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March 09, 2021

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


Garter tab cast-on step-by-step directions

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

3 stitches have been knitted into 6 rows to create a garter tab.

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

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

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.

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 on the garter tab.

Wrap the yarn and pull up a stitch.

Three stitches picked up from the side of the garter tab.

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

Push all stitches down onto the cord of the circular needle.

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

Now we will pick up stitches from the cast on edge of the garter tab cast-on.

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

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

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 cast-on.

You might find that your stitches are very slippery, and if this is the case you can try a different type of knitting needle, such as a wooden one, until your stitches are established.

Once you’ve worked a garter tab a few times, it’ll become second nature, so don't give up!

Try out the garter tab cast-on with our shawl patterns Ishbel, Halimede or Stac Shoaigh!

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