This cast-on is my all time favorite, but I can't take credit for it. The first time I saw it described was in the book, "The Right Way to Knit," by Evelyn Stewart. Ms. Stewart's books were published by Brunswick in the 1960's and 1970's, and I used them extensively in teaching myself new knitting skills. Although, I think the titles are a little unfortunate, the books are packed with excellent teaching and advice. I give Mrs. Stewart the credit for this technique.
I call this "Casting on in pattern stitch," and I've found over almost 40 years of use, that it works for almost everything. The only time you really need a different cast on is for a provisional cast on or a tubular cast on. Here's how it goes:
It is a variation of a long-tailed cast on. You start with a slip stitch:
To Cast on a Knit Stitch
Snug the loop down on the needle. The end of yarn attached to the ball goes off to your right. The loose end goes to your left. (If you are accustomed to wrapping a finger-eight around your index finger and thumb for the long tailed cast-on, we won't do that with this one.)
Make a loop over your left index finger and pretend it is a knit stitch. Going from front to back, knit a stitch off of your index finger, using the yarn in your right hand. Don't make it difficult; it's just a knit stitch, nothing more.
Practice making several of those. It is just knitting.
Now, to Cast on the Purl Stitch:
Continue using a loop around your index finger. Move the yarn in your right hand to the front, as though you were going to purl, because you are.
Put your needle from the back to the front of the loop, and wrap with the yarn in your right hand, exactly as you do when you purl. Remember, this is just knitting and purling.
Casting on Ribbing
To cast on ribbing, simply cast on 2 knit stitches and 2 purl stitches until you have the desired number. (Or whatever ribbing you want.) You will wind up with an edge that looks something like this:
You can see that the continuous knit chain that results from the normal long tailed cast-on doesn't exist here. This is the top of a sock, and it is very stretchy, yet retains its original shape when washed.
This cast-on may look a little loose to you at first, but after it is washed, it will look just like knitting and purling. It is particularly appropriate to use for socks, hats and gloves -- anything where you need some flexibility, but not floppiness.
Copyright and all rights reserved to Mary English Morrison, a/k/a "The Little Yarn Shoppe of Horrors."