Single Bed Drop Stitch

I did a couple of posts on drop stitch and enlarging stitches back in June of 2017, but I wanted to share this method with you as well because I think is is, simply put, a better approach that requires less fussing with the actual stitches. You can never have too many options to choose from!

Although I demonstrate this method on a 3×3 cable, you can use it anytime your cables are reluctant to cross. It is never worth straining the stitches – believe me, I know!

I like using the split ring stitch holders (I could hardly get the words out on video without slurring it all!) because the stitches are securely held. Sometimes, I also use a wooden hand-knit cable needle, like the ones that are available from Brittany Needles. They have little ridges that hold the stitches snuggly and prevent them from sliding off.

In a future video/lesson I will show you how to cross large cables more easily by adding extra rows or by increasing the stitch size of just the stitches that lie at the back of the cables.

Introduction to Cables

Easy to do and with all kinds of variations possible, cables are probably the most popular hand-manipulations with machine knitters. I think that individual knitters probably have their own favorite methods for dealing with the actual crossings, but I hope that this 3-part overview will help beginners get over their fears and offer new perspective for the experienced cable-crossers among you!

There is an entire chapter on cables in my first book, Hand-Manipulated Stitches for Machine Knitters and I also addressed some very specific cabling techniques in each of my other three books. If, for some unknown reason, you do not yet own any of my books, you can purchase as many as you like for 15% off the pricing on my web site (which is already about 20% below Amazon!) using this code at check-out: BD2319. The discount is good only until March 15 so don’t hesitate!

Simply stated, cabled are created by removing two groups of stitches on transfer tools, returning the right-hand group of stitches to the left group of needles and the left group of stitches to the right needles.  Sounds easy enough, right? It IS easy if you start at the beginning and work your way through more involved and difficult variations as you gain experience.

In this first (of 3) videos about cables, I’ve dealt with just the simplest cables. The next two installments will explain more involved cables and also how to go back and fix an incorrect crossing once the work is finished and off the machine and you think you’re going to throw it all out the window when you find the mistake!

The easiest – and most common – machine knit cables involve removing two stitches on two transfer tools. It is a fairly easy cable to cross because the groups of stitches (2 stitches each) are small enough that they do not create undue stress once crossed. Although you do want some tension on the stitches so that the cable is clearly defined by the crossings, you do not want to risk breaking the yarn or some needles in the process.

You should notice in the video that when I return the second set of stitches to the needles, I use my transfer tool to deposit the stitches and pull the needles out to holding position (HP) all in one smooth motion. When needles are in HP, the carriage has no choice but to knit the needles, even if the stitches are a bit tight. While it may not always be necessary (or possible) to do this when crossing 2 x 2 cables, it is extremely helpful with 3 x 3 and larger cables.

Sometimes, when the needles are pulled out to HP after crossing the stitches, you will find that the center needles in HP are touching because of the tension on the stitches. In that case, I usually nudge the needles back to upper-work position (UWP) because the shorter extended needle length causes the needles to separate slightly. A much safer position. Believe me, I know through bad experience that it is possible to have the too-close center needles hook onto each other as the carriage tries to knit them. What a nightmare!

One of the basic rules for hand-manipulating stitches on a knitting machine is this: The stitches that are returned to the needles first will show on the face (knit side) of the fabric. When reading hand knit charts, keep in mind that they are meant to be read and worked from the knit side of fabric. There is usually a symbol showing two crossed lines, with the darker line representing the stitches that lie on top of the cable and define the twist. On a machine the dark line represents the second set of stitches returned to the needles.

With a single column of cables, it probably doesn’t matter which way you cross the cables unless you are trying to exactly duplicate a pattern or effect. exa. It does, however, matter that you are consistent throughout the fabric. With braided, woven and complex cables, understanding and controlling the direction of the crosses is essential.

You can, of course, cross wider cables than 2 x 2 as long as you have multi-prong transfer tools or are willing to hold a couple of tools in each hand. There are some multi-prong tools available on my web site for 4.5, 6.5 and 9 mm machines.

The more stitches you cross, the wider your cables will be, but not all cable crossings are meant to create a roped effect. For example, the 1 x 3 cable I demonstrate in the video does not create a twisted cable effect. Rather, the single stitch on the front of the fabric creates a pattern of enlarged (stretched) single stitches. These single stitches are also the perfect place to add some beads are paillettes.

