Machine knit cables: using patterning as a guide to transfers

If you have a machine that selects needles to the forward position, you may use a punchcard, mylar sheet, or program to select needles for indicating cable placements. On the single bed, the selected needles act as the signal to actually create the cable crosses. When working on the double bed, the needle selection on the row before the cables are crossed may serve to remind you to put extra needles in work on the ribber, thus providing some extra yarn for the crossings. Previous posts on topic

Keeping crossings all in the same direction and having ladders to mark vertical placements makes the process far easier. The stitches on either side of the cable may be knit, dropped every X# of rows, and latched up to create a purl ridge on either side of the cable, at times there is enough slack in the ladder created to achieve the same. End needle selection needs to be canceled (KCII) in any pattern with needles out of work. In simple patterns using selection to keep track, ladders are not needed to stay in a clear vertical.

An alternative repeat for combining 2X2 cables and 2 twisted stitches is illustrated below. The repeat is suitable for punchcard use, must be drawn in multiples to meet machine requirements (at least 36 rows in length). Spacing between twists and crossings may be far more varied in machines that use mylars or programs

punchcard repeatfor an all-over pattern

twists and crosses

for a 22 stitch repeat or vertical panel, with ladders added


22 st repeat

If using the ribber, stitches marked for “ladders” may actually be transferred to the ribber to create the purl ridges on either side of the cables and twists.

Cables in color

Fair isle, like any slip stitch fabric, is “shorter and skinnier” than any produced using the same yarn colors in plain knitting, single bed. Cables also narrow the fabric considerably. Begin with tension set at least 1-2 numbers looser than usual, and make tension swatches large enough to include all cable variations. After the cable crossings, be sure to return the needles to correct pattern selection before knitting the next row. Do not pull the whole group out to holding (E), as the whole group will then knit the color in the B feeder, and you will have a striped “mistake” on the next row knit. Leaving any needles OOW in the knit will select the needle on each side of the ladder to come forward, knitting the color in the B feeder. This may not work for you in terms of how the motif is affected by the vertical line created. If ladders are required, the vertical line in the B color may be eliminated by canceling end needle selection (KC II), or by dropping those stitches before you cable (which will give you a bit extra yarn for those crossed stitches). Ladders may be also latched up if you like, but watch where those floats are going in the fabric.

Making your own cards: try to control the length of the floats. Pre-punched cards with lots of punched holes can produce areas to be cabled by selectively masking areas with tape (both sides of cards). Conversely, you may punch diamonds, squares, etc. in the center of other shapes that would normally have floats too long for FI, to produce a B feeder color area for cabling.

Like color, most often, needs to land on like color, so stitches need to move further than they would in a one-color knit. Reversible ribbed cables share the principle of like needing to land on like (knit on knit, purl on purl). Starting out with a single row punched card, mylar, or program repeat, with the card locked, provides a quick test for tension, keeping track of patterns, etc. There are many, so at least initially, cabling on a constant number of rows apart may help avoid errors.

beginning to visualize the crosses

FI cables2

another of my “quick reference – some to try” handouts


Machine knitting cables: single bed, introducing the ribber

Using two beds is the obvious means of creating a purl ground in combination with your cables, it will be addressed in later posts. If you are trying to cable more than 4 stitches on the main bed, using the ribber to provide extra yarn for the cross over may solve problems in accomplishing the cross. The ribber needs to be set at half-pitch the row before the cables. Needles on the ribber are kept out of work until that row, pushed up to work position, and the row is knit. The loops formed on those needles are then dropped off, the ribber needles are put out of work, and the cables are crossed. The main bed knits until the next row before the cable crossings are once again due. I have recently begun to use water-soluble markers to mark needles positions on metal beds clearly for help in keeping track of locations for specific manipulations.

