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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Inventing Cables

Ten-year-old Maria wants to learn cables.  She’s fascinated with the play of over-under, turn and return.  

Are you?  It’s easy.  Easy as eyelet lace.  Once you understand what’s happening, you can create your own cabled patterns.  Where do you think all those wonderful twisty, snaky inventions came from?  (A fellow named Jay Petersen figured out the ball above and the pillow below.)

Such elaborate inventions, the entrelac you see above and the fascinating fishermen's sweaters we all know and love, are within our grasp, one cable at a time.  

So let's see how cables operate.    Maria can do it; so can you.

Grab some worsted and those #7 or #8 or #9 needles.  Oh, and a cable needle.  If you don’t have a cable needle, use a double-point needle.  If you don’t have a double-point…well, I’ve been known to use a toothpick.  It’s only an open-ended holder, after all.

So cast on the usual twenty stitches.  Long-tail makes a good cast-on.  Then purl the first row. 

Why start with purl?  Because we’re casting on with long-tail, and purl makes a natural transition from the single edge of long-tail. 

Another reason to begin with a plain knit or purl row is that the cables, as you create them, are going to make the fabric pull in a little, so it helps to have a foundation row following the cast-on before you begin cabling.

The purl row will become the wrong side, because we’re going to do knit cables over a knit background.  (You can do knit cables on a purl background—many patterns call for this—but it’s not the best choice for a beginner.)

As with the eyelet lace, all our changes are going to happen on the right side, which in this case is always going to be a knit row.  Every purl row will be a consolidating row, as it was with the eyelet.  Keeps things nice and simple.

To recap:

CO 20 (long-tail preferred)
Row 1:  p20.

Now the fun starts.  Knit the first four stitches as usual.  Why four?  Because we need to leave a space at the edge, the more clearly to see the cables at play.  We'll balance this with a space at the left edge, where we also will do a plain k4.

These cables are going to be 2 stitches wide.  The first one is going to lean to the left, crossing in front of the knit stitches behind it.

So, slip two stitches (slip as if to purl, not to knit) onto whatever you’re using as a cable holder.  A toothpick will work, actually.

This cable is going to lean left, in front of the other stitches, so bring your toothpick to the front of the work and leave it there for a minute.  Just let it dangle.  Knit the next two stitches you see on your left-hand needle. 

Now, return the two stitches from the toothpick to the left needle.  (Don’t let the toothpick twist, or the stitches will be in the wrong order.) 

Next, knit those two stitches you just transferred from the toothpick to the left needle.  One cable cross made.

Knit four more stitches in the regular manner.
Now we’re going to make a two-stitch cable, crossing to the right.

Slip two stitches onto the toothpick, then hold them at the back of the work.  It’s OK to just let them dangle; the toothpick is rough enough that they won’t slip off.

Knit the next two stitches as usual. 

Now transfer the toothpick stitches to the left needle and knit them in proper sequence.
Second cable made, crossing right.

Knit to the end of the row.
Purl 20.

Your work should look like this:

Let's move those cables toward each other.  
Knit 5, hold 2 in front, knit 2, toothpick stitches to left needle and knit them (that just shifted the cable to the left by one stitch).  
Now knit 2 for the space between the two cables.  
Now let's bring the left cable one stitch to the right: 2 on toothpick, leave in back, knit 2 from needle, toothpick stitches to left needle and knit (that shifted the cable to the right by one stitch).
Knit 5 to finish off the row.
Your work should look like this:

Let's close the gap between the cables.
k6, 2 to the front, k2, k2 from cable needle.  (First cable shifted; now for the second.)
2 to back, k2, k2 from cable needle, k6.
Your work should look like this:

We can make those cables twist over each other.  Watch.
k8, 2 to front, k2, k2 from cable needle, k8.
Are you seeing this?

From here, you can decide where you want them to go.  Make your shifts one stitch at a time, as above, but when you want to jump one cable over another, knit the whole cable the way we did here.  

If you get confused about which maneuver moves the cable in which direction, here's a rubric:
                                  I left it in front, I'll be right back.

A caution:

Though the process is always the same, the notations for cabling vary from book to book.  You may see the very first operation we performed called Cross 2 Left, and abbreviated cross 2 L.  Another book may call it Cable 4 Front, though your crossing cable is only two stitches wide. 

Pay attention to the photos illustrating the cable you are trying to work, and run the notations by the reality check of the exercise we've performed today. 

It's all about maintaining control.  It's all about understanding what's going on. 

You can do it.


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