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!

Latching Up Stitches

This is the first of a series of short “How-To” lessons I plan to post here on the blog. While the information is old hat to a lot of you, there are so many new knitters out there (working on used machines all by themselves) that I figured I would start with some basics and then get progressively more involved and creative as time rolls on.

I think the important thing for new knitters to know about handling the latch tool is that slower, smoother motions ultimately end up being a lot faster than having to re-do the same thing over and over. Speed comes with experience so don’t rush it!

When I latch up a stitch, I concentrate on making sure that the old stitch slides smoothly over the latch to open it before I catch the next ladder bar in the open hook. Then just pull back enough for the old stitch to close the latch and slide over it. The fabric itself should hardly move – let the tool do the work.

When reforming stitches from the purl side, I always insert my tool into the bottom stitch in the column then release the stitch from its needle and let the stitch drop back to the tool. Dropping first means you would have to poke around to insert the tool through the stitch and sometimes that isn’t as easy as it looks. Doing it first is much safer and a whole lot easier.

I really love the way a tuck stitch looks along side cables and in addition to looking a bit more open than a reformed knit stitch (purl on the other side), tuck has the added advantage of returning a little width to the fabric. Lots of cables can cause a fabric to become narrower so using a tuck at each side of a cable actually returns that width to the fabric. With very large sizes, it could mean the difference between having enough needles – or not – to knit your garment!