cable babble

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as a buildup to my next interview with an athlete in the Olympic Women’s Cabling Event, i indulge in a general discussion about the technique. not that this will help anyone with their own cabling necessarily . . .

in our classes, i often find that once new knitters get their groove on and realize that, for each one of us, there IS a knitting sweet spot, a fair majority begin setting their sites on Cable Knitting as their personal vision quest. most are completely stumped about how this myterious texture is made, and, to them, having a shot at Achieving Cable is tantamount to say, mastering the triple/double toe loop combination.

i can really identify with them; a long (ok, looong) ways back, when i was really small, cables were my knitting Holy Grail. i would examine Gram’s knitting in wonder; the overlapping spirals with the little tunnels in them were, hands-down, the most captivating parts. i would examine them for long periods of time, absorbed in their mysterious architecture. how did one make fabric where sections literally rose up out of the surface and then became embedded again after crossing over? i would not be satisfied until i learned to do THAT. boy, was i surprised to find out how laughably simple it is to execute a cable. there HAD to be more to it, right?

well of course there is.

i just hadn’t seen many examples of those very complex cables. simple cables ARE easy, but they are just the tip of the iceberg; there are twists, and twists involving knit/purl combinations, as well as increses ar decreases, and yarnovers. there are ones you can do right on the needles, and ones that really feel better using the third stick.

the third stick (sometimes known as “the devil needle” because of it’s deceptive cuteness) might be the knitter’s first clue that something could go terribly wrong with the decision to go down the Cabled path. knowing HOW to cable is one thing; it is pretty easy to do. never mind that it involves intentionally taking stitches off your needle and putting them somewhere else; one gets over that afte the first few times.

what really hurts, and what no one tells you, is that reading the chart, following the chart, remembering which row you are on, and repeating the chart correctly are the real challenges. add multiple patterns, as in a traditional aran garment, and most people’s eyes glaze over til they are gently steered back toward the felted bags and fun fur.

now, i love charts for cabling, and i learnt to use them fairly easily. the language of symbols made sense to me right away (whatever indicator THAT might be about the state of my brain synapses). so i am a big proponent of chart reading for many types of knitting (lace, NOT; personally, i really like written instructions for lace patterns better, though i’ll use a chart if that’s all i have).

teaching others to use a chart? mmm, not so easy. i am always being reminded (sometimes kindly, sometimes not) that knitting symbology is not necessarily intuitive. and that reading the chart as if you are looking at the right side while you are actually working on the wrong side? again, not so intuitive (and again, no comment about the state of my brain cells that i never even realized i was reading backwards in a chart). let’s just say that explaining these concepts to a group of eight eager knitters is what really kicks my butt. every time. the magic? the magic is the next week when they come back all excited with a good length of cabled fabric. the magic happens when they go home and knit, organizing for themselves an understanding of new and strange ways to manipulate the needles. i don’t get to see the “aha” moments usually, but i DO get to share the thrill and excitement of the result, and the urge to try even more complicated stitches next. that’s what i live for!

tomorrow i’ll profile debbie j, who is knitting a cabled scarf for her olympic project. this is a story of true olympic-level determination; debbie started the scarf in december and was about 24 inches into it when she realized she was making her twists incorrectly. she ripped out the whole thing and restarted it, determined to conquer it as her olympic challenge.

by the way, check out ken’s (fey) cables; he is knitting a Durrow sweater (from for his olympic glory.

feather and fan blowout?

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team LACEPACERS nearly suffered a tragic loss this weekend when team member beth p. threw down her knitting in frustration at having to rip out 8+ rows. later, toeing the work and snuffling through the straw of her (ever present) diet coke, she grudgingly reconsidered when the baby fine alpaca flashed doe eyes and dimples her way (beth is a sucker for that stuff).

here’s beth now; let’s catch up with her and ask a few questions.

me: beth, how long HAVE you been knitting exactly?
beth: about a year.

me: i see, so, ripping out 8 + rows of lace is a pretty big deal then.
beth: well, yes, especially when i can’t blame anyone else! no one else was even home when it happened.

me: oh my—wherever did you get the courage to get going again?
beth: my teammate debbie really helped me out with that; i could not have gone on without her encouragement.

