By Cheryl Beckerich
Traveling cables appear to be complicated, but in reality, cables are nothing more than working your stitches out of order. Many times, cables are used to create a twist or braid that creates a vertical column up your fabric. Vertical cables are a great feature of many knitted garments, but the techniques used to create those columns can be used to add some other interesting design features to your knitting projects. In the pictured Cable Swirl Tam and Mittens, the cables evolve from the ribbing, which begins the hat and each mitten.
Cables can pop off the fabric, but they only pop if they are contrasted with a background that lends itself to defining the cable. In this case, the background is reverse stockinette stitch. It is one of the most used and best performing backgrounds for cables. It is a good choice for several reasons. When you combine knit stitches and purl stitches in ribbing (like a knit 2, purl 2 rib), the knit stitches naturally raise themselves up above the purl stitches. The knit stitches want to be out front, and the purl stitches want to stay in the background. It is one of the natural characteristics of knitting that we take advantage of on many sweaters or hats. In addition, since the knit stitch and the purl stitch are opposites, or the front and back of the same stitch, the juxtaposition between the two will provide the greatest amount of contrast.
Going back to the pattern, both the Cable Swirl Tam and Mittens require some shaping. The number of stitches needed on both pieces is increased in order to fit properly. In contrast, at the top of both the tam and the mittens, the number of stitches needed decreases. This is where the background really shines. You can add stitches by purling into the front and the back of a stitch, or by making 1 purlwise.
Because it is in the background, you can tell that the fabric is getting larger, but you do not see exactly where that happens. The fabric is decreased in size by using purl 2 together, again in the background stitches, and again, virtually invisible. The cables are out front, and they can move to the right or to the left at varying angles. The only thing they cannot do is move horizontally.
Traveling Cables Explained
Cables will travel to the left when the cabled stitches are held to the front of the work and to the right when they are held to the back of the work. The angle of travel depends on the frequency of cabling. I chose to use the cable technique every other round. Cables can be worked every round to make the stitches to travel faster, or you can add 2 or 3 rounds in between cables for a more gradual movement. Knitting traveling cables is a great introduction to cabling that really highlights the results of holding stitches to the front of your work versus the back of your work.