How to: make a strong, stretchy cast-on without a long tail

The Chinese waitress cast-on is probably the least helpfully named cast-on around. It's from Cap Sease's book Cast On, Bind Off, and was taught to a friend of hers by a waitress in Beijing. So that explains that. But what's it good for?

I found this when looking for a stretchy short-tail cast-on, for adding a long edge in the middle of a project. Knitted or cable cast-ons struck me as too inelastic; the only other options I could think of were the loop cast-ons, which have the disadvantage of lacking structure. Which is to say, they're great for just a few stitches, but any longer and they get all floppy and icky and no thank you. Random waitress to the rescue!

The other thing about this method is that it creates an unusual, almost braided tube-like bottom edge. Two reasons to like that: it sets colour-changing yarns off beautifully, moving the colours at right angles to the main work; and it's a good match for an I-cord cast-off, with which I paired it in the Wraparound cowl. Not a perfect match; you don't have a full two-stitch (or more) tube. For that, there's the I-cord cast-on. But I find the I-cord cast-on makes for very elongated stitches in the first row. That can be an issue with the Chinese waitress method too, actually, but I've only noticed it when using very inelastic yarns.

Due warning: it's not a quick cast-on. In fact it's hella fiddly. But if you want a cast-on that's flexible, attractive and won't make you swear at your slippery, sloppy, misbehaving stitches, it's worth it. 

The Chinese waitress cast-on

1. Make a slipknot and hold your righthand needle below the left, at right angles.





2. Wrap yarn below the RH needle and over LH, from front to back…







3. …wrap it around the RH needle tip and draw through. The stitch is twisted, so slip it off the needle and replace it, untwisted.

4. Repeat steps 2-3, so that you have two stitches on RH needle.

5. Draw the first stitch over the second, as if casting off.

6. Repeat from step 2 – yarn over needle, draw through, untwist, cast off – until you have one stitch fewer than your desired stitch count on LH needle, plus one on RH. Bring yarn forward between the needles. Slip stitch on RH needle to LH, and you're done!

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