My favourite cast-on for ribbing is absolutely the Alternate Cable cast-on. Since I've been teaching it, and including it in my patterns (I put together a PDF tutorial if you've not come across it before) I've learnt that it isn't a very well known method, which surprises me, especially as it is so much quicker and easier than any of it's tubular cast-on cousins.
I think one reason for it being relatively unknown is that it's related to the Cable cast-on, which often seems to get a bad press. Why, I'm not really sure, but I've heard many knitters complain that it's strong edge is too rigid (especially for Hats) but that's so not true! Give it a gentle tug and it slackens up to the same tension as the knitting it supports. It might not stretch through 5 inches, but would you really want it to? Personally, I think the Cable cast-on has so many merits - it's strong, neat, can be used to cast on mid-row, is the perfect technique for picot cast-on's and much more.
I digress :) So yeah, I'll always recommend the Alternate Cable cast-on for 1x1 ribbing. It's fab, quick, stretchy and gives a wonderfully neat edge.
But what about a 2x2 ribbing?
Well, we can use the Alternate Cable cast-on for that, too.
Essentially, with the AC cast-on, we're casting on consecutive knits and purls, creating the 1x1 pattern directly into the cast on. Which is why it's so quick and easy, as it eliminates the need for all those other steps. So, you may think, shouldn't a 2x2 ribbing simply be a matter of casting on 2 sts knitwise, then 2 sts purlwise, and so on and so forth? Well, let me show you what happens if you do that....
These are the cast on sts, whereby 2 sts have been cast on each knitwise then purlwise consecutively. They don't look very neat, do they? No rib pattern emerging.
And here it is after a few rows. I didn't knit any more and ripped it out - no point in wasting yarn. And this is where we are reminded that sure, a knit stitch is a knit stitch, but how it looks is also affected by the stitches that surround it.
After that fail, it may seem that a 2x2 AC cast-on isn't going to be so easy, but really, it isn't so difficult. Infact, we do pretty much the same with the AC 1x1 cast-on as we would other tubular cast-ons to get a 2x2 effect - we juggle stitches.
For this blog post, I won't start from scratch with the basics of the Alternate Cable cast-on - I'll direct you to the main PDF for that. (else we'll have way too many photos in this post!) There will though be the full range of photos in the tutorial I'm putting together for the 2x2 AC, which should be ready as a PDF in a couple of days.
So, we'll start with our 1x1 Alternate Cable cast-on:
As you'll have noted from the other tutorial PDF, I treat the first slip knot of the cast-on as a purl stitch, and after casting on the required number of stitches (incl. that first knot), the last stitch cast-on will be a knit stitch. I then work the first row flat, and join after that. It makes the first round sturdier, less likely to twist, and makes a much neater rib as well as put a knit stitch at the beginning of the round, which we're most familiar with.
For a 2x2 rib, if we're working in the round, we want a multiple of 4 sts.
Our first flat row: knit the first stitch.
The next stitch we come to is a purl stitch, so before we do anything else, we want to swap that stitch around with the knit stitch following it.
This is a simple trick to do - you could use a cable needle but that would get way too fiddly. Instead, we'll do it with the tips of our needles. Simply insert the tip of the right needle into the 2nd stitch along, from the front, and slip both stitches off the needle. As you do this, use the tip of the left needle to grab the purl stitch from behind as it falls off the needle - once that's safely back on, we can slip the knit stitch back onto the left tip, where it will now be in front of the purl stitch.
In short, you've just performed a T2B on your cast-on. Which is cool. But if cables make you wary, it's best not to think of it like that. You've simply repositioned a purl stitch and a knit stitch to be in a better place!
(my yarn got a bit wayward when I took these photos, and it wouldn't normally be hanging between the stitches like that. I'll try and get fresh shots for the PDF. In this photo the yarn is in position to purl, whereas we really want it at the back, to be in position to knit)
Then proceed to knit the next stitch....
...and purl the following 2 stitches. The first 4 sts of your 2x2 rib have now been worked! And already it's starting to take form, can you see?
You'll then want to start the repeat all over again by knitting the next stitch, swapping the next 2 sts, knitting 1 then purling 2. It's pretty simple once you get the hang of it, especially if you learn to identify how the knit and purl stitches look in the cast on (not dissimilar to how they normally look, which helps!)
And here it is after a couple of rows, looking much more like the sort of edge we'd like. As with a regular AC 1x1, I'd join after the first row if you're knitting in the round. Depending on your tension, you may find you prefer the look of one side to the other, but they generally even up once your body of work grows.
In case that pink yarn is a little too pink and doesn't really show the detail, here is the AC 2x2 rib on a Hat I knit recently for a new collection:
Looks pretty good, huh? Under duress you may find the 2x2 isn't quite as stretchy as the 1x1, but you really won't notice that when you're wearing it - the difference is hardly noticeable. It provides more than enough stretch for a ribbed brim and looks pretty nifty too.
And I'll leave you with that for today! Give me a couple of days to get the PDF ready and uploaded, I've a couple of tutorials I need to get finished and they're all on my list for the next week or so. If there's anything you're not sure about here, or would like further clarification with, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer your questions and make sure the PDF is as comprehensive as it can be,