Monday, October 22, 2007

COWYAK--a waste yarn method of provisional cast on

includes 4 illustrations
On a Ravelry discussion board recently, several knitters were batting around various methods of provisional casting on. A consensus developed that the very best method of provisional cast-on is to simply cast on with some waste yarn, knit a couple of rows or rounds, then switch to the garment yarn. When the time comes to remove the waste yarn, there will be the garment yarn loops, waiting to be worked in the other direction.

In the course of the conversation, one commenter called this method the "cast on with waste yarn and knit a few rows" method and the next commenter condensed this to the catchy name "COWYAK." Sounds good to me, so, with permission, I'm adopting COWYAK as the acronym for this method: the letters stand for "CAST ON (with) WASTE YARN AND KNIT."

There is nothing revolutionary about the method itself--machine knitters cast on with waste yarn all the time, as do many hand knitters. However, it is a good technique to remember, and giving it a name makes it even more useful--it's going to be handy to be able to refer to this technique by the name COWYAK, instead of launching into a full-blown description every time.

The reason (imho) why COWYAK works better than any other method of provisional casting on is that the garment loops which will ultimately be worked "down" are more protected with COWYAK than with any other method. With ordinary provisional casts on, the garment loops to be worked "down" stay right at the edge of the knitting during the entire course of the work. Being at the edge like that subjects these stitches to wear and abuse. By contrast, with COWYAK, these loops are several rows or rounds into the fabric, and so are better preserved.

Here's how to do it:
1. (below) In this illustration, the work was begun by casting on with waste yarn (green) and kitting a couple of rows. Next, the garment yarn (pink) was worked into the next row, and several additional rows were knitted.
2. (below) When the time comes to remove the waste yarn, it is removed up to the last row (easiest way is to snip one stitch at the edge of the last row of waste yarn). This last row is unpicked with a knitting needle, one-half stitch at at time, and each freed stitch is immediately caught on a needle to prevent runs, as shown.
3. (below) After all the waste yarn is removed, the tails of the garment loops are "live loops," capable of being knit "down," (i.e. in the opposite direction from the original knitting of the garment loops).
Here are some further tips for COWYAK:
  • 1. Use waste yarn of the same weight as the garment yarn--this helps maintain correct tension on the first row of loops in garment yarn.
  • 2. Cotton works well as waste yarn, because it will not mat or felt together with the yarn of the garment.
  • 3. A further refinement is to run a life line through your first row of garment loops, so when waste yarn is removed, the garment yarn cannot run out.
  • 4. A further refinement is for use patterned fabrics: You can do a repeat in the waste yarn as a "warm up" for the garment fabric.

*THANK YOU* to Ravelers Msmcknittington and Swroot for being the naming team which came up with the acronym COWYAK, for permission to use same, and for posting about refinements 3 and 4. *THANKS* also to Valerie and Kathryn who commented on this post, pointing out confusing usage accompanying the third illustration (usage which has now been corrected).

(Addendum 2013) Well!  evidently, there really IS such a thing as a cow-yak hybrid_  it is called a cak, and here is a photo. 

(You have been reading TECHknitting on: COWYAK-- a method of using waste yarn for provisional cast on.)