I spent several cold winter days shooting this entire series of cable videos so, please, forgive me if I occasionally begin by saying things like “once again” or “we previously….”. Until I sat down and started editing the videos I wasn’t always sure which ones would include what information. The videos all seemed to edit out longer than I anticipated so some related topics were not ultimately covered in the same video.
You are not limited to simple columns of cables on a knitting machine. By paying attention to which stitches are returned to the needles first, you can create all kinds of fancy, intricate-looking cables by working simple cables in pairs or groups.
It is always important to remember that the stitches that are returned to their needles first will show on the knit side of the fabric, but it is especially important when creating cables. One wrong crossing always seems to visually just pop right off the fabric and there is no hiding that kind of a mistake.
Sometimes I think of cable crossings in terms of right/left, meaning that I should cross the stitches from the right first and then from the left. You can also think of it as crossing towards the left and then towards the right. It doesn’t matter as long as you understand and can control the direction of the crossings and can be consistent throughout your fabric.
With paired cables, I tend to think about crossing in/out (or out/in) as the stitches relate to the center of the whole cable. Again, it doesn’t matter what you name the motions you use as long as they mean something to you and you can be consistent throughout.
Working From Charts
Unless you work from a specifically machine knit pattern, cable charts are usually drawn for hand-knitters who almost always cross cables when working on the right side of the fabric. In a typical cable crossing, like the one shown at left, there is usually a solid, unbroken line designating the stitches that are knitted last so that they sit on the face of the fabric and define the direction of the crossing.
In this example (handknitted) the cable is worked by slipping the first 3 (for example) stitches onto a cable needle and holding them at the back; then knit the next 3 stitches from the left-hand needle before knitting the 3 stitches from the cable needle. On a machine, you would remove both groups of stitches from their needles and return the right stitches to the left group of needles first and then the left stitches to the right needles to get the same effect.
When you move beyond columns of single cables and start pairing them up for braided effects, it becomes even more important to work with stretchy yarns as each cable tends to pull against the adjacent cables and things can get pretty tight. You definitely want some tension on the stitches to help define the shape of the cables, but you never want to risk breaking the yarn or damaging your machine. I almost always bring needles out to holding position after crossing cables. In fact, I usually just replace the first set of stitches on their needles in working position and then, as I return the second set of stitches to the needles, I pull them out to holding position in the same motion. If the needles are “kissing” and risk hooking onto each other, I nudge them back to upper-work position instead.
It isn’t always possible to have nice stretchy yarns to work with and if you have your heart set on a cabled cotton or acrylic sweater, you may need to rely on drop stitch or bridging to increase the size of some of the stitches. I often use short rows (bridging) to add a couple of extra rows to the stitches that will show on the knit side of the fabric. The extra rows make it easier to cross lots of wide cables or multiple cables close together and, more importantly, the extra rows help the cables stand up from the surface. I’ll show you some bridged cables in the next blog post, but figured I should mention it here.
I often count repeats, rather than rows, when working cables and many other hand-manipulated techniques. Very often I will make a list of row numbers and then use various symbols and short hand to designate what to do in which row. For example, if cables are supposed to cross to the right, I might show an arrow pointing to the right next to the row numbers; for popcorns, I often use a large dot (bullet) to designate those rows. Some row numbers may end up with several symbols next to them to indicate that there are cables to cross and corn to pop all in the same row. It is especially convenient when there are some cables that cross every 4 rows and others that cross every 6 rows. Whatever you do, don’t just rely on your memory or a head count to keep track of it all.
Gull and XO cables
These cables, which are shown in the video are both based on pairs of cables and can be worked with two 2×2 or two 3×3 cables. Gull (also called Wishbone cables) always cross the same way – each of the cables crosses out, away from the center every time. So, I tend to think out/in for each of the cable pairs as I work them. Hugs and Kisses (X’s and O’s) cross out/in twice and then in/out twice so that the cables appear to open and close.
Braided and Woven Cables
Braided cables are worked by splitting pairs and alternating the direction of the crosses. In the first row of cable crossings, both cables cross right/left. In the next repeat there is only one cable that is formed by taking half of each of the previous cables and crossing left/right.
Woven cables are an extension of braided cables, usually worked over more groups of needles. They also utilize split pairs. In the example at left, there are four cables in the first repeat that cross right/left. The next repeat has one less cable because each of these cables is worked with half the stitches from each of the cables below, crossing left/right. The groups split so that the left pair of stitches from one cable below and the right pair from another form the new cable. The split pairs and alternating direction of the crossings are what contribute to the woven appearance of these cables.