The Fearless Knitter's Guide to Provisional Cast-Ons (Do NOT Be Scared!)

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Let's face it: Ripping out stitches can be scary! That's why knitting a provisional cast-on can be a bit scary, too.

"Provisional" means temporary, and that's exactly what this cast-on is — a temporary cast-on that can be removed to reveal live stitches, which you can continue working.

Why Use a Provisional Cast-On?

You might be tempted to skip the provisional cast-on because it's intimidating. But because it results in live stitches at the beginning of your work, there are plenty of times when you might want to give it a try:

  • When you're creating a special cast-on such as a tubular cast-on.
  • When you need to pick up your cast-on stitches again later for something like an edging.
  • When you're not sure how long something needs to be.
  • When you want to seam two pieces together using a kitchener stitch.

If you're following a pattern, it will specify that you need to use a provisional cast-on. Later the pattern will let you know when to return to that provisional cast-on, so you don't have to worry about that.

Most patterns, though, won't give you instructions on how to create a provisional cast-on (or which type to use). That's why we're here!

Crochet Provisional Cast-On

There are a couple of different methods for creating a provisional cast-on , but this is one of my favorites.
If you've tried a crochet cast-on before, this particular provisional cast-on will look very familiar — except it's created with scrap yarn and is meant to be unraveled.

What You Need

  • Crochet hook (Try to use one that matches your yarn's weight. Check the label if you're not sure.)
  • Scrap yarn the same weight (or as close as possible) as your working yarn
  • Knitting needles
  • Working yarn

1. Create a slip knot with your scrap yarn, leaving a bit of yarn tail to weave in later. Place the slip knot on the crochet hook.

2. Place the crochet hook over the knitting needle. Bring the scrap yarn from behind the knitting needle.

3. Hook the scrap yarn around the crochet hook.

4. Pull the scrap yarn through the loop on your hook, making a stitch on the knitting needle. You've created one chain stitch.

5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you have chained the desired number of stitches. This number will be the number of stitches the pattern asks you to cast on.

6. (Optional) Because we'll be unraveling this later, use the crochet hook to chain a couple of extra stitches at the end. This will just give you a little run-and-go when you're pulling out the chain later.

7. Cut the scrap yarn, then insert the yarn tail through the last stitch on the needle. Or, if you don't want to waste yarn, just pull out a big loop after your last chain so you can reuse the yarn and keep it attached to its skein. Set the crochet hook aside.

8. Pick up the other knitting needle and the working yarn (in this example, the pink yarn). Start stitching with the working yarn color. Leave a long tail from the working yarn for weaving in later, just as you would if you were changing colors at the beginning of a new row.

Knit across the chain, following the instructions for Row 1 of the pattern. If Row 1 tells you to knit across, then knit across.

9. Complete your project as you normally would, then bind off (if that's what your pattern tells you to do!).

10. When you finish, you'll need to remove the provisional chain. To do that, pull the yarn end out of the last chain stitch. Tug on it, slowly unraveling the chain until you start to see live stitches.

Yikes! But don't worry; your knitting needle will come to the rescue...

11. Pause after you see one or two live stitches. As the scrap yarn chain unravels, slide your knitting needle into the live stitches so they don't drop. Repeat this as you work your way across the chain.

If the live stitches make you panic, you can also flip the work over to the back and insert the needle into the stitch before you unravel it. That way there's no chance of the stitch dropping.

12. When you reach the end of the chain, you'll arrive at the slip knot you made in step 1. Just pull the slip knot to untie it, then remove the scrap yarn completely and put it to the side.

Once you reach the end of the chain, you'll have all the stitches back on a knitting needle. 

Notice that your bind-off edge is at the bottom of the work, and you're working from the cast-on. It's almost as if your work flipped upside down.

You can now add length to your piece, or graft the piece to another set of live stitches. Yay!

That wasn't so scary, was it?

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The Fearless Knitter's Guide to Provisional Cast-Ons (Do NOT Be Scared!)