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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):

See?

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!

Comments

Holy Crap! That is an excellent tutorial on designing a cable!! I had a motif just last night that I couldn't figure out how to make work and thought "Eunny could do it." Now I think I can too. :)

this is the most amazing tutorial ever. THANK YOU!!!

Wow~!! Eunny that was BRILLIANT! It was easy to follow & well written!

Plus it was really cool of you to take the time to write that up!

You rock!!

Awesome! Much better than knitting trial and error.

This is fabulous! Thanks for taking the time to put this all down for us.

And, I think that cable is called "saxon braid."

This is fabulous! Thanks so much for taking the time and the trouble to show how this is done - I look up and realise I'm echoing purly whites!

That was really helpful. I could never figure out when use crossed two and when you just cross one. Thanks so much!

This is a very interesting and very well written/illustrated tutorial! Thank you! I followed a link to you from Craftster a while back and have admired your knitting speed, and project choices and execution, ever since. I guess you could say that I am a fan of Eunny. Ha!

pretty dang incredible! Thanks!

that is absolutely brilliant!! thanks so much for this informative post.

Ah, this is very good. I must ask you: did you create the cable symbols yourself, or did you find a font package somewhere?

Great! Now it might finally be making sense to me! Watch out charts, here I come!

You are insane! (thats a good thing) Even the bf was in awe of you

Fabulous! Definitely should be submitted as a "how to" article to knitty ;)

That's amazing! And very helpful and so well written. Thank you.

You must've been reading my mind, b/c just yesterday I got a little catalog in the mail from the Gap, and they have these gloves that are ribbed and have a cable on the front. I kept looking at the picture and trying to figure out how to replicate it. You just helped me! Thanks!!!

This is incredible! Thanks for putting together such a comprehensive tutorial.

Wow. That is the best step-by-step tutorial I've seen! And it's useful too.

OMG. You are amazing. I have never had a problem reading cable charts, but designing my own is where I get stuck. This tutorial is PERFECT. Thank you for taking the time to put it together!!!

wow!!!!! this is incredible!!!! the translation from pattern to paper is extremely well presented here. props to you for taking the time to post this! my awe and gratitude are immense.

You should write an article about this and submit it to knitty or another magazine! Great job, and thank you!

I agree, this post should grow into an article! It is so interesting and helpful. I was not really thinking about writing my own cables but I after reading this, I feel confident that I could if I ever wanted to. Great job, thank you so much!

How funny--a couple of weeks ago, I charted out a cable I'd found in a book (which didn't have instructions or a chart for that particular cable) and I used an almost identical process to the one you described here. It worked out fantastically! :)

What a beautifully clear set of instructions. Now I think I may understand cables better. Just learning to do an Aran for a KAL, and wanted to change the cables. This looks like just what I was looking for.

Thank you so much.
Judith

This is a concise and brilliant explanation. I have always been able to make cables from a pattern, but it just "clicked" for me, and now I think I can design my own. Totally de-mystified. Thanks!

I also concur with the suggestions above to submit this to Knitty. More people should see this!

This tutorial is truly amazing and the directions were cystal clear and demystified designing cables. The knit graphic picture were wonderful to read. Would you share what program you use?

Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise

Just in case no one has mentioned it, the Saxon braid is in Barbara Walker's Charted Knitting Designs, page 86. It is my favorite cable and her way of charting is also my favorite. I think your way of designing is intriguing and must give it a try. Can you tell me what program you used?

Jeanne

absolutely fantastic
i am sending it to my daughter
thank you so very much

Oh MAN! I have been fuming for DAYS over a cable I wanted to copy. Thank you so much for this tutorial, now I feel like I've got a good grip on the thing! Very kind of you to take the time to write this method out so clearly.

THANK YOU! I have been looking for a guide like this for a while - just to have it written down for me helps my idiot brain.

Thanks again

I've managed to save up roughly $28836 in my bank account, but I'm not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

I just bought a new car and I love it!

This is a fantastic tutorial! I really love cables. My first experience was knitting the Shedir cap and fell in love with cables. Great job! Thanks a bunch! Now I feel enlightened to try some more cables on my own.

Thank you for putting this tutorial together! I decided to learn cable knitting by making a sampler afghan and I have just finished my first cabled block. What fun! The information you offer here deepens my understanding of reading and writing a chart.

I just love your site! You're so generous to share with the rest of us!

Great little tutorial. (Good article on lace in IK, as well.) What application did you use to create the charts in this post?

Eunny, I'm trying to figure out how to make a font I can use to make cable charts for Knitty. The ones I can download for free are, of course, not for commercial application, and I don't know where to buy one (I haven't had any luck in my search). Did you make the font you used for your charts above? If so, can you please tell me what software you used? Any tips would be very greatly appreciated. BTW, congratulations on your recent (and excellent) articles in Interweave Knits!!

Some people knit with their heart.
Some people knit with their head.
Some people knit with their soul. You knit with all three and that makes you a genius in my book.

You have the great teacher's gift for simplifying apparently complex processes and making them interesting and fun!

I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL YOUR BOOK COMES OUT...PLEASE FILL IT WITH YOUR LOVELY DIAGRAMS and all that never before documented technique!

P.S. You would make an excellent math and physics professor but I'm glad you write knitting techniques intstead. :)

I don't understand cables at all, but what you wrote was most interesting.I'd like to find some knitting pamphlets with only a weekend to do it in..big needles,bit knit..any suggestions? Thanks

Thank you for this tutorial. I've never learned how to read a knitting chart and have always been intimidated by them, but I printed out your directions and sat down and read them and studied them and then tried knitting from the final chart. I've sent you a private email about the resulting mittens using your Saxon Braid chart (with a picture of the finished mitts). I'm now heading into my sewing room to go through my knitting books and find something else that needs to be knit following a chart! Thank you for being willing to post this to the web and share your wonderful talent.

We're not Wooooorthy.

Please get a publisher to publish your hard work (and so the rest of us can carry it around with us!You've made the seemingly impossible incredibly accessible.
Thank you so much!

Cool!

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