me: well now, back to your project; you have doubled your length since our last talk! how about that?!!

beth: (suddenly bashful) well, yeesss, actually i have.

me: tell me, how long can you sit, or stand, and knit at one time?
beth: i can pretty much sit forever with my knitting and a diet coke!

me: what needles do you prefer, beth?
beth: well, i love my denise needle set, but for this project i am using size 8 bamboo straights; i don’t know why!

me: i hope you don’t feel pressured by your teammates.
beth: well, there is some of that of course, but overall, it’s a healthy amount.

me: and, i understand, you have very inspiring family support. care to share that with our knitting public?
beth: well, my sister-in-law had a kidney transplant on friday, so i am knitting with her in mind.

me: really, that is so thoughtful of you!
beth: yes, we have many ties that “stitch us together”, so i though this would be a good way to channel the right kind of energy toward her recovery.

me: and what about after the olympics, beth? you must have things you’ve been putting off in order to compete. what will you do when you don’t have the shawl to haul about?
beth: i plan to conquer socks next!

me: (knowingly)ooohhhh yes, socks. a true test of one’s patience; tiny needles, tiny yarn, tiny, tiny stitches . . .
beth: er, well, (uncomfortably) yes, i uh, well, i’ll speak to my teacher about what’s best for me to take on next; (brightening) could be something quick ‘n’ chunky!

me: well, beth, whatever is in your future, i’m sure you will do just fine. knit on, woman; make us proud!
beth: thank you; (gushing) thank you all so much!

and that’s all the time we have now. please join us again tomorrow as we spotlight more LACEPACERS in action!

featured athlete: our beth

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today i am bringing you part 1 of my SPOTLIGHT on the LACEPACERS interviews, this one starring beth p!

beth has been taking wednesday night classes with me for a few months now (that is, the raucous, unruly wednesday night class). this is a class of about 8 people, most of whom began knitting about a year ago. beth joined us december and has completed several projects that stretched her knitting muscles, including mitts and socks on four needles, cabled scarves, and her newest venture, lace knitting. she trained for the olympics by knitting the Feather and Fan Lace Scarf (more about pattern later), which was her first experience with openwork knitting. her success inspired her to embrace the idea of olympic glory by committing to the Feather and Fan Lace Stole project, a longer, wider version of the scarf.

3 days before the event began, she found the perfect yarn: Prime Baby Fine Alpaca in a beautiful taupe color (<Black Dog).
here are some excerpts from my conversation with beth:

me: how long have you ben knitting lace?
beth: oh, just a few weeks!

me: (incredulously) you gotta be kidding me!
beth: well, (blushing) i had a good teacher . . .

me: really, well, she must be! your work is AWESOME! tell me, how do you like your yarn?
beth: oh, i love it; this is my first project using alpaca. i am happy with the color—although next time i would want to use a variegated yarn of the same soft type. the plain color seems like too much work and i’m not sure it shows the stitch pattern as well.

me: i see your point. now, this is an endurance event for sure, 84 inches of the same stitch! what do you do to keep it interesting?
beth: i am watching the olympics on tv and watching the shawl grow!! at first, i thought the project wouldn’t be completed until the next olympics but it is moving along nicely. i thought i would tire of it easily, but i find it’s almost like a baby with a toy—goes everywhere with me. in fact, yesterday, i traveled to assess an Entry Year Teacher (beth has a REAL job, too) for licensure and found myself knitting over the lunch hour at a local resturant! I can’t seem to put it down.

me: hmm, did you ever explore attachment issues? er, let’s see, how long is your shawl now after Day 5?
beth: approximately 22 inches long.

me: nice! so that means that after 16 days, if you knit at the same rate, you should have about 70-ish inches. doesn’t that mean you will have to step things up a bit?
beth: well, i WASN’T worried about it til you put it that way . . .

me: let’s move on! what made you choose this pattern?
beth: i find these knitspot patterns to be clear, precise, and easy for the new knitter to follow. i am definitely devoted to the brand!

me: so, you just purchased the pattern, took it home, and started the project without any help?
beth: yup!

let’s take a closer look at beth’s piece to see the stitch pattern:

and that’s all we have time for today, but catch us again for more on beth and her project as well as other LACEPACER knitting olympians