The knitalong moves onwards! Last week we talked about the wool and additional supplies you need to get started on your Snoqualmie Cardigan. Today we'll be discussing cabling techniques and the importance of swatching.
Cables look scary. To newb knitters, it's hard to wrap your brain around all that 3D knitty goodness and not be a little intimidated. Even though cables made me quiver for a long time, it always seems to be the cabled knitting patterns that I gravitate towards, so I figured it was time to get over the fear and learn how to do it already.
I was happy to discover that cables aren't actually hard at all. You're essentially just moving stitches around on your needle and knitting them in a different order than how they initially appear. Once you understand a cable chart and what it's telling you, it becomes fairly intuitive, at least for this pattern. Turns out Snoqualmie is a good intro to cabling since the repeat is fairly simple; now that I'm halfway done my back, I hardly refer to the chart at all anymore. My brain just seems to know what to do.
KNITTING A GAUGE SWATCH
The secret to getting over any fear you may have about cabling is knitting up a few swatches. Obviously we should be swatching with every project to make sure our gauge is correct and we're using the right needle, but I think an additional benefit is the psychological release that comes with practicing what you'll be doing in a low stakes way. You're not working on the actual garment so you don't need to beat yourself up if it doesn't look perfect. You can knit up as many as you need to until you feel comfortable.
To swatch for Snoqualmie, you'll be stitching a 16 stitch/32 row repeat from your cable chart. Best practice for a gauge swatch is to surround the pattern in garter stitch to stabilize the edges; you should therefore cast on 20 stitches total, which will give you two rows of garter stitch on either side of your cabled pattern (remember, garter stitch just means you'll be knitting on both sides of your knitting). Knit 4 rows of garter stitch at the beginning and end of your 32 row pattern to prevent your swatch from rolling.
USING A CABLE CHART
Before you start swatching, you may find it helpful to colour code your cable chart. Using 6 coloured pencils or markers, identify what cable stitch is what on the chart. Eventually you'll barely need to look at it but it's extremely helpful when you're just getting started. I also like to highlight on the legend what stitches are being held back or forward while you're cabling.
If this is the first time you're looking at a cable chart, don't panic. It's basically just a pictographic representation of what you'll be knitting; a chart is much easier to knit from than following written directions, at least for cables. When you're working the right side (or cabled) side of your knitting, you'll be reading the chart from right to left. When you switch to the wrong side, you'll be reading left to right. Please note that the symbols for single purl and knit stitches reverse depending on what side of your work you are on. Therefore the symbol for a purl stitch on the right side ( a square with a line through it) becomes the symbol for a knit stitch when you're on the wrong side. You won't actually have to think too much about that since when you're working on the wrong side since it becomes very obvious whether or not you'll be purling or knitting.
Each one of those coloured boxes is an individual cable stitch. Some of them have 3 stitches, but most are 4. The most important thing to note is that the symbol of the cable stitch tells you what direction the cable should be going in - they will slant either to the left or right. After a few rounds you'll be able to glance at the chart and intuitively know what stitch crosses what, I promise.
For your swatch, don't do what I did the first time and knit up the 16 stitch repeat pattern highlighted in red on your chart. You actually want the cabled pattern to be centered in your swatch, and you may need to repeat one of teh smaller blocks of cables since the larger cable will be caught off by the perimeter of your swatch.You can see my off centered swatch on the left side here:
When you've completed your 32 row swatch with another 4 rows of garter stitch, bind off and soak it in lukewarm water for an hour or so. Gently squeeze the water out and then roll it up in a towel to squeeze out the remaining water. Let it dry flat without stretching it or blocking it into shape - the goal is to see how your gauge behaves without being manipulated into shape. Once it's dry, measure it inside the two garter stitch rows on either side. The correct gauge is 3.25" wide by 5.5" tall. If your swatch is narrower that that, you should go up a needle size. If it is wider than that you should go down a size. My first swatch using 6.5mm needles was 1/4 stitch to wide, but was much too narrow using 6mm needles. In the end I went with the 6.5mm and think it should be okay, especially given the slouchy nature of the cardigan.
HOW TO KNIT CABLES
As I mentioned, cabling is simply rearranging stitches on your needle. You can either use a cable needle to do this or move the stitches around with the tips of the circular needle you're already using. I much prefer this method; I've heard it may not work as well for wider cabled patterns, but since we're only working with 4 stitches at a time, it should be manageable even if you're new to cabling.
With a cable needle, you move the stitches to the front or back of your work, knit the next set of stitches, and then go back to knit the stitches on your cable needle. I tried it and got really annoyed with the extra needle. However, you can also just slide your stitches off and re-arrange them using your regular needle, which is faster and easier. If you've never cabled this way before, I made a short video below to demonstrate how to do it.
If you would prefer knitting with a cable needle, here is a video tutorial.
The biggest thing to get used to is the sequence of cable stitches; you have six stitch types in total so at the beginning you'll have to refer to your chart pretty frequently until you get the hang of it. Don't get discouraged if your first swatch is a disaster like mine was; just keep swatching until it clicks. It feels amazing once you really understand what's happening. Once you get going, it really does become easy to anticipate what is next. I mentioned before that the back side is really easy to knit. As you can see, even with all the stitch rearranging we're doing on the right side of the knitting, it becomes pretty obvious what stitches should be purled and knit on the wrong side.
That's it for today! I'll be back to talk about casting on and ribbing next week; let us know how your swatching is going in the comments section! And I'd love to know if you have any cabling tips for us...