An illustration of 2 (or more) possible places to pick up extra yarn for a 6 stitch cable crossxtra_yarn

Below is a revision of a punchcard used in a previous post to track crossings for 3X3 cables, with punched holes added, taking into consideration locations for picking up extra yarn on the ribber. After 2 needles are selected on the main bed, one needle on the ribber on either side of them is brought into work. As the carriages knit across, the ribber needles pick up loops, while 6 needles are selected indicating the location of the cable cross on the next row. Ribber loops are dropped, and the needles creating them are returned to out of work position. The cable stitches are then crossed, and knitting resumes, continuing until needle selection once again indicates that an action is required.


An alternative solution: reverse the beds, with the ribber doing the knitting. A card may then be drawn to select needles for picking up those extra loops, now on the main bed. The knit carriage is set to slip throughout. Punched holes (or programmed pixels in downloads, black squares in mylars) will preselect in Brother KMs, not only keeping the needle selection error-free but also tracking rows knit between cable crosses being made. Brother ribbers tend to knit more tightly than main beds, so tensions will require adjustment as well. With a bit of planning ahead and doing some “air” knitting, all needles not involved in picking up the extra yarn may be noted and placed out of work. Only the needles for selection will remain in work, thus making it easier to drop the loops formed on them during knitting.

This method allows for creating the cables while retaining a somewhat tighter tension. Since the ribber carriage has no wheels or brushes to help hold the knit in place, weight must be used. Too much of it will lead to more frequently dropped stitches. It is always good to bring cable group stitches out to holding (E) in order to visually check that transfers have occurred properly,  and that there are no dropped stitches before continuing to knit.



Some cables to try, hand knit

The first repeat below is for a vertical cable panel 24 stitches wide, 12 rows high (2 repeats shown); within the repeat, odd rows are all knit, even rows are all purl. Colors are indicative of cable crossings.

Borders in the swatch, or area in between multiple vertical panels, may be worked as 1. purl on even-numbered rows, knit on odd-numbered rows to create a purl ground behind the cables on the “right side”, or 2. knit every row for garter stitch in same areas.

Abbreviations : RS: right side, WS: wrong side. CF and CB indicate where the cable needle (CN) is held during the process.

CF: CN to front | LC: Left Cross, cable leans toward left

CB: CN to back | RC: Right Cross, cable leans toward the right

Dotted borders in chart outline columns 3 stitches wide; all cables in the sample are 3X3 crosses.

An alternative way to picture things: numbers on the left of the chart below indicate row numbers; on the right, they indicate the number of stitches knit before crossing cable stitches begins on that row

the hand knit swatch

IMG_1656Adding a purl stitch ground: a shortened chart using Aire River Design font, odd rows only shown



using color in Excel, showing every row


screenshot_03Avisualizing multiple repeats

in repeat

a very quick, hand-knit test swatch, knit with needles a bit too large for yarn used


another possible charted in Excel, multiple repeats shown


If patterns are for publication in specific venues, conventions in symbols may, or should have to be observed. To keep track of personal projects we often differ in what format or shorthand makes the most sense to us. If the like of the above result appeals to you, I am sharing a workbook with pertaining puzzle pieces. I find working at 200% magnification is the easiest for me, which may be easily changed to suit.


PS: My working palette in the original document was as seen in the images above. You may find some of the colors will be different in your download, depending on your computer. I have read on other sites in the past that the color change can be an issue in excel knit charting downloads. The image below reflects such a change. It is a quick capture of part of the chart when I tested the download myself. The large color blocks are the ones affected and may be easily changed to match the cable crossing colors.

color change

Visualizing knit cables in color_ Excel

In the past, I have suggested methods for working in Excel and provided links to excellent material shared by others online. Of late I became interested in using the program to produce simple color graphics for cable illustrations. It is helpful to have prior experience in using Excel for knit charting. This is not intended as a complete tutorial. I am providing a document for experimentation. I would suggest copying and pasting the individual shapes to a different part of the document before playing with color changes, resizing, etc. This may be done within the chart in progress, or separately, and then copying /pasting or moving the final result into place.

The resulting charts may be used in both hand and machine knitting. My illustrations here are intended for machine knits, so they do not combine purls and knits on their ground. Images represent single side view: as they would appear on the knit side facing hand knitters, or the purl side facing the machine knitter. Stitch, row marking, and text may be added as wanted.

