Tip of the week: Decoding cable patterns
Jan 19, 2022
When I talk to people about why they are intimidated by starting a cable project the answers is often that the terminology or abbreviations seem so complicated. They seem surprised when I say that all cables use the same basic steps:
- Put a given number of stitches on cable needle.
- Hold the cable needle to the back or front of the work as instructed.
- Knit or purl a given number of stitches from your main needle.
- Knit or purl the stitches from your cable needle.
The result is a set of stitches that cross each other.
The key to cable knitting is understanding the number of stitches that go on the cable needle, whether it goes to the back or front and what you knit or purl for each type of cable in the pattern. This can seem like a massive puzzle because there are so many different ways that cables are written in patterns.
However, whatever coding system has been used the pattern abbreviation key should tell you what to do for each one. To be honest, it there isn't a key telling you that, I would be inclined to find a new pattern.
There are lots of cable notation systems. My preferences is for the version that includes writing the abbreviations for example as C8B and Tw4F. Here the the "C" generally indicates that you are working all the stitches in your cable in the same way, the number is how many stitches in total are used in the cable and the B means the cable needle is used to the back. Tw means you will knit some stitches and purl others and F is holding the cable needle to the front.
So C8B could be written as "place 4 stitches on cable needle and hold to the back, knit 4 sts, knit 4 from cable needle". BUT even if you think it means that double check - it could mean place 5 stitches on cable needle and hold to the back, knit 3 sts, etc.
Tw3F is likely to be "place 2 stitches on cable needle and hold to the front, purl 1, knit 2 from cable needle. You can see this type of cable on the upper right of the diamond in the picture above. As you can see it slopes to the left which is why you may see it abbreviated to Tw3L.
If your pattern uses a notation you don't like, it is worth writing out a translation list where you note down how you would think of each cable so you can refer to it until you are sure you are getting your pattern right.