Cables can be quite intimidating when you first start knitting them and there seem to be a lot of different variations to learn. If you are using a pattern with a chart, this can make things a lot easier as the cable symbols often look the same as the end result. If you’re not familiar with knitting from a chart, try reading my How To Read Knitting Charts: The Basics post first.
There are two main ways of naming cables, depending on whether the focus is on the action taken to make the stitch or the desired end result.
Slip next 2 stitches to cable needle and place at back of work, k2, then k2 from cable needle.
This symbol is usually called either C4B or 2/2 RC. C4B means that the cable uses four stitches in total and the cable needle is held at the back – the opposite stitch is the C4F where the cable needle is held at the front. 2/2 RC means that the cable is formed from two stitches crossing over two stitches and the cable crosses from left to right – the opposite stitch would be the 2/2 LC.
In the C4B notation it is easy to see how to make the stitch, but if a cable is unbalanced, e.g. with three stitches crossing over one then it would still make four stitches in total but have a different look. That is why in my patterns I prefer the 2/2 RC notation. I also find it easier to visualise the end result from just the name.
Deconstructing a Cable Symbol
While you can consult the key every time you come to a cable, it’s easier and quicker to be able to work out what to do based on the symbol itself.
Number of Stitches
The first step is to determine how many stitches are involved in the cable. While the cable is made from one symbol, it will cover multiple boxes of a chart, as it uses more than one stitch. Use the boxes of the row below or above to count how many stitches are involved. In this example, the cables on the top row use two stitches and the cables on the bottom row use four stitches. I have superimposed the grid lines onto the symbols on the left to make this clearer.
If the cables are uneven, the symbol shows which side uses more stitches by wider or narrower symbols and the diagonal lines meet the gridlines to show how many stitches are used for each side. Here on the left is a 1/2 RC, with the one stitch in front of the two stitches and on the right a 2/1 LC with the two stitches in front of the one stitch. In this notation, the first number is always the number of stitches at the front.
Back or Front
A cable is made of two or more parts. When you look at a cable symbol, you need to identify which part is on top. Here that part is shaded in green, with the part below in blue. Remember in a chart the stitches are building on the row below, like in knitting. Therefore the next stitches on the left-hand needle are the ones in the bottom right of the symbol because in knitting we work from right to left.
If the lines coming from the bottom right go behind the lines from the bottom left, like in the 2/2 RC, then you need to hold the cable needle at the back. Similarly, if the lines from the bottom right cross over the lines from the bottom left, like in the 2/2 LC, then you hold the cable needle at the front.
Knit or Purl
Cables do not have to just use knit stitches, especially in patterns using travelling cables they often involve purls or twisted stitches. This is shown by taking the basic symbol and adding decoration to show which stitches to use.
I create all my charts using Stitchmastery. This software has two main options for how symbols look.
In the Stitchmastery Dot font purls are represented by dots, whereas in the Dash font purl sections in cables are solid black. Once you know how the pattern you are using represents purls and twisted stitches, you can apply that to all the cables in that pattern.
The additional symbols are shown at the top of the cable symbol, as that represents the stitches being worked. The bottom of the cable symbol represents the stitches from the row below. This means that the first stitches worked are the symbol from the top right. For the 1/1 RPC, this means the first stitch is knit and the second (from the cable needle) is purled.
There are always exceptions to any rule and sometimes designers are forced to create non-standard cables. However, this guide should help you understand most cable symbols and allow you to knit without continually consulting the key or looking up definitions.