Chosen from the view menu, the object palette allows the selection of built-in available shapes. Once a shape is drawn into the workbook, the formatting palette allows access to image size, rotation (including flipping both vertically and horizontally, and alignment (moving front to back and reverse).


Color fill – unless standard colors are chosen, there will be issues matching colors combined when using with bucket fill from the toolbar to add color to cell(s)



formatting options: fill


shape border: line, color (or not)


one of the ways to access size, rotation, aspect ratio


sample results


an in-progress document for experimentation: blog_color_cables. Adjust zoom to personal preference for either viewing or working, grab portions of working screen for images of sections of the workbook to save, or save as, and explore PDF options.

Machine knitting cables: single bed, 1

In hand knitting complex crosses are often worked on the same, knit side of the fabric, making them a bit easier to visualize and track. Knit and purl combinations in surfaces on either side abound. In machine knitting, one is always facing the purl side. If one is attempting to duplicate a hand knit pattern and the direction of the cables is important in the motif created, crosses in the machine knit need to be reversed as seen in an illustration from an earlier post


Common representations take into consideration purl side is always facing the machine knitter for single bed crosses:


Crossings of more than 3 over 3 stitches become difficult on home knitting machines unless special techniques are brought into play. Methods and suggestions vary, depending on source. The least satisfactory one is to knit the whole row prior to the cable crossings at a looser tension. If there is plain knitting between crossings, the change in stitch size across that particular work may be quite noticeable. “All over” cabled fabric will be obviously narrower than plain knit, a feature that may be used in garment “shaping” to draw in resulting fabric in selective areas on plain knit grounds. Generally a looser tension will be required than when using the same yarn in plain knitting.

To start testing the best number of rows knit between crosses, it is a good idea to begin with at least the same number of rows as the total number of stitches involved in the cross ie. 4 rows for a 2 X 2 cable, 6 for a 3 X 3.

Ladders created by leaving needles OOW may be used as markers for vertical rows of cables. They may in turn be left as created or latched up in segments or at the end of knitting to create purl (or other) stitches on both sides of the cables on the  fabric’s knit side. An alternative method for latching up illustrated below, produces tuck stitches in ladder spaces


Working the knit on the single bed, extra yarn for a bit more “give” may  be created by dropping one stitch on either side of the 2 groups to be crossed. The dropped stitches may be latched up after each cross and will appear as purl stitches on the knit side, or left unraveled for open vertical space on cable sides. Bringing needles with crossed stitches all the way forward out to “holding” position helps them knit off more easily and to visually check if indeed all stitches have been placed on the alternate group of needles.

A: crossing stitches, B: latching up the ladder

cross and latch 2

Sometimes the cable configuration may be changed for a similar look to render crossings easier ie. using a 5 stitch cable crossing 2 and 3 stitches respectively,  may be substituted for a 6 stitch one. Larger number crosses may be broken down into smaller groups ie in this 9 stitch cable modification. The chart below is for hand knitting, created in Intwined, with their accompanying directions. Not all publications or software approach HK and symbols and charts in the same manner, requiring varying degrees of study and interpretation in how to either follow or adapt them.

intwined combo

Creating longer stitches to facilitate moving them for cable crosses may be done on any one row by using additional strands of yarn and knitting involved stitches back to A position, creating elongated stitches. If slightly shorter lengths are needed, a cardboard or other spacer may be placed against the rear rail to keep loops even size while pulling yarn back. In the “old” days of MK seminars, a favorite such spacer was made from cutting segments of extra (narrow) strips from window venetian blinds. Bringing needles back into  work requires a bit of care and at least a claw weight, to keep long stitches formed from bouncing off the needles. The larger cross can then be executed and made easier if one has adjustable 7 prong tools. After the cross the larger stitch size may be adjusted slightly by pulling  cautiously on the long end of the yarn. The Brother knitting techniques book is available for free download on more than one site, here is one option. It is a very good resource apart from any standard manuals. Creating the longer stitches is described and seen in the illustration below, found on pp 68-69 of the book. Also shown there: how to carry up the yarn rather than cutting it after each cross,  thus avoiding extra ends that later require weaving in


Larger groups of stitches may be cabled by using holding to shape each section, then removing each of them off the respective needle groups, and crossing them as wanted.

