The provisional cast-on is needed when you will have to go back at some point and use, or pick up, the stitches that were cast onto the needles to begin with.
Waste yarn – some yarn other than your main yarn – holds those stitches until they are used. This cast-on method combines both the working yarn and waste yarn to begin the project.
The gray yarn is my waste yarn, the pink is working yarn.
There are a couple of ways to get these two yarns onto the needles correctly. I use the crochet hook method because it is easiest for me.
#1. Cast-on Using a Crochet Hook
For the crochet provisional cast-on, I watch Purl Soho’s YouTube video. It is straight forward and easy to understand. However, it ends there, at the end of the cast on stitches. The first time I watched it, I was disappointed because I didn’t know what to do next!
HINT: After the crocheted cast on, you need to knit one row with the main / working yarn and then begin your pattern.
Below is a photo of the crocheted provisional cast-on I used for the Winter Morning headband. The gray yarn will later be removed as I pick up those pink stitches and graft them with the finished end of the headband to connect the loop.
The Lion Brand page explains, and shows with photos, how to do this same cast-on. They also show how to pick up the live stitches / remove the waste yarn when the time comes to use those stitches.
#2. The Invisible Provisional Cast-on
As I was searching for help with the provisional cast-on, Lucy Hague’s blog tutorial popped up. I was specifically looking for advice on the type of yarn to use as waste yarn, and she mentions this in her article: Invisible Provisional Cast-on. Her information is all-inclusive, with photos to show what to do once all the stitches are cast on to the needle. In this case, you purl.
This type of provisional cast-on is made using two strands of yarn – waste and working – no crochet hook needed. Lucy shows us what to do; after the cast-on is made, how to begin the first couple of rows, what to do with the slip knot, and how to remove the waste yarn when the time comes. I have yet to find a video as comprehensive as her page.
But trying to knit while scrolling through photos is slow going. I did try to get the hang of this cast-on, but went back to the crochet hook! So I have not done this type of provisional cast-on. I mention it as an option.
What Type of Waste Yarn to Use?
Use a waste yarn with a color that contrasts with your working yarn. Lucy says to use a slightly thicker yarn. This makes it easier to remove the waste yarn when stitches are picked back up.
Do not use anything that is fuzzy. I learned that it’s more difficult to pick up those stitches when fuzz from the waste yarn gets in the way and is picked up into your project….! A smooth silky, or cotton, yarn may work best. If you have trouble gettin the gauge needle into the stitches, you can use a smaller needle to pick up the stitches. Then continue with the correct size.
Reasons to Do a Provisional Cast-on
Sometimes a scarf, cowl or shawl, will be knit from the center point to the end, like the little headband I mentioned above. If a pattern needs to look the same from both edges, or uses a cable that is knit one way, a Provisional cast-on might be used.
The headband / ear warmer I knit in bulky pink was knit from end to end and had to be grafted together to make the band. After I knit the length of the headband, I had to Kitchener stitch it together so it appeared to be one piece.
Be Brave… Jump In… Try New Techniques
For a long time I avoided any knitting project that mentioned the provisional cast-on. Yikes… too scary..! My headband didn’t end up looking so great – because I needed practice on the Kitchener stitch. So I practiced. Then I knit some mittens that called for it at the top. I think they ended up looking pretty awesome!
I’ve used a lifeline before when knitting and had a heck of a time going back to pick up those stitches. So more frightening than casting on, was having to go back and picking up those stitches when the time came.
If you use a thick, smooth, yarn for the waste, and maybe use a smaller needle to pick up the stitches, you shouldn’t have a problem. Take your time, it’s not a race.
Every time we expand upon our knitting knowledge, a new world of projects opens up! Experience is key with all things, and that goes for the knitter’s world. You will never expand your knitting abilities unless you take a chance.
Try new things on a swatch before you mess up a project, if that makes you feel better.