In addition to the number of stitches affecting the look of a cable, so does the number of rows between crossings. Once you cross a cable, it requires a number of rows for the stitches to relax in their new placement. I call this stitch recovery. There are some loosely written “rules of thumb” that dictate knitting 4 rows between 2 x 2 cables, 6 rows between 3 x 3 crossings, etc. The knitting machine police will not arrest you if you decide to knit fewer or more rows so experiment a bit!

With fewer rows between crossings, the stitches do not get a chance to recover and the resulting column of cables looks narrow and tight; if you knit more rows, not only do the stitches recover, the cables appear to spread wider. Try knitting a 2×2 cable with the first 3 crossings spaced out every 4 rows. Then try knitting 8 rows before you repeat that. You will see what I mean.

The 3 x 3 cable that I demo along one edge of the fabric will usually – usually – prevent the edge from rolling under and can be useful along the side edges of a scarf or shawl or along the front edges of a cardigan. If the edge still insists on rolling, try working one row of crochet or backwards crochet along the edge of the cables.

If they bother to reform any stitches at all, most people latch up a single rib stitch along each side of a cable. That is, they drop and reform the column of stitches as knit stitches, which presents as purl stitches on the front of the fabric. Rib being rib (even a single reversed stitch) it tends to pull fabric in. Cables already reduce the width of the fabric and by working the latch up in rib, it narrows the fabric further. When I am concerned about retaining as much width as possible, I usually latch up in tuck by passing the latch tool under two ladder bars but only catching the top bar in the hook of the tool. This tuck stitch looks like a tuck stitch formed by the ribber bed.

I know that some people leave a needle out of work alongside their cables, but I just don’t like the way it looks. It does help the cables cross a bit more easily but ultimately, I find that the extra slack from the ladder bars causes the edge stitches of the cable column to look kind of loose and sloppy. There are much better ways to ease cable crossings and I will address some of them in future blogs. The video doesn’t give a very good view of the latched-up stitches, which is sometimes what you get with a crew of 1 doing all the knitting/talking, filming so for a better look, check out the blog postings I did on latching up stitches on 3/1/16 and 5/1/16 for more information.

I cannot stress enough that you should include a proportionate number of cables in your gauge swatch if you want to be sure the finished sweater will fit the person it was intended for. Yes, it will take more time to work up the swatch, but a cabled sweater is fairly labor and time intensive and the swatch – as always – is a small investment in success. There really aren’t any short cuts when it comes to hand-manipulated stitches!

Decorative Tulip Edging

This tulip edging is one of my favorite trims and it offers beginners a whole wealth of new techniques.

You’ll need to cast on a multiple of 7 stitches, plus 2 for the final edge. I usually use a simple crochet/latch tool cast on to begin, followed by 3 rows.

This chart shows the extra 2 stitches used to balance the design; those stitches only appear with the very last repeat.

Next you’ll need to reduce each group of 7 stitches down to 5 stitches by transferring the 1st and 5th stitch in each group onto their adjacent needles. There will be 2 plain stitches between each reduced group. This leaves you with empty needles spaced across the width of the knitting. Although you could scrap off and re-hang, you’ll find that it is a lot faster to remove all of the stitches on a garter bar and then replace them on the needles, shifting the GB to the left after each group of stitches is returned to the needles. If you count the empty needles after making the transfers, you will know how may needles to eliminate; push half of the extra needles back to NWP at each edge to remain centered on the bed.

After knitting 3 more rows, you need to reduce the groups of 3 stitches down to a single stitch. Make the transfers then remove the work on the GB and eliminate the extra needles at each side before replacing the stitches on the needles, shifting the garter bar as needed to fill in.

The two plain stitches that divide each repeat should be latched up in order the help the tulips stand out from the background. I usually do this after all the decreases and GB work are done and before I work the row of chaining on the front of the fabric.

I use a single row of chaining in front of the fabric to sort of cap off the trimming, but you might choose not to do this – especially is you are going to continue the rib effect through the entire fabric either by manually reforming stitches or using a ribber.

This trim reduces down quickly; each group of 7 stitches reduces down to just 3 stitches. So, for example, if you cast on 149 stitches (21 repeats of 7 plus 2 to balance the edge), that will reduce down to a mere 65 stitches. This is the widest piece of trim you will be able to knit on a mid-gauge (150 needle bed) machine. 198 stitches on a standard gauge machine (20o needle bed) will reduce down to 86 stitches and on a bulky machine the maximum width trim will reduce from 107 to 47 stitches.

Because the final number of trim stitches will be used as the beginning edge of your garment, unless you are knitting baby clothes, you will need to piece this trim for larger sizes. One edge stitch on each piece will be taken into the seam and will be invisible if you use mattress stitch to join the pieces.