As an experiment: for single, long  crossing strip, I found 7 stitches to be pretty much my maximum manageable width, with tension adjustments. The number was chosen with the intent of using two 7 prong transfer tools to hold and move the stitch groups.

The process: working over a group of 14 stitches  for 7 X 7 cross.

COR: Set your carriage for holding. I had a needle out of work on either side to make tracking easier.

On the side opposite the carriage bring all beyond the 14 cable sts to hold, knit one row.

Now pull all the needles out to work except for those involved in cable. Knit 3 rows across the 14 stitches.

Bring 7  stitches opposite the carriage to hold. Knit an odd number of rows on them (7 in my sample). Yarn will be resting on top of some of the needles that have been in hold, watch that it remains free as you move stitches.

Cross the long strip with the group of 7 stitches towards the front of the fabric, the rest toward its back / the purl side facing you.

Bring cable group’s 14 stitches an the remaining on the side opposite the carriage into work, knit one row, there will still be stitches being held on carriage side.

All stitches in work: knit desired even number of rows, ending with carriage on the same side as at the start of the process, and repeat process for crossings to continue in same the same direction.

Each cable group may also be knit in individual strip forms and then crossed. At least one of the group pairs needs to be knit with a separate strand of yarn. Some experimentation on number of rows knit, etc., and attention paid not trapping the yarn in the wrong place when crosses are made is required. Both methods are fiddly, but manageable after repeats are sorted out. My sample is knit in acrylic, which flattens considerably with steaming . On the left are crosses made with single long strip, on the right, for illustration purposes, the red represents a second strand of yarn that I was able to keep continuous.


To work cables with 2 separate strands of additional yarn, work each cross segment separately, then remove it on waste yarn, dropping it off the needles. Rehang each strip in desired location, crossing as required in pattern. Cut yarn ends may be woven in as plain knit rows between crosses are formed if piece is one color. The experimental swatch below is from one of my much earlier posts on topic. Though my examples here align in straight vertical manner, this method allows for placement anywhere on the knit, in desired spacing, repeat, and cross formation.


Large safety pins, hand knitting stitch holders, and thin circular needles may be used as alternative tools to remove any strips of knitting and in turn used to ease those stitches onto their new needle placement.

Using yarns that are not fragile or easily broken when tension is applied, and that have some amount of “give” at all, such wool as opposed to cotton, also render the process a bit more friendly. Yarns with “memory” such as wool will also retain dimensional qualities and spring back after any blocking.  There are no single best ways to achieve any specific machine knit fabrics; personal preferences and adjustments evolve with experience.

Please enter “cables” as a search topic on left to visit my previously published related posts.




More on charting, foreign symbols, and cables

This topic has come up as part of previous posts. I recently reviewed links and thought I would re-group them a bit differently here, adding some new.  Please click on continue reading to have the list appear as active links if they do not immediately do so in your browser. The latest additions are at the post bottom.

pixelated lettering

letters in knit stitches

care labels

I have been trying to navigate Mac Numbers again, but in playing at my own latest charting with software after the Yosemite update, I find I am drifting back to using Excel once more as my primary “graph paper”. Charts published in foreign languages and magazines, and particularly those in Russian (where the same symbols appear to have different functions depending on the publisher) provide challenges in translating for using charts provided in hand or machine knitting.

Some sources from/for different countries that may help with interpretations:

Anna Burda magazine symbols PDF includes HK how-to illustrations:  ab2  2/1/15

 Verena chart from older pubs easily found on Pinterest

A partial volume of an out of print book on Japanese symbols 

4/24/15: Sconcho is a GUI for creating knitting charts that come with a built-in stitch library. A manual is available. Custom stitch symbols may be created in Inkscape to form personal vector shapes.  X11 may be required to run Inkscape on your computer as well, all are free.

