Untangling Cables: Creating Crochet Cables with Post Stitches
To the let’s-go-out-and-play side of my brain, cables are luscious, mesmerizing, twists and turns of fabric that go on in an array of textures and patterns until my head spins with the possibilities and I have to Make All the Cables!
What are Cables?
To the technical side of my brain, cables are stitches worked out of order to create a series of twists or traveling stitches that create an overall texture pattern. Whichever side of the brain-fence you stand on—or maybe your technician-brain and play-brain work in perfect harmony—it is easy to see why we are so drawn to the fabrics created with cables, what with the stunning combination of technical play and glorious results.
There are different ways of working these stitches out of order, but the most popular way is through the use of post stitches. In this article, I focus on post-stitch cables.
Post stitches are worked around the post of a stitch, rather than in the top of a stitch as with regular crochet stitches. They make “legs” that cross, travel, and weave to create variations of cable patterns from traditional Aran cables with their rows of neatly placed twists and turns to modern interpretations of cables that mimic everything from a DNA helix to the bark on a four-hundred-year-old redwood tree. Post stitches can be used to create a cable that’s as wide or as wandering as we want.
Cables are made by using front-post stitches alone or front-post stitches in combination with back-post stitches. The variations create different densities of fabric; I’ll suggest the best uses for the finished fabrics these cables create.
Cables made using only front-post stitches use a row of regular crochet stitches between the post stitches so that raised stitches are always worked on the front of the fabric. Because the raised post stitches are on only the right side of the fabric, the back remains flat. These types of cables are perfect for garments where you want a flatter fabric without much bulk.
Fabric made using front-post-only cables is highly versatile and can be used to create outerwear or garments and accessories. Varying the stitches used between the rows of post stitches and the height of the post stitches themselves can result in a lightweight finished fabric acceptable for summer tops and light cardigans or pullovers if worked in a lighter yarn. Worked in a heavier yarn, it is perfect for coats or other cold-weather garments and accessories.
Front-Post and Back-Post Combo Cables
These cables are created by alternating rows of front-post stitches and back-post stitches. The rows of post stitches have no rows of regular crochet stitches between them to flatten the finished fabric, so these cables create a plush, textured fabric that has open spaces between the groupings of post stitches and their neighboring stitches.
Fabrics made with these combo cables are appropriate for any project where you want a plush fabric but don’t mind the openwork created by the continuous crossing of the post stitches. These open spaces can be used to the designer’s advantage where a thicker fabric is desired but venting is still needed, as in the case of afghans and throws or even wraps and lightweight warm-weather garments and accessories.
Particularly lush or wide cables may include an anchor stitch in the center of the cable. This anchor stitch is used to stabilize (anchor) the crossing post stitches so the resulting fabric is less loose and open. They can also be used as a way to let light traveling stitches move across the base fabric, as with the Kinni Cardigan. These anchor stitches allow the fabric to maintain structural integrity.
Fabric made using anchored cables has more stability and fewer open spaces in the cables themselves. This makes these cables perfect for combining with either front-post-only cables or front-and-back-post combo cables.
Stitches Within Cables
Cables, whether front-post only or front-post / back-post combinations, create fabrics in two ways: post stitches crossing post stitches, or traveling stitches, which cross other stitches but not post stitches.
Wandering or Traveling Post Stitches
Wandering or traveling cables are cable patterns made up of leaning or vertical post stitches. These post stitches cross other regular crochet stitches, but they don’t cross other post stitches. As the name indicates, they wander or travel around the fabric, creating the legs that extend the crossed post-stitch cables and making ever-widening or extended cable patterns.
Post Stitches That Cross Other Post Stitches
In this type of cable, you skip post stitches, work into the next stitches, then cross back to work post stitches around the skipped stitches. These crossing post stitches are taller than the stacked post stitches, to keep the fabric from puckering. These are the foundation of traditional cables. It is possible to see both crossed post stitches and traveling post stitches in the same garment.
In working with cable designs, I have gathered a few tips that help cable-work go more smoothly.
- Make a practice swatch to get your skills down before you tackle the larger project.
- A left-crossing or right-crossing cable is determined by the direction in which the legs of the front-post stitches are leaning.
- If there is a chart available for the cable pattern you are making, use it! Crochet stitch charts are the exact representation of the written pattern for the cable stitch you are going to make, so you can use the cable stitch chart as a comparison “photo” of what you are making.
- With front-post-only cables, the nature of the cable stitches can cause varying degrees of curling to happen in your fabric as you are making it. Swatch a segment of the cabled fabric, block that swatch, and see if the finished fabric is going to match the fabric of the design you are following. If the fabric is tight and curls too much, use taller stitches to make the fabric lie more evenly. If, for instance, the pattern calls for a double crochet post stitch, you could substitute a treble crochet to loosen the curling effect of the post stitches as they reach down to stitches two or more rows below your working row. Make a swatch to ensure that this doesn’t affect the stitch and row gauge of your finished project.
- When reading a complex cable pattern, concentrate on where the instruction says to make the post stitch rather than trying to figure out where the stitch is supposed to be in the overall scheme of the fabric. This is a case where looking at the big picture can be more confusing than helpful.
So there you have it! Cables might look daunting at first with all their twists and turns and swoops, but it is just those same features that draw us to them and make us gasp at a fabric covered in gorgeous textured cable stitches. And, in the end, when you realize there are only a few basic ways to actually make a cable pattern, and when you take them one stitch at a time, they become more thrilling than frightening.
Now . . . what are you waiting for? Get your hooks in there and twist some stitches!
SHANNON MULLETT-BOWLSBY is the co-founder of the Seattle-based crochet and knitwear design studio Shibaguyz Designz. When he’s not working in the studio, Shannon can be found meandering the hills and trails of the Pacific Northwest with his husband, Jason, and their three Shiba Inu. For more about Shannon’s work, go to ShibaguyzDesignz.com.
This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Fall 2016.
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