How To Knit A Garter Tab Cast-On For A Top-Down Shawl

If you follow me on Instagram then you may have seen a post about me teaching a class on shawl shapes and construction recently. We had a lovely time creating mini-shawls and going through some of the different ways to start a shawl, how to create different shawl shapes and trying out various stretchy cast offs (important for when you come to blocking your shawl – more on that another time!).


One of the topics we discussed was the ‘garter tab’, which is a common way of starting a shawl. Shawls are frequently made up of an edge on either side of a main body of stitches and a garter tab is a way of starting a shawl whereby you set up these sections simultaneously.

You begin by knitting a little strip of stitches in garter stitch and then picking up stitches along two of the other sides. One lot of stitches is picked up along the long edge of the tab and the other stitches from the cast-on edge.



I shared with the class a few tips for making your garter tab as neat as possible and I’m going to share them here too!

Tip One) If the designer specifies the type of cast on to use, then use that cast on. This is because when you come to pick up stitches you want to be working on the right side of your work. If the pattern specifies a ‘knitted on’ type of cast on (knitted on, cable, or backward loop cast on) then the next row worked will be a right side row. If the pattern specifies a long-tail cast on then the next row worked is a wrong side row. So if you do the opposite type of cast on then you’ll be picking up stitches on the wrong side of your work, rather than the right side, which makes a difference to the look of your garter tab.

Tip Two) Even though a garter tab only requires a few rows of knitting, somehow it’s easy to lose count, so I like to place a lockable stitch marker on the right side of my work, after the first couple of rows, to help me keep my place.




Tip Three) When you pick up stitches along the garter bump edge, put your needle right through the middle of each bump (it looks like a little knot on the side of the tab), this should help to keep the stitches even and neat.





Tip Four) If you’re still not happy with the look of your garter tab, then it’s possible to do a provisional cast on for the first stitches, and then place these stitches back on the needle, instead of picking up along the cast on edge. Similarly, you could use a sock toe cast on (Judy’s Magic Cast On – shown in the diagram, or Turkish Cast On) for the initial stitches, leave one side of the cast on hanging on an extra needle and then transfer them over when needed.


I hope these little tips help you make smarter garter tabs but if you’d like anymore information, have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from you: please leave me a comment, or feel free to share this blog post on social media, use the hashtag maddieharveydesigns or tag me @harveyknits.

If you’re interested in hiring me to teach a class about any aspect of shawl knitting, please feel free to contact me here.

Extra Links

*YouTube Video from Very Pink Knits demonstrating a provisional cast on: here

*Link to instructions for Judy’s Magic Cast On: here

*YouTube Video from Jane Richmond demonstrating the Turkish Cast on: here


Mini-Skein Love


Do you love mini-skein sets? I find them very tempting. The range of sets available now is amazing: from tiny 10g miniballs (as featured here, from Wee County Yarns) to sets of co-ordinating 50g skeins of 4ply/fingering weight yarn. From sets that form a gradient, to those with vastly contrasting skeins, and sets that feature variegated and speckled skeins too, the choice is vast.



designHowever beautiful and seductive these sets are, it is sometimes difficult to know what to create with them, especially if you’re not keen on knitting those gorgeous little mitered blanket squares. To remedy this, I’ve designed Zastruga, a shawl pattern especially created for using mini-skeins (and gradients), which is the first in small series of patterns using minis. Zastruga uses a set of 5 x 20g minis, and is knitted in five distinct sections to depict a developing snow storm. The pattern includes instructions for going ‘off-piste’, so that the sections can be extended if you have more yarn, helping you to get the most out of your gorgeous mini-skein set. If you’d like to be the first to know when it’s released this week and obtain an exclusive discount code, click here to sign up to receive my ‘news updates’. Zastruga is now available – view & buy here (Ravelry link)

designIf you’re heading to Edinburgh Yarn Festival this weekend, there’s a plethora of vendors selling mini-skeins and gradients, that would look fabulous knitted into a Zastruga. Even those vendors who don’t usually stock minis will have some available, for example Helen of The Wool Kitchen let me into a little secret that she’ll have minis on her stand this year (B2). I will have to make a special effort to get there pronto on Friday morning before she sells out!


Other purveyors of mini-skein sets at EYF include:

The Border Tart, Stand K8: Natural Indigo Dyed Mini-Skeins

Dye Ninja, Stand H8: Ninja Pops, 20g skeins of pure Merino

The Knittting Goddess, Stand K10: Blacker Yarn St Kilda Laceweight Minis

La Bien Aimee, Stand G3: Mini Merino Singles Bundle

The Little Grey Sheep, Stand J3: Stein Fine Wool 4ply Mini Skeins

Martin’s Lab, Stand D2: Mini Bundles

Ripples Crafts, Stand H4: High Twist BFL Gradient Packs (5 x 50g)

Woollenflower, Stand M3: Gradients (organic Shetland fingering weight), Stand K4: Easyknits yarn was used to knit the two samples of Zastruga (Big Boy Cakes and a Sushi Roll) Jon creates mini-skeins and mini-cakes, and also beautiful Sushi Roll gradients.


And if you’re not going to EYF, here are some other stockists of beautiful mini-skeins:

Cuddlebums, a variety of mini-skeins, both solid colours & variegated/speckled

Five Moons, Lunar Flares (micro sets -3g) & 4ply Minimoons (20g)

Wee County Yarns, Miniballs (10g) of J.C.Rennie 4ply 100% wool