I’m going to say something that might be controversial (or it might not be): Picking up stitches is one of my favorite ways of casting on.
I know, radical stuff. Let me explain.
If “casting on” is essentially a way of beginning a knitting project, making the initial row of stitches, then why can’t we count picking up stitches as a way of casting on?
I think it’s pretty fun, easy, and results in a more polished finished product than knitting two separate pieces and sewing them together later.
Of course picking up stitches isn’t an any-time cast on. You have to have an already-finished piece of knitting from which to pick up the stitches (obviously). But I love using it to add button bands on sweaters, turning the heel on socks, and it’s essential for modular knitting projects (like this blanket).
So how do you do it?
Naturally, you start with a piece of knitting to form the base of your project. I’m using a little swatch of stockinet, but you can pick up stitches off of any piece of knitting. On this swatch, I slipped the first stitch of every row. It leaves a nice, smooth edge that makes picking up stitches that much easier. But, if I need to pick up a lot of stitches, I’ll knit all edge stitches.
Then, I’ll poke my needle through the spot where I want my first picked-up stitch to live. See how I go through both “legs” of the stitch? If you only go through one leg, you end up with a flimsy piece of knitting. No bueno.