Tutorial: Invisible Provisional Cast-on

Here’s a little photo tutorial on how to do my favourite provisional CO, the invisible CO.

A little background: there are a few different methods of provisional CO, all with the same goal – to provide a starting point for your work, and to leave your first row of sts on a strand of waste yarn which can be easily removed, so that you can put the bases of your sts back onto a needle and either knit in the opposite direction or simply BO. This is really useful for a number of reasons… if you want both ends of a scarf to match, you could start with a provisional CO, knit to the end, BO, and then go back to the beginning, unpick your provisional CO and use the same BO. That’s just one example; there are many more. Provisional COs are really, really useful in lace-knitting, too. A very handy skill to have in your bag of tricks!

The crochet provisional CO is very widely known, indeed, it was the first one I learnt. When you use the crochet provisional CO, the sts go onto your needle from left to right, then you immediately work the RS row. When you use the invisible provisional CO, the sts go onto the needle from right to left, then you turn and work a WS row (so, a purl row if you’re working in stockinette). The invisible provisional CO leaves all your sts on a strand of waste yarn, so it’s very easy to remove the waste yarn and get the sts back on the needle (easier than with the crochet provisional CO, which you have to “unzip”).

So, here we go. An explanation of the invisible provisional CO!

You need some nice smooth waste yarn, in a brightly contrasting colour to your main yarn. To help you follow the pictures, my waste yarn is bright pink and my main yarn is grey. Lay your waste yarn and main yarn together and put a slip knot in them (leaving a bit of a tail to weave in at the end):

Put your slip knot onto the needle, and tension the yarns similarly to a long-tail CO. The waste yarn is over your thumb, the main yarn over the index finger, and both yarns are held together in your other fingers:

From the front, go under the waste yarn with your needle (hold the slip knot with your right index finger so it doesn’t move around):

Then bring your needle over the main yarn:

Pull the main yarn under the waste yarn:

… and bring your needle back to its starting position. One st has been cast-on:

To CO your next st, bring the needle from the back and under the main yarn:

Believe it or not, that’s your second CO st. I know it seems a little strange, just sitting there like a YO, but it makes more sense one you CO your third st. And you do that just as you did your first st. Hold the previous st in place with your right index finger (like you did with the slip knot), then bring your needle under the waste yarn, over the main yarn…:

… bring the main yarn under the waste yarn, the needle back to its starting position, and now it makes sense! Three cast-on sts on your needle:

That’s all there is to it. As you can see, the even-numbered cast-on sts are not really cast-on in the true sense… they only become completely cast-on once you complete the next (odd-numbered) st. Because of this, you have to exercise a little bit of care if you are casting on an even number of sts. When you turn to work your first (WS) row, it will look like this:

As you can see, the main yarn is wrapped round the needle like a YO but there is no waste yarn anchoring it at the base. This makes it impossible to work the first st. What you need to do is twist the waste yarn around to the front, like this:

… and then just purl all your sts as normal. When you get to the slip knot, just drop it off the needle and ignore it. When it comes time to undo your provisional CO, you will undo the slip knot and take the waste yarn out of the sts. For now, you can just leave it hanging there (I like to pull it out a bit, just to reassure myself it’s not going to slip apart):

As you can see, once you work a few rows, this CO truly is invisible. The waste yarn is running neatly and unimpeded through the bases of all your sts, rather like a lifeline. Beautiful!:

I have a made a little video too and will get around to uploading it soon. I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If there’s anything you find confusing, please just let me know in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Tutorial: Invisible Provisional Cast-on

  1. Thanks! None of my knitting books has an understandable explanation of provisional cast ons, so I really appreciate these instructions (and especially the pictures).

  2. Hello! This is my first time doing a provisional cast-on and am wondering is it possible to join in the round? How do I know if I’m twisting the stitches? I’m trying to wrap my head around this and am stumped. Thank you!!

    • Hi Lisa, apologies for not replying sooner, I only just saw your comment! Yes, it is possible to join in the round on the first row of this CO, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. It’s incredibly fiddly! I would do the CO, the WS purl row, and then maybe work a couple more rows before joining in the round. Then I’d sew up the gap afterwards, A lot easier, in my opinion!

      • I do use it for circular knitting. It sure is a bit fiddly pushing those stitches around on the needles, but not so much you couldn’t get used to it. it helps not to use a magic loop-method.
        and there is a great trick I just learned: knit one or more rows of plain stocking stitch (or reverse stocking stitch, it doesn’t matter). then join in the round and then do the “real” knitting – later you unravel those first rows – and have yarn handy for grafting e.g. (if you don’t need that – and consider it wasteful – use some waste yarn, or maybe the other end of the ball, for these rows and knit one round stocking stitch in your main yarn when joining in the round)
        I hope this helps anyone!

    • I do use it for circular knitting. it’s a bit fiddly pushing those stitches around on the needles, yes. but not so much you couldn’t get used to it. it helps not to use a magic loop-method.
      and there is a great trick i just lerned: knit one or more rows of plain stocking stitch (or reverse stocking stitch, it doesn’t matter). then join in the round and then do the “real” knitting – later you unravel those first rows – and have yarn handy for grafting e.g. (if you don’t need that – and consider it wastefull – use some waste yarn, or maybe the other end of the ball, for the rows and knit one round stocking stitch in your main yarn when joining the round)
      i hope this helps anyone reading it!

  3. Pingback: Tutorial: Grafting in pattern | Designs by Lucy Hague

  4. Pingback: I think I have a cowl problem | Painting Roses Red

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