Technickety: How to unvent a simple cable
I had a heap of messages asking where the cable for Jeff's glove came from. It's a fairly generic multi-strand cable; called a "Saxon Braid" (thanks, Purly White!). I see Wendy at wendyknits has used it for a sweater, and I'm sure it's to be found in stitch dictionaries.
That said, being able to read an existing cable and knowing how to reconstruct it is a very useful skill. I'm not suggesting, of course, that the following be used in any way that takes credit away from a designer of a garment - rather, this is a reference for understanding how a simple cable works and how to write a chart. The actual process is far more intuitive than what follows, but I've written each step out, just for documentation's sake.
***I should say my intention here isn't to be patronizing at all; I'm sure most of you have been doing this for a long time without this kind of manic detail. I'd just never seen this particular technique spelled out and recorded, and thought it might be useful to someone out there to have it as a reference***
According to my definition, a "simple cable":
- 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. The strand never splits.
- has a vertical line of symmetry
- may not have a strand that meets with itself
- may have any number of strands
A simple cable can be quite complex looking; I only call it that to exclude knotwork designs that use infinite line techniques and asymmetrical textures, which can be a little more complicated to chart.
Step by step
1) Understand where your vertical line of symmetry is (the right half and the left half should be mirror images of each other, not including cross directions), and choose a logical beginning and ending to one pattern repeat:
2) Identify how many "strands" make up the cable - it might be helpful to draw a line diagram showing the relationships between the strands. Using one color for each strand is a good way to know exactly what you're working with at any given time. The different colors won't matter, of course, when you're charting and knitting, but for now, it's a useful tool to seeing the mechanics of the cable at a glance.
3) Figure out how many stitches across each strand will be, and how many background stitches (reverse stockinette) will separate strand groups. A good place to start is with each strand two stitches wide (making one cross four stitches wide), and two purl stitches separating groups. The proportions generally look good, and when two strands need to travel toward each other in preparation for a cross, the movement can be completed within one right-side row (each strand travels over one purl stitch). In a simple cable, each pocket of background within the cable is the same width.
4) Set up a placeholder row with each strand in the right place to start the pattern. Strands that will cross in the first pattern row are right next to each other; each group is separated by two background stitches.
5) For any simple cable, all wrong side rows are worked as the stitches appear (knit stitches are knit, and purl stitches are purled). Add a duplicate WS row.
6) All crosses within the same row should move in the same direction (right over left or left over right). The two two-stitch strands will make up a four-stitch cross.
7) Add your WS row with strands in the new postions established in the row before.
8) In a travelling row, strands will move 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).
9) Add your WS row with strands as established.
10) In the next cross row, crosses will generally move in opposition to the preceding cross row. Again, all crosses within the same row should move in the same direction. Maintain your background pocket widths - don't move anything that would change the number of background stitches.
11) Continue in this manner until strands are positioned to start over from the beginning of the pattern repeat. It's easy from this point - fill in any completely plain block with a notation for background - this symbol will mean "purl this stitch on the RS and knit on WS"
12) Simply clear any grid block that contains solid color to indicate a strand stitch. This blank stitch will mean "knit this stitch on the RS and purl on the WS".
13) Now, replace anything that looks like this (where two strands cross, with the left strand moving OVER the right one:
with something like this (slip 2 stitches to a cable needle, hold in back, knit 2 from left needle, knit 2 from cable needle):
and everything that looks like this (right strand moving over the left one):
with something like this (slip 2 stitches to a cable needle, hold in front, knit 2 from left needle, knit 2 from cable needle):
14) Everything that looks like this (two strand stitches moving over one background stitch from left to right):
should be replaced with this (slip 1 to cable needle, hold in back, knit 2 from left needle, purl 1 from cable needle):
And these (two strand stitches moving over one background stitch from right to left):
get replaced with this (slip 2 to cable needle, hold in front, purl 1 from left needle, knit 2 from cn):
Clean up your chart, number it, and reposition grid markers if you need to.
And there you have it.
Consider this the extreme longhand version. Once you understand how cables work, you'll skip the color exercise. Once you've done a few that way, you'll be able to knit a swatch without a chart at all.
Please feel free to leave questions or suggestions in the comments, or drop me an email. Was this interesting? Helpful? Really confusing and pointless? Opinions always welcome!