Cable Babble

As a buildup to my next interview with an athlete in the Olympic Women’s Cabling Event, I indulge in a general discussion about the technique. Not that this will help anyone with their own cabling necessarily . . .

In our classes, I often find that once new knitters get their groove on and realize that, for each one of us, there IS a knitting sweet spot, a fair majority begin setting their sites on Cable Knitting as their personal vision quest. Most are completely stumped about how this mysterious texture is made, and, to them, having a shot at Achieving Cable is tantamount to say, mastering the triple/double toe loop combination.

I can really identify with them; a long (ok, looong) ways back, when I was really small, cables were my knitting Holy Grail. I would examine Gram’s knitting in wonder; the overlapping spirals with the little tunnels in them were, hands-down, the most captivating parts. I would examine them for long periods of time, absorbed in their mysterious architecture. How did one make fabric where sections literally rose up out of the surface and then became embedded again after crossing over? I would not be satisfied until I learned to do THAT. Boy, was I surprised to find out how laughably simple it is to execute a cable. There HAD to be more to it, right?

Well of course there is.

I just hadn’t seen many examples of those very complex cables. Simple cables ARE easy, but they are just the tip of the iceberg; there are twists, and twists involving knit/purl combinations, as well as increases and decreases, and yarnovers. There are ones you can do right on the needles, and ones that really feel better using the third stick.

The third stick (sometimes known as “the devil needle” because of it’s deceptive cuteness) might be the knitter’s first clue that something could go terribly wrong with the decision to go down the Cabled path. Knowing HOW to cable is one thing; it is pretty easy to do. Never mind that it involves intentionally taking stitches off your needle and putting them somewhere else; one gets over that after the first few times.

What really hurts, and what no one tells you, is that reading the chart, following the chart, remembering which row you are on, and repeating the chart correctly are the real challenges. Add multiple patterns, as in a traditional aran garment, and most people’s eyes glaze over til they are gently steered back toward the felted bags and fun fur.

Now, I love charts for cabling, and I learnt to use them fairly easily. The language of symbols made sense to me right away (whatever indicator THAT might be about the state of my brain synapses). So I am a big proponent of chart reading for many types of knitting (lace, NOT; personally, I really like written instructions for lace patterns better, though I’ll use a chart if that’s all I have).

Teaching others to use a chart? Mmm, not so easy. I am always being reminded (sometimes kindly, sometimes not) that knitting symbology is not necessarily intuitive. And that reading the chart as if you are looking at the right side while you are actually working on the wrong side? Again, not so intuitive (and again, no comment about the state of my brain cells that I never even realized I was reading backwards in a chart). Let’s just say that explaining these concepts to a group of eight eager knitters is what really kicks my butt. Every time. The magic? The magic is the next week when they come back all excited with a good length of cabled fabric. The magic happens when they go home and knit, organizing for themselves an understanding of new and strange ways to manipulate the needles. I don’t get to see the “aha” moments usually, but I DO get to share the thrill and excitement of the result, and the urge to try even more complicated stitches next. That’s what I live for!

Tomorrow I’ll profile Debbie J, who is knitting a cabled scarf for her olympic project. This is a story of true olympic-level determination; Debbie started the scarf in December and was about 24 inches into it when she realized she was making her twists incorrectly. She ripped out the whole thing and restarted it, determined to conquer it as her olympic challenge.

Cover image pattern: Open and Folds Cabled Scarf

Originally posted by Anne Hanson on February 23rd, 2006

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