Round & Round: The Infinite Cable

We knitters know the usual drill for making a smooth, supple fabric out of yarn: knit a row, purl a row, repeat. But if we hold some stitches on a separate needle to work later, the fabric begins to fold and twist in intriguing cabled patterns. And if we add judiciously placed increases and decreases, a whole new class of knitting motifs appears: intricate infinite, or endless-loop, motifs that echo classic knotwork designs.

Called “interlace,” knot-like visual representations of braided and looped bands have ancient roots. Elaborate interlace is found in widespread decorative traditions that include Celtic, Roman, Islamic, Coptic, and Norse art. Knot motifs may have deep symbolic meaning or may be used simply as decorative elements. For knitters, knot motifs are great fun to plan and to knit—and they can give a garment show-stopping detail that makes other knitters ask, “How did you do that?”


What is An Infinite Cable Motif?

In this discussion, infinite cable motifs result from knitted patterns that use cable-knitting techniques to create what look like endless-loop knots. “Motif” implies that these designs are isolated patterns and not allover fabrics—though individual motifs can be combined or repeated to form bands or larger standalone motifs.
This article primarily deals with geometric motifs that have at least one axis of symmetry and regular, predictable ways of crossing cable strands.

Techniques for Endless-Loop Cables

Although infinite cables look like they have no starting or stopping points, knitted fabric only grows in one direction. Knitted endless-loop cables actually have a beginning and an end at the bottom and top of each closed loop, created with increases and decreases that add and eliminate stitches as seamlessly and unobtrusively as possible for the illusion of a closed loop.

There are many different ways to add and remove stitches for closed-loop cables. Here’s one method that requires two rows for the initial increase and just one for the ending decrease.

1 to 5 Increase
This increase is worked over two consecutive rows, aligning the increases so two stitches are added on either side of a central stitch. Four stitches are added total.

Step 1: 1 to 3 Increase
With the right side of the work facing, knit into the back and the front of the next stitch on the left needle, then insert the left needle behind the vertical strand that runs between the two stitches just made (see below). Knit the strand through its back loop—two stitches increased.

Step 2: P1, YO, P1 Increase

With the wrong side of the work facing, purl one, yarnover, and purl one into the same stitch.
5 to 1 Decrease

With the right side of the work facing, (slip 1 knitwise with the yarn in back) three times, drop the yarn, *pass the second stitch on the right needle over the first (center) stitch, slip the center stitch back to the left needle, pass the second stitch on the left needle over the center stitch*, slip the center stitch back to the right needle, repeat from * to * once, purl one—four stitches decreased.

A Little Knot Theory

The real fun of infinite cables begins once you begin planning your own endless-loop motifs. It’s helpful to understand the logic behind knots before trying your hand at designing one. The study of knots, or knot theory, is a discrete branch of topology concerned with mathematical knots, or knots with no beginning and end. However, you don’t need to be a mathematician to understand how endless-loop knots work.

Most knots can be visualized as being placed on a simple grid. The strands move around the “corners” of the grid, and crosses occur at the midpoints of the lines connecting the corners (Figure 1).

Place knot crosses at the midpoint of every line on a grid to begin (Figure 2).

Begin connecting the crosses by choosing a starting point and moving from cross to cross, remembering that a thread always moves around a corner (Figures 3, 4, 5).

Keep connecting crosses until each one is incorporated. Try imagining that the lines of the grid are the walls of a room, and the knot crosses are doorways. Once you are inside the room, you must move to another doorway in order to get outside again (Figure 6).

Now decide the direction of the crosses. Pick a cross, and choose whether the right or left strand is on top (Figure 7).

Move around to the next crossing. If the first cross moved over, the next cross must move under (Figure 8).

Continue until you’re back where you started (Figure 9).

Most knots that are made of connected circles can be broken down in this way, even if they look very intricate (Figures 10–13).

The method can be used in reverse, too, to help you understand how an existing -motif works before translating it into knitting.Start by coloring in the knot like a checkerboard. Color the field outside the knot gray, and leave immediately adjacent areas white (Figures 14 and 15). Internal areas adjacent to the white areas are gray again, and so on. Areas should not share a border with another area of the same color. If they do, your knot may not be a true endless-loop knot.

Place a black dot, or corner, in every white area (Figures 16 and 17), and draw lines connecting the dots (Figures 18 and 19). Every knot cross should be centered on a line. This will give you the knot in grid form.

Designing Your Own Motifs

When you translate a knot to a chart, keep a few simple guidelines in mind:

• Knitting grows in one direction only—from the bottom up. The bottommost and topmost points of any loop need to be treated as starting and stopping points, or increase and decrease points.

• At a typical worsted-weight gauge, crossing two stitches over two background stitches results in an angle of about 45 degrees.

• Moving two stitches over one background stitch results in a 22-degree angle.

• Moving two stitches over three background stitches results in a 67-degree angle.

• Most motifs will need a plain wrong-side row added after every patterned row, one in which the stitches are worked as they appear.

• The 1 to 5 increase described in this article creates two knit stitches on both sides of a central purl stitch. The purl stitch should be treated as a background stitch.

Here’s a simple motif to get you started. All cable threads are two knit stitches wide, and the background stitches are reverse stockinette. Each chart shows a plain wrong-side row added after the previous step.

The rightmost and leftmost points of the bottom loops need to be treated as starting points, or increase points, that grow into two separate threads that move upward at different angles (Figure 20).


Plot the necessary increases to begin the loops on a chart. At this point, don’t worry about how far apart they are: you can make adjustments later. Note the no-stitch boxes below the increase rows—the stitches of the cable do not exist until you create them with a 1 to 5 increase (Chart 1).

 

Now, you can begin manipulating the threads. The inner threads move together almost horizontally, so cross the two knitted cable-strand stitches over three purled background stitches. The outer threads continue going straight up for now (Chart 2).

 

Continue to move the inner threads -toward each other, now at a slightly steeper angle (Chart 3).

 

When the inner threads meet, cross them. Begin moving the outer threads toward the center in anticipation of the next row of crosses (Chart 4).

Move the inner threads and the outer threads toward each other, making them meet to set up for the next crossing row (Charts 5 and 6).

In this symmetrical knot, the top half of the chart is a mirror image of the bottom half (Chart 7).

Finally, close the loops with a 5 to 1 decrease. The no-stitch boxes return, and the chart is back to its original number of stitches (Chart 8).

Now, swatch the motif. You may need to adjust a cable or travel to make the motif look correct.

You now have a jumping-off point for -designing infinite cable motifs. As you -design your own endless-loop cables, you may find that you need to incorporate patterning into wrong-side rows to achieve the correct angles. You may want to connect motifs so they travel around the yoke of a sweater, or use diminishing motifs to shape a circular piece. Experiment and discover for yourself what kind of cable motifs you can create.

Infinite cables, infinite possibilities.


Eunny Jang is a cable fanatic and former editor of Interweave Knits.


Cables and Cables and Cables!