A Knitter’s Guide To: Darning and Repairing Cables
Drat. You go to pull out your favorite handknitted sweater, the cozy cabled piece you love, only to find a pull, snag, or—heavens—a hole! What’s a knitter to do? Repair it! When you spend so much time working on a piece, it only makes sense that you’d want to mend it to extend its life. But are you confident with darning and repairing cables?
A large part of my business is repairing handknitted and hand-crocheted items. Each year I get dozens of pieces with various types of damage, and a significant number of them are items with cables.
Cables represent a particular challenge to repair. Larger cables can get caught on objects, causing the yarn to break and resulting in holes if the stitches aren’t caught before they ravel. Diverging or converging cables can stress the yarn, causing it to go thin in places.
You can’t always use a straightforward Swiss darn (duplicate stitch), so these repairs often involve reweaving stitches, either vertically or horizontally, and reconstructing the cable twists.
But the first step to making any repair is prevention. Taking the time to maintain and occasionally inspect your handknitted piece can often prevent more extensive damage from occurring.
Before the Damage Is Done
Properly cleaning and storing your knits can help preserve them. Before you store your knits for the season, clean them in a gentle wash; a leave-in wash, such as Soak or Eucalan, or a gentle pH-neutral soap (baby wash is a good choice) works well. This treatment prevents oils, dirt, and other detritus from attracting wool-loving creatures. I also like to keep a pheromone trap for moths hanging about where I store my knits and yarn. Although the trap doesn’t prevent moths, it acts as an early warning system were I ever to have a problem.
Before I wash my garments, I take a moment to look at the places that tend to show the most wear. With hats and mittens, it is the ribbing. On socks, I look around the ball of the foot, the toes, and the heels. For sweaters, I check the cuffs, around the buttonholes, along the pockets, and at cable twists; anywhere there could be loose threads that catch on things. It is a lot easier to fix a problem before you wash the item because the yarn has the memory of where the stitches should go, which can help.
Sourcing Yarn for Repair
When you do need to make a repair, know that sourcing yarn can be tricky. When I work with clients, I like to discuss what factors are most important: matching color, matching fiber content, or matching weight. We talk about the purpose of the repair and how the item is going to be used: does the client want to make the item useable again, keep it from falling apart further, or restore it visually so it can be put on display? These factors can all influence yarn choice.
If you’re lucky, you still have leftover yarn from the project. For important or high-wear items, I like to keep several yards of the yarn tucked away in a drawer for a just-in-case day. However, having the original yarn to make repairs doesn’t mean that it still matches; often wear and tear or exposure to sun and soap has faded the garment compared to the original yarn.
Some Strategies You Can Use to Find Repair Yarn
• Find a yarn in the same color and fiber but a lighter weight, then double or triple it to get about the same weight.
• Find a plied yarn in a heavier weight and pull out plies to get the correct gauge.
• Think outside of the box by considering other sources of yarn. Embroidery stores carry small amounts of yarn in different shades, and often you can get quite close in color and fiber content.
• Find a gradient yarn. Sometimes a particular section of a gradient yarn will match what I want to match; I had this happen with the cabled sweater shown in the photos below that was in a hard-to-match oatmeal color. I found a Noro Silk Garden yarn that, for several yards, was exactly the color I needed and was just enough to make the repair:
Whenever I try a repair I am not confident in, I work the repair with a contrasting color in waste yarn first, as shown in the first photo above. This helps me better see what I’m doing, captures the stitches so they don’t ravel, and is easier to pull out if I make a mistake.
Skills Required for Repairing Handknits
When you repair handknits, you must be proficient in several skills before you begin. First, you should be familiar with duplicate stitch and Kitchener stitch—and switching between the two. You should also be familiar with how to drop down your stitches if you make a mistake and then work back to your working row once you’ve fixed the mistake.
Raveled rows happen when a single thread gets caught and breaks or comes undone, leaving multiple stitches free in a row. If the break happens on a row in between cable rows, all you need to do is capture the live stitches and graft them back together.
More often than not, however, the area that first wears away in cables is the cable row. When this happens, you will need to maneuver the stitches to imitate cabling before grafting them together. The top live loops stay in place, but the bottom loops need to cross each other the same way to create a cable.
The photos below show how I repaired an eight-stitch cable on a cable row that involved a 2/2 left cable followed by a 2/2 right cable. I first crossed the cables in the correct order and then grafted the stitches below the hole to the stitches above the hole using contrasting yarn.
I started by anchoring the contrasting yarn in the purl stitches to the right of the cable, then I grafted the third and fourth stitches of the 2/2 left cable below the hole to the first and second stitches above the hole in order to cross these stitches to the right.
Then I’ll graft the first two stitches of the cable that are on the first turquoise stitch marker to the third and fourth stitches above the hole in order to cross these stitches to the left over the first pair of grafted stitches.
I’ll repeat the process (in reverse order) for the 2/2 right cable by crossing the two stitches on the orange stitch marker to the right over the two stitches on the second turquoise stitch marker and grafting them to the stitches above the hole in the new order:
Once the stitches are grafted, the strand of waste yarn that held the live stitches above the hole can be removed and the repair can be completed by working duplicate stitch with the working yarn over the contrasting-color grafted stitches (removing the contrasting yarn once the stitches are secure):
The final step is to weave in the ends. I am a huge advocate for weaving in ends using the skimming method, which involves using a sharp-pointed embroidery needle to draw the ends through the center of plies on the wrong side of the work, rather than weaving the strands into and out of loops. Skimming is faster and uses the energy of the spun yarn to hold ends in place.
Using these simple techniques, you can rescue almost any cabled project. Don’t throw away your damaged sweaters—repair them instead!
Jennifer Raymond runs Tinking Turtle LLC and specializes in teaching, design work, and repairing knit and crochet items. She is based outside of Richmond, Virginia. You can learn more about her at www.tinkingturtle.com. This article originally appeared in Interweave Knits Fall 2018.