Cables 103: Unventing a Knitted Cable

In the past two weeks, we’ve covered basic cables and some tips and tricks for using them. Once you know how knitted cables work, unventing—reconstructing and then charting a cable that you’ve only seen—becomes an easier process. Try this method to re-create any simple cable.

Nailing Down the Simple Cable

For this example, “simple” means a cable that –

is composed of individual “strands” of stockinette on a reverse stockinette background.

is composed of strands that travel, meet, and cross (never more than two at a time).

has strands that may be composed of any number of stockinette stitches, but stitches within a strand always act as one; that is, they travel together and cross together (individual strands never split).

has a vertical line of symmetry (ignoring the direction of cable crossings).

has crossings only on right-side rows.

has fixed-width background areas within the cable itself.

does not have any strand that appears to meet with itself.

A simple cable can be quite complex looking; we’re calling it simple to exclude complex knotwork motifs and asymmetrical cables. You can use these techniques as a jumping-off point for charting more intricate designs.

Here is a step-by-step method for re-creating a simple cable

1. Find the vertical line of symmetry. The right and left halves should be mirror images of each other, ignoring crossing directions. Choose a logical beginning and ending to one pattern repeat. For this knitted cable, we’ll focus on the middle section for the pattern repeat.

knitted cable

2. Identify how many different strands make up the cable. It might be helpful to draw a colored diagram showing the relationships between the strands. Using one color for each strand is a good way to see the mechanics of the cable at a glance.

knitted cable

3. Decide how many stitches across each strand will be, as well as how many background stitches will separate strand groups. Count the actual stitches if you can, or try starting with strands two stitches wide (making each cross four stitches wide) with two background stitches between each strand or group of strands. Two-stitch strands and background pockets tend to be convenient: when strands travel toward each other in preparation for a cross, the movement can be completed within one right-side row, each strand traveling over one purl stitch. If necessary, make the background pockets wider later on, moving strands over several rows to get them where they need to go.

4. Set up a placeholder row with each strand in the right place to start a pattern repeat. Strands that will cross in the first pattern row are right next to each other; each strand or group of strands is separated by two background stitches.

knitted cable

5. In simple cables, all wrong-side rows are worked as the stitches appear (knit stitches are knitted, and purl stitches are purled). Add a duplicate wrong-side row above your placeholder row.

knitted cable

6. Draw in the cable crossing of the first row. In our example, the pair of two-stitch strands makes up a four-stitch cross. All other strands stay in their positions.

7. Add a wrong-side row with strands in the new positions established in the row before.

8. In the next right-side row, draw in the way each strand moves, or travels, one background stitch to the right or left in preparation for new crossings. Background pockets will close (zero stitches) or stay the same (two stitches), and new ones will appear (two stitches). Move strands as necessary to maintain the two-stitch background pockets.

9. Add a wrong-side row with strands as established.

10. In the next crossing row, crosses will generally move in opposition to the preceding cross row. Maintain the position of strands that don’t travel or cross.

11. Continue in this manner until the strands are positioned to start over from the beginning of the pattern repeat. It’s easy from this point.

12. Delete your set-up rows. Fill in any completely plain block with a notation for background (this symbol will mean “purl this stitch on the right side and knit on the wrong side”). Clear any grid block that contains solid color to indicate a strand stitch. This blank stitch will mean “knit this stitch on the right side and purl on the wrong side.”

13. Now, replace any crossing where the left strand moves over the right strand with a right cable symbol (slip two stitches to a cable needle, hold in back, knit two from the left needle, knit two from the cable needle).

14. Replace any crossing where the right strand moves over the left strand with a left cable symbol (slip two stitches to a cable needle, hold in front, knit two from the left needle, knit two from the cable needle).

15. Replace any travelings where a strand moves to the right over one background stitch with a right travel symbol (slip one stitch to a cable needle, hold in back, knit two from the left needle, purl one from the cable needle).

16. Finally, replace any travelings where a strand moves to the left over one background stitch with a left travel symbol (slip two stitches to a cable needle, hold in front, purl one from the left needle, knit two from the cable needle).

Knit a sample or two from the chart, adjusting strand width and number of rows between crosses if necessary. You’ll be well on your way to being able to chart and knit any knitted cable you see in the wild—or that you dream up.

The Knitted Cable Reigns Supreme!


  1. Bill G at 10:48 am March 21, 2018

    This was a very helpful article! Many thanks for it. Where can I find 102 and 101?

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