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by Laura Chau March 09, 2021 2 min read

Have you ever started knitting a top-down shawl and been stymied by a “garter tab” cast-on? Cast on, knit, rotate, pick up stitches - a garter tab is a fiddly bit of knitting that is commonly used to begin top-down triangular shawls, as well as various other shawl and wrap shapes. The garter tab cast-on is used to seamlessly join the border stitches at the centre back, and, at the same time, cast-on the initial centre stitches which will then be increased to shape the shawl.

To work a garter tab, you will cast on a small number of stitches (3 or 4), and knit a short rectangular strip. Then you will pick up stitches along one long edge and one short edge, converting the rectangle into half-circle shape that will flow more easily into the triangular shaping. Check out our step by step tutorial below to learn how to knit a garter tab.

Garter tab cast-on video


Garter tab cast-on step-by-step directions

Circular needle with 3 cast on stitches.

To begin, cast on 3 stitches. I used the cable cast-on method, so that the first row is a right side row.

6 rows knitted to create a garter tab.

Knit 6 rows, turning at the end of each row, to create the garter tab.

Knit across three stitches.

On the next row, we will pick up stitches around two sides of this tab. Knit across the 3 stitches.

Garter tab with arrows pointing to the end of each garter ridge.

Then, slide the stitches on the right needle tip down onto the cord. The arrows indicate where we'll be picking up stitches along the side of the tab.

Insert the right needle tip into the side of the first garter ridge.

With the first three stitches now on the cord, rotate the work 90 degrees clockwise and insert the right needle tip into the side edge of the first garter ridge.

Wrap yarn and pick up a stitch.

Wrap the yarn and pull up a stitch.

Three stitches picked up from the side of the tab.

Continuing in the same direction, pick up 1 stitch from each garter ridge - 3 stitches.

Push all stitches down onto the cord.

Push these new pick-up stitches down onto the cord as well. 6 stitches total.

Now we will pick up stitches from the cast on edge.

Rotate the work again 90 degrees clockwise. Now we'll be picking up stitches from the 3 cast-on stitches.

Insert right needle tip into cast on edge to pick up stitches.

It can look a little crowded here but take your time to open up the stitches so you can see where to pick up. 

Three stitches picked up from the cast on edge.

Pick up 1 stitch from each cast on stitch. 3 stitches. 

Completed garter tab cast on.

The garter tab cast-on is complete! There are now 9 stitches on the needle. 

The garter tab cast-on can be fiddly at first, but don’t give up! If something seems off, it’s perfectly fine to gently rip out the stitches you have worked and try again.

ripping out a garter tab

If your stitches are very slippery, try a different type of knitting needle until your stitches are established. Once you’ve worked a garter tab a few times, it’ll become second nature. Try it out on Ishbel, Halimede, and Stac Shoaigh!

A Chinese-Canadian woman with glasses smiling at the camera.
Laura Chau

Laura is a Canadian knitter, designer, and editor.

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