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