Enlarging Stitches – really HUGE stitches!

I usually rely on Bridging (or double bed drop stitch) to create enlarged stitches across a row – either increasing the stitch size or hand-knitting specific needles back to non-working position. I covered Bridging in my first book and dedicated the entire second book to the subject. I think it is the most important thing to know for opening up the possibilities on any machine!

I demonstrated Bridging in the video that Taunton Press produced to accompany Hand-Manipulated Stitches for Machine Knitters and posted the section on Bridging on my YouTube channel (Susan Guagliumi). If you have my Hand Manipulated Stitches Craftsy class, I explain it there as well.

I have to say that I got a chuckle out of watching the YouTube version the other day when I got to the part where I definitively say “these are the largest stitches you can form on a single bed machine”. Ha! It was just 1989 and although I knew full well that double bed drop stitch would allow me to form enormous stitches, I really hadn’t yet begun experimenting with other options for single bed knitting.

In some earlier posts, I presented some YouTube videos by a Russian knitter named Elena Luneva. She uses a similar method to produce enlarged stitches and loops and I recommend you taking a good look at her work as well.  The more tricks you have at your disposal, the less likely you are to be frustrated by the :limitations” of the machine!

Instead of just hand knitting the needles back to non-working position, I eventually figured out that I could pass the yarn around a gauge of some sort before hand knitting each needle back to the rail. The larger the gauge, the larger the stitches I can form. You have the option of wrapping the yarn around your gauge and then knitting each needle back to working position – or all the way to non-work. You could also wrap the yarn around the gauge twice for each stitch.

In this video, I have used a size 13 wooden knitting needle and a standard desk rules as gauges. There are all kinds of things you can use for a gauge and the size of the gauge also helps determine the size stitches you can make.

You will find that the first few wraps and needles knitted back are awkward to manage. You can use a paper clip or an elastic band to help stabilize the gauge if you want to – I usually find that they get in my way so I struggle through the first few (as I did on the video) until the first few stitches help to stabilize the gauge and make it easier to hold onto.

You will find that the stitches drop more easily and evenly if you have a well-weighted comb inserted in the lower edge of the fabric. Also, try to always wrap the yarn around the gauge the same way each time so none of the final stitches is twisted or crossed.

Believe me, I would not advocate working an entire garment like this, but for occasional rows of a special texture, this method is worth trying. For knitters who work on single bed machines and cannot rely on double bed drop stitch, this method opens up all kinds of possibilities!


Doing it Double!

If your machine has a ribber, you probably don’t have a lot of use for a double latch tool. However, if you use a single bed machine, you’ll find a double latch tool can save you lots of time. Initially, it might feel a little clumsy to use, but, like anything else, once you get going a double latch tool is a wonderful thing to have!

Double latch tools make it much faster to re-form stitches for 1×1 or 2×2 rib, whether you want a ribbed band or just some columns or blocks of rib stitches in the body of a garment. The latch hooks need to be spaced for the gauge of your machine and they all work pretty much the same way.  Here are some tips for success:

First of all, Insert the tool at the bottom of the columns of stitches you plan to drop and then drop the stitches from the needles above, rather than dropping the stitches and then fishing around for the stitches. It is much safer and a lot less frustrating, but you also have greater control over how far down the stitches drop.

Keep plenty of downward tension on the ladder of stitches you are reforming so that the individual bars do not split as you work them.

Push the tool just far enough away from you to make sure the “old” stitches open the latches and slide back over them. Catch the next bars of the ladder in the hooks of the tool and pull just hard enough to make sure the old stitches are pulled over the latches to form the new stitches. If you look at the video carefully, you will see that the surrounding stitches move very little, which is how it should be. You don’t want to start distorting adjacent stitches.

When you work with a single latch tool, the last stitch is transferred from the tool to a needle on the bed by hooking the tool onto the needle. This isn’t possible (at least not easily!) when using a double latch tool. Instead, when you reach the top of the column, hold the tool above the edge of the bed and just poke the needles through the back of each stitch. Make sure you keep some tension on the tool so that the stitches are easier to see and easier for the needles to enter. Once you poke the needles through the back of the stitches, you can just remove the tool.

Back in the day (as they say), many knitting machines came with double latch tools, although they were usually standard gauge machines – both European and Japanese. The hooks projected straight out from the end of the handle. At I have double latch tools for 2×2 rib for 4.5, 6.5 and 9 mm machines, tools for 1×1 rib for 6.5 and 9mm machines.  I designed these tools with the metal perpendicular to the wooden handle because I find the much easier to work with – I hope you do too!