses a crochet hook and it doesn’t waste any of my yarn, simply called Crochet Cast On. I love that your making these videos on this.

    Someone asked the question of How do you estimate for long tail? I was taught to wrap the yarn around the needle ten times ,one loop for each stitch , then pull off of needle and use the length to measure more yarn from until you have the amount needed .Say I need 30 stitches, I hold the yarn that I wrapped and bring more yarn up to match the same length two more times. Ok, now that I’ve said that I don’t know how to explain it better without making it more confusing :( does that make any sense ? It does work.

      1. Jennie Gillihan

        This is a GREAT tip! I always over-estimate and have to cut precious inches of waste yarn. I haven’t tried toe-up socks yet, but I really want to. So until I ‘take the plunge’ I’m trying the 10-stitch wrap trick. Thanks so much for the tip!!!

    1. Hi Rosie,

      I really like the crochet cast-on, too. It perfectly matches the traditional bind-off, which I love.

      Your tips about wrapping the yarn around the needle 10 times is a very good one. I have included it in my upcoming ebook, too, so that everyone can learn it.

  20. Liat,
    At my local yarn shop the owner Sandee taught me that you can do the long tail cast on without having to estimate by using the yarn from both ends of the ball. So after you cast on , you cut the yarn from the end of the ball. No estimating or wasting.
    I LOVE all your videos. They are a huge help when I cannot get to Yarns With a Twist for help!
    Cindy

  21. Can’t wait to see these cast ons! Many are new to me. Love your videos – save them all! So good to see you back – take care!

  22. Liat!
    I always learn something new from you…even if it’s something I forgot a long time ago!

    I think you are great!

    Thank- you for becoming my “go to” guru!

    Gretchen

  23. I learned how to knit when I was 8, many, many, moons ago, I haven’t done any for about 20 years and this past year have restarted. I decided to try learn the continental style of knitting which I’m finding difficult with ever stiffening short fingers but I’m improving slowly, thanks to Liat’s video. Like a few have already said, I didn’t realize there were so many different ways to cast on. Very interesting. Thanks Liat for all your hard work. I thought I knew how to knit but realize now there’s so much more to learn.

    1. Hooray! Elly, thank you so much for sharing your story! It makes me so happy to know I have opened up new doors for you in knitting! There is always more to learn. :)

  24. Barbara Shearer

    Thank you so much, I learn a lot from your e-mails., had never used the long tail cast on for anything. Have knit for years, but learn something new everyday.

  25. Sometimes my ribbing will curl forward. What causes this. Does it make a difference which caston I use?

    1. Hm, ribbing is supposed to lay flat. Yes, there are certain cast-ons that are meant specifically for ribbing, like the Italian tubular cast-on. I go into this concept in-depth in the upcoming ebook and give you lots of cast-ons to try that work well with ribbing and should lay flat.

  26. Liat, if I use the long tail CO, would the first knitted row be wrong side (WS) or right side (RS)? I always forget and simply use the pattern but always wonder if both ends of, say a wrap, will look the same. It seems like I read that some CO’s are considered row 1, or RS, and some some CO’s say to start with row 2 which would be the RS. It’s confusing.

    1. Emma, that’s a great question.

      I explain it in-depth in the upcoming ebook, but the short answer is: for long-tail cast-ons, you are creating the first right-side row as you cast on.

      Therefore, the first row you work after the cast-on is a wrong-side row (so if you are doing Stockinette you would purl).

  27. Jennie Gillihan

    Holy cow, am I ever glad you are back!!! Hope you are 100% healed and don’t overdo it at first. I have sure missed your tips and videos, Liat. You are the one person who has the most understandable instructions and the most detailed videos and I have the most “aha!!!” moments watching them! I have recommended your videos to more people.

    Again, thank goodness you are well and back with us. We missed you!!!!!

    Jennie in GA

    1. I tried the Chinese Waitress Cast On last evening. I love it! It’s slow going & fiddley, but good for so many edges….it’s like a double-edge….quite pretty.

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