The long tail cast on - tips and tricks
Regardless of how long you've been knitting, you're probably aware that there are a LOT of different ways to put stitches on your needles. My favorite method of casting on, without a doubt, is the long tail cast on. It creates a nice, stretchy end to my knitted fabric, and it looks very "finished." If you aren't familiar with this method (or if it has been a while, and you're not sure how to go about using it), there are lots of great tutorials online, like this one from knitty.com or this one from verypink.com.
The only real downside to the long tail cast on, once you've got it down, is figuring out how long the long tail should actually be (few things are as frustrating as getting to stitch 145 of a 150 stitch cast on, only to learn that you underestimated the length of your tail!). Here are two easy ways to estimate how much yarn you should save for your tail:
1. Wrap the yarn around the needle the same number of times as the number of your cast on stitches. The long tail cast on takes approximately the same amount of yarn per stitch from both the tail and the skein side of your slip knot, so if your pattern calls for you to cast on 60 stitches, the long tail should be able to wrap around your needle 60 times, with a little to spare. One thing to keep in mind -- try to keep your wrap tension similar to your stitch tension. Don't wrap too tightly! Also, don't waste your time wrapping your needle 60 times. Just wrap a fraction of the stitches (in this example, I would wrap 15 times), and then measure out the correct number of repeats (4 x 15 = 60 wraps). It's not always a perfect technique, but it usually gives you a good estimate for your tail.
2. Use the other end of your skein (or the yarn from another skein) as your long tail. I have to confess -- I learned this technique from Kait, and it's awesome. Just hold the two ends together in your slip knot, then cast on the number of stitches you need. If you use this technique, don't include the slip knot in your stitch count -- once you finish your first row, just slip the slip knot off of your needle.
I hope you find these tips as helpful as I do -- they have cemented the long tail cast on as my 'go-to' method for putting stitches on my needles.