Knitting Cables 102: Orderly Structure Begets Lovely Design
Last week, we discussed the basics of knitting cables and showed how a rope cable is made. This week, we’ll cover a few more tips and tricks to knitting cables.
In any given public space, it’s easy to pick out the knitters—we’re the ones staring intently at that person in the corner, the one wearing the gorgeous cabled sweater. We’re not looking at the person’s face, of course—we’re staring at the back of the garment, counting stitches and rows, divining how that especially tricky looking cable was knitted.
Working with Cables
Cable patterns are usually planned with an orderly structure, crossing and moving strands at predictable intervals. Multi-stitch cables, like those used in the Gathered Pullover below, are almost always crossed only on right-side rows, with wrong-side rows worked with the stitches as they appear. When you work a cabled piece in the round, make a habit of using a split-ring marker on every other round (or weave in a length of scrap yarn) to keep track of which rounds are crossing rounds and which ones are plain.
Remember that knitting cables add density and weight to your projects, halving the width of the crossing area and doubling the thickness of the fabric at each crossing. Try to use lofty, elastic fibers for cables, and avoid heavy ones.
If you’ve lost track of where you are in a cable repeat, it’s easy to count the number of rounds or rows since your last crossing. Pull a cable apart gently to see where the out-of-order stitches of the last crossing are knitted and joined to their new neighbors. Start counting with the second stitch above that slightly stretched stitch, and include the row on the left needle. Compare with your chart or instructions and cable on.
Cables will often look looser on one side than on the other, depending on the knitter and his or her knitting style. Take care not to stretch crossing stitches to prevent any unevenness.
Cables are often worked from charts, which are read from the bottom up, and in the direction the knitting is worked (from right to left on right-side rows; from left to right on wrong-side rows). Use a sticky note to keep your place in a cable chart—but don’t use it to highlight the current row from below, hiding the rows that came before. Instead, use the sticky note to cover all the rows above the current row. You’ll be able to better compare your stitches to what came before (or what should have come before!) if you need to.
If you find a mistake in a cable crossing several rows (or even repeats) down and don’t want to live with it, don’t rip out all your work to that point! Instead, insert a small double-pointed needle or stitch holder into the stitches in the row just below the incorrect cable. Work up to the point of the offending crossing and then drop only the involved stitches from your needle. (If the error involves strands that have since separated, this point may be several stitches away from the original crossing point. The stitches in each strand stay with it throughout the knitting, meaning that you must drop from wherever the original strand’s stitches have ended up.) Ladder the dropped stitches down until you reach the held stitches. Rework the pattern correctly, using the ladders as the working yarn. Use a blunt-tipped needle to even the tension in any wonky stitches afterwards.
Next week, we’ll discuss how to dissect a cable to create your own unique patterns!