Tubular Cast On

The Tubular Cast On is ideal for projects that begin with ribbing. It creates a tidy stretchy edge, which makes it a perfect choice for hats, cuffs, necklines, sweater bottoms, and anywhere else you need a stretchy edge. And it’s reversible – it looks the same on the front and back.

Several Methods

There are several methods of knitting this cast on, but I prefer the Waste Yarn Tubular Cast On, which is what I will teach you in this tutorial. The other common method of doing the Tubular Cast On is similar to the Long Tail Cast On, but more complicated. I prefer the Waste Yarn Tubular Cast because it:

  • Requires less coordination and is easier to remember
  • Creates more consistent stitches
  • Can be done on a single point or circular needle. The long tail method is generally done on a single point needle then transferred to a circular needle for knitting in the round. This is because it’s very difficult to ensure that the long tail tubular cast on is not twisted when done on a circular needle.

The Tubular Cast On is most often used for 1×1 ribbing. However, with one extra step it can be modified for 2×2 ribbing. There is a video near the end of this tutorial to show you how but I encourage you to go through this entire tutorial before watching it.

The Tubular Cast On is worked flat, but can be used for flat or in-the-round projects. When the cast on is finished, it looks like 2 rows of ribbing. Therefore, in some patterns, you can skip the first 2 rows of ribbing.

In this video, I demonstrate the Tubular Cast On in the Continental style of knitting. But don’t worry if you are an English style knitter. The stitches are simple and written instructions follow the video.

How to Knit the Waste Yarn Tubular Cast On

Some knitters prefer to use a needle one or 2 sizes smaller than their project needle to do this cast on to prevent the edge from flaring. If you use a smaller needle, remember to change to your project needle after row 5 of the cast on.

This cast on is unique because it requires a provisional cast on which is ultimately ripped out, then the Tubular Cast On is comprised of 5 easy rows of knitting.

Step 1: The Provisional Cast On

Do a provisional cast on with waste yarn. The reason it’s call a provisional cast on is that it will be ripped out – that’s why we use waste yarn for it. I prefer the Provisional Crochet Cast On, which you can learn here.

  • For patterns that have an even number of cast on stitches, cast on half of the required number of stitches plus one stitch using a provisional cast on. For example, if your pattern has 30 stitches, 30/2=15. So you would cast on 16 stitches.
  • For patterns that have an odd number of stitches, cast on half the required number of stitches by rounding up. For example, if your pattern has 21 stitches, 21/2=10.5. So you would cast on 11 stitches.

Step 2: The Tubular Cast On

Change to your working yarn and begin the Tubular Cast On, which consists of 5 rows. Leave a little extra length on your tail if you will be knitting in the round. When you finish knitting, you’ll need it to close the small 2-row gap between the beginning and the end of the round. 

Always hold your yarn in front when you slip a stitch.

Row 1: Using the working yarn, (k1, yo) across, ending with k1
Row 2: (sl1, k1) across, ending with sl1
Row 3: (k1, sl1) across, ending with k1
Rows 4 & 5: Repeat rows 2 & 3

Notice that you are always slipping the purls and knitting the knits (knitting the yo’s in the first row).

Why 5 rows? You could transition to ribbing after row 3 of the cast on, but the edge is wimpier. However, doing all 5 rows produces a nice round, sturdy edge.

Step 3: Transition to (k1, p1) Ribbing

This cast on creates one extra stitch for most patterns, so you need to decrease one stitch in the first row of ribbing. The easiest way to do this is to k2tog or p2tog at the beginning or end of the row/round to match your pattern ribbing. It varies depending on whether you are knitting flat or in-the-round and whether your pattern starts the row/round with a knit or purl. 

If you are adept at reading your knitting, you’ll be able to figure this out intuitively. If not, I’ve outlined in this table specifically how to knit the first row of ribbing if you have an extra stitch:

Ribbing Starts with a Knit StitchRibbing starts with a Purl Stitch
Knitting Flatk2tog, p, (k, p) across(p, k) to last 3 sts, p, k2tog
Knitting In the Round(k, p) to the last 3 sts, k, p2togp2tog, k, (p, k) around **
** An alternative method is to transfer the last stitch of the row to the other needle and knit it together with the first stitch to join in the round, then p, (k, p) around

After this slight modification to the first row/round, follow your pattern as instructed.

Other ways to do the Tubular Cast On

There are ways to modify the Tubular Cast On. Here are 2 worth mentioning, with a video to demonstrate them:

  • This cast on can be modified for 2×2 ribbing by reorienting the stitches into the 2×2 pattern as you knit the transition row (row 6).
  • There are other stitch patterns for the Tubular Cast On. If your cast on has an even number of stitches, one popular one is to start with a yo in row 1. This does not require casting on the extra stitch in the provisional cast on so you won’t have an extra stitch to deal with in the transition row/round.
    • Row 1: (yo, k) across
    • Rows 2-5: (sl, k) across
    • The transition row will start with a purl stitch

2×2 Tubular Cast On Video

In this video, I demonstrate the Tubular Cast On starting with a yarn over, as mentioned in the previous section. Then I show you how to modify it for 2×2 ribbing. Following the video are written instructions for modifying the cast on for 2×2 ribbing.

Note that in this video, I only did 4 rows of the cast on and did the transition in the 5th row. This is OK, but I think the cast on looks nicer if you do 5 rows of the cast on and do the transition row in the 6th row. Therefore, all of the written instructions in this tutorial are for row 6 as the transition row.

Modifying the Tubular CO for 2×2 Ribbing

How you modify your cast on for 2×2 ribbing depends on whether your transition row (row 6) starts with a knit or purl stitch. All the rows up to that point are the same as if you were doing 1×1 ribbing.

When your transition row starts with a knit stitch, follow these steps:
  1. Knit the first stitch
  2. Insert your working needle into the back of the 2nd stitch on your left needle
    1. Slide the first 2 stitches off of the left needle, holding the 2nd stitch on the working needle
    2. Insert your left needle into the loose stitch
    3. Transfer the other stitch from your working needle back to your left needle
  3. K1, p2, k1
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the end, ending with p2tog if you have an extra stitch
When your transition row starts with a purl stitch, follow these steps:
  1. Purl the first stitch
  2. Insert your working needle into the back of the 2nd stitch on your left needle
    1. Slide the first 2 stitches off of the left needle, holding the 2nd stitch on the working needle
    2. Insert your left needle into the loose stitch
    3. Transfer the other stitch from your working needle back to your left needle
  3. P1, k2, p1
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the end, ending with k2tog if you have an extra stitch

Note: Most patterns for 2×2 ribbing will have you cast on a multiple of 4 stitches. In that case, the instructions above will work perfectly.

If your cast on is not a multiple of 4, you have a couple options. You can:

  1. “Fudge” it on the last stitch by knitting a purl or purling a knit to achieve your 2×2 ribbing. Don’t worry if that is the case, it will not be an obvious inconsistency – especially if this stitch will end up in a seam.
  2. Switch the first 2 stitches, and continue across the row switching the appropriate stitches. In this case, you will have a single knit stitch at the beginning of the row and a single purl stitch at the end of the row. Or vice versa.

The Tubular Bind Off

The Tubular Bind Off matches the Tubular Cast On perfectly. Check out this tutorial to learn how to do the Tubular Bind Off.

Want to Try the Tubular Cast On?

Our Brady the Snowman knit along is a fantastic little project for practicing the Tubular Cast On. Check it out at https://knitalongclub.com/course/brady/.

Brady KAL

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