6/14/2020 a free for iPhone and iPad app Knitting Chart  also includes crochet symbols



Knit charting in Mac Yosemite; visualizing knit cables

Some previous blog posts on topic





Updating to Yosemite has provided some interesting issues for me. The first was Safari pretty much becoming unusable. It took a Mac expert and a chunk of his time to resolve the issue. There are still hiccups in other apps. I thought I would revisit some of the methods I have mentioned as usable in knitting charting on Mac via a bit of discussion on cables and visualizing them.

Intwined began having issues in Macs with any custom-built stitch libraries in mid-year 2013. The last update offered and installed in September 2013 has continued to have some functionality issues in later Mac OS versions (Mavericks, and now Yosemite), stripped of any custom stitches built previously, not allowing for their addition. It has become only an occasional go-to for me now. Charts created in the program are easily recognizable.

Inkscape (recommended for creating icons for use in Intwined, a free vector program) will require XQuartz update for Yosemite. Their previous release allowed for its use in Mavericks. is an open-source, free charting software with built-in stitch libraries that may meet many of your charting needs in any OS version

Excel behaves as in the past (my version: Office 08)

Mac Number has once again deleted some familiar menu options, added new ones. My primary font for knit symbols is no longer available, and some of my accumulated knit symbols from other font sources continue to work on the mac, but are unsupported if using the iPad version of the program, where they appear as the original  keyboard strokes, rather than the assigned symbols

GIMP 2.8.4 (2.8.8 did not), HyperDither, appear functional as in past.

Tracking and visualizing custom cables outside the parameters of built-in libraries or fonts/symbols in alternative software, using Numbers 3.5: one of the problems that can be encountered in charting cables is that programs with built-in stitch libraries may not provide for cable crossings specific to your pattern. The charts below have not been proofed executable in a swatch at this point in time, are simply a way of exploring drawing methods, my working notes from some quick experiments, not a step by step tutorial. I have no way of confirming results in previous versions of the software or OS.

available “shapes”

To make them editable, click on the shape, go to format menu, highlight shapes and lines-> make editable. Click on the shape and in turn on the format symbol below in the image below, and windows become available for style and arrangement choices

The knit and purl symbols on the left of my first chart utilizing line with arrow shapes are standard ones. The right side uses a dot for purl stitches instead of a line, and that began to make the whole more readable to me. One drawback is “shapes” do not seem to respond to any copy and paste demands and I had to draw each individually. I preferred to place them outside my chart. Guidelines then appear to suit for easy resizing and the resulting edit may then be dragged and dropped into the appropriate location in the chart, readjusted as/if needed. Color palettes for drawing appear limited to the built-in shades; toggling between available colors may be accessed by clicking on the dots below the pen tool in the first illustration above.  In the chart, purple lines indicate stitches brought forward, yellow the stitches brought to back when working the cables. The number 10 in the left-hand column should be a one.

Cleaning up lines and adding color if needed may be done in Photoshop or GIMP; this makes forward stitches a bit clearer

bucket fill provides an added way to follow the movement of stitches

Utilizing the pen tool in shapes menu to draw custom cable crosses and filling them using the option within the numbers program moves toward an all color chart_ far quicker than using lines and bucket fills. The red segment indicates knit stitches traveling in the back for the cable cross

A lot of information is available on creating reversible cable fabrics using ribbed configurations. I thought I would play with knit/ purl blocks rather than vertical rib lines. The initial chart was begun in Intwined, with bucket tool filled in Photoshop to extend colors within cable crosses. The red border outlines the pattern repeats. Alternate right side rows are shown; all wrong side rows are worked as the stitches appear (knit stitches are knit, and purl stitches are purled). Here the cell colors happen to be reversed from their use in the above, the yellow is used for knit stitches, the green the purls. I opted to indicate knit stitches by color only, no symbol.

This is the resulting swatch, in random acrylic yarn, with varying numbers of rows in between cable crossings my plan is to create a scarf in significantly thicker alpaca yarn, a strictly HK fabric. The photo shows both sides of the fabric.

A hand knit stitch tale 2: a bit of cables and lace, charting, hk to mk

For a while, there was agreement on “international symbols” for charting knits. With the proliferation of programs now and methods for self charting and publishing using fonts and personal icons, things can get a bit confusing. Hand knitting in the circular akin to machine knitting results in stitches always worked on one side of the fabric, another consideration. In the last Russian pattern in the previous post, I was unable to get the repeat to work properly regardless of any common meaning I tried to assign to several of the symbols. I have used Intwined for some charting in the past, am finding it problematic again in Mavericks Mac OS, and my go-to for the moment is the latest version of Numbers (3.2), which appears to include changes that make it even more intuitive and easier to use than the previous version. My symbols library includes the Aire river knitting font and an assortment of wingdings and oddball characters found in some of Mac’s built-in libraries.

my hand knit version

Taking it to the machine: chart’s beginning

tweaking it a bit, taking in consideration only the purl side will be facing

flipping it to achieve the same direction transfers as HK

knit on 260 bulky KM

The large hole at the bottom left of the image is not due to a dropped stitch, but rather to yarn breakage. The sample was knit in worsted weight wool, and I found I needed a far looser tension than I would normally use for the same yarn to allow the double transfers to knit off properly. Eliminating the combinations of knit and purl within any one row as seen in the hand-knit version avoided retooling those stitches as well.

 A revisit on topic, April 2015

I am back now to once again, using primarily excel to create all my charts. Various Russian, German, and one English pub have offered variations of this particular fabric, some needing interpretation, but consistencies in repeats are easily recognized and isolated.



this image is from, they call it grand-eyelet-lattice, and provide written instructions for its execution


below is another relative, charted in Intwined, with the program’s associated written instructions; repeat is 4 stitches wide by 8 rows tall, border stitches are not represented; cable crosses are reversed after every other eyelet sequence, yet another pattern variable

trellis 3repeats

eyelet trellis how toa chart for same using Sconcho and its built-in stitch library. For software details please see symbols post 


4/26/15 a variation found today on knitca, another resource for hand knitting stitch pattern collections; this is their image


 1/2/2016 a Ravelry post on the stitch family

Pretend/ mock cables 2

I  had begun this post eons ago, and somehow it became a UFO. A recent discussion on Ravelry re using elastic yarns brought this swatch to mind, and here is the start of a return to the cable pretender category.

Big Pretender: this fabric is thread lace, using elastic for one yarn, and very fine mohair for other: a useful fabric for tightly fitting garments or garment sections, without the hand transfers or the rigidity of an all-over cabled item. The positions for the 2 yarns are reversed, so they both will knit the unpunched areas of the card, and where there are punched holes the elastic will create floats, pulling on the knit only stitches in the alternate yarn, creating the surface blistering.

the punchcard

Some suggestions for working with elastic yarn: the nature of the fabric created when knitting with elastic ie in FI is greatly affected by the yarn used, the elastic used, and the pattern being knit. Larger swatches than usual are required to estimate gauge for use of the resulting fabric in garments, at least 100 sts by 100 rows. If using a pre-drawn motif, doubling width and height may be a quick way to make up for “shrinkage” of the pattern. As with all fussy yarns make certain the elastic flows freely and is not getting hung up on the bottom of the cone. Sometimes if loose tension is not enough to make it manageable, the upper tension dial may be bypassed completely. Edges of fabric will be cleaner if the elastic knits on the end needle at least every other row. This is one fabric that benefits from the use of weights. Steaming helps the elastic to spring back after finishing the piece, test small areas, and best temp on your own iron.

A series of publications using a technique published much earlier in Japanese books as swatch samples “magic cables” by Ricky Mundstock, tuck stitch, and hooking up / ruching stitches combine to create the illusion.

more to follow