Cabling without a Cable Needle

The Nordlándda KAL is in full swing over on The Fibre Company Ravelry group, and everyone is doing a fantastic job of working their way through all the cables! But it also seemed like a good time to publish a tutorial on cabling without a cable needle, as that's how I knit all the samples. While is sounds intimidating, the technique isn't all that difficult - it just takes a bit of patience and practice!

My handspun BFL wound up and ready to cast on for the KAL!

My handspun BFL wound up and ready to cast on for the KAL!

Cables are a wonderfully satisfying thing to knit – all those twists and turns! – but sometimes they’re just more fiddly than seems worth it. There’s that cable needle that you need to find before you start, and that thing is hard to keep track of, particularly when your cables aren’t worked very often. The good news is that for many cables you don’t need to use a cable needle; most 2-, 4- and even 5- or 6-stitch cables can be done without a cable needle.

Cables are the result of working your stitches out of order. Instead of working Stitches 1, 2, 3 and 4 as they appear, you work them in a different order to cross the stitches over each other in a designated fashion. Let’s look at the 2/2 LC (left cross, also known as 2/2 Front Cross or C2F) cable as an example:

This cable is worked over four stitches, with the first two stitches crossed over (in front of) the second two stitches, resulting in a  band that leans to the left. If working with a cable needle, the instructions for this cable read: slide next 2 stitches to cable needle and hold to front of work, k2, k2 from cable needle. In other words, you’re moving the first two stitches of the cable to the front of your fabric and knitting the next two stitches before going back to the original first two stitches of the cable, creating a left-leaning cross.

To work a 2/2 RC (right cross) cable, the instructions would read: slide next 2 stitches to cable needle and hold to back of work, k2, k2 from cable needle. This results in crossing the first two stitches behind the second two stitches, creating right-leaning cross.

Both of these are pretty straightforward manoeuvres, but what about when you’re on the bus and have dropped your cable needle? What about if you’re settled in to watch the new season of Sherlock and your cable needle has gotten eaten by the couch cushions? This cable, and all of the others used in the Nordlándda collection, can be easily worked without a cable needle. All it takes a little practice, a deep breath and a cup of tea (or wine, whichever you prefer!)

Let’s use an easier cable for our first attempt: the 1/1 RC, a two stitch cable in which the first stitch is crossed behind the second stitch.

Step 1: Work to where the cable is situated. Slide the tip of the right (or working) needle through the second stitch on the left (non-working) needle from the front of the work.

Please excuse the plaster - I had a run in with a cheese grater.

Please excuse the plaster - I had a run in with a cheese grater.

Step 2: Take a deep breath and slide both of the stitches in the cable off the left needle, being careful to gently trap the free stitch against the working needle with your forefinger.

Step 3: move the tip of the left needle back behind the fabric and catch the free stitch, effectively crossing it behind the fabric, then slip the first stitch on the right needle back to the left needle.

Now work the stitches as required (for this example both stitches are knit). Voila! You’ve just worked a cable without a cable needle!

Now let’s try a 1/1 LC: this is worked just like the 1/1 RC, but from the opposite side of the work.

Step 1: Work to the cable and slide the tip of the right needle through the second stitch on the left needle from the back of the work.

Step 2: Carefully slip both stitches off the left needle, trapping the free stitch against the right needle with your thumb.

Step 3: Grab that free stitch with the left needle, crossing in front of the fabric,

before returning both stitches to the left needle and working as required. That’s it.

Now let’s try something a bit more complicated: a 2/2 RC.

Step 1: Work to the site of the cable and slide the tip of the right needle through the third and fourth stitches on the left needle from the front of the fabric.

Step 2: Carefully slide all 4 cable stitches off the needle, trapping the free stitches against the needle with your right forefinger.

Step 3: Swing the tip of the left needle behind the work and rescue those free stitches, crossing them behind the work.

Step 4: Return the first two stitches on the right needle (originally the third and fourth stitches of the cable) to the left hand needle and worked as indicated.

To work a 2/2 LC, the procedure is just the same, but you pick up the third and fourth stitches on the left needle from the back instead of the front, and cross the stitches the opposite way.

I hope you can see that simple cables can be worked without a cable needle fairly easily. But what about more complicated cables, like those dreaded 2/1/2 versions where you slide 2 stitches to one cable needle on one side of the work, the next stitch to another cable needle on the other side of the work, and then k2, p1 from second cable needle, k2 from first cable needle? You can still work these without the cable needle(s), but they are a bit trickier.

Here’s how to work a 2/1/2 RPC (right purl cross):

Step 1: Work to cable – there should be five stitches for this cable in total, presenting as two knit stitches, one purl stitch, and two knit stitches. Slide the tip of the left needle through stiches 3, 4 and 5 (purl stitch and last two knit stitches) from the front of the work.

Step 2: Slide all five stitches of the cable off the left needle, trapping the two free stitches against the right needle with your forefinger.

Step 3: Insert the tip of the left needle through the two free stitches and cross them behind the three remaining cable stitches.

Step 4: Now insert the tip of the left needle into the purl stitch from the back of the work and slide the purl stitch and two knit stitches off the right needle, trapping those free knit stitches against the left needle.

Step 5: Insert the tip of the right needle through those two free stitches, crossing them over the rest of the cable, and return them to the left hand needle.

You’ll now work k2, p1, k2, but because the order of the stitches on the needle has been rearranged, you’ll end up with a lovely cable cross, performed entirely without cable needles!

The key things to remember when doing cables without a cable needle for the first few times are to take it slow and relax – those free stitches won’t go anywhere unless a sudden movement or sharp tug makes them get scared and run away. Don’t rush and don’t panic, and before you know it you’ll be whizzing through your cable projects at enviable speed, with many fewer lost cable needles!

Lab Goddess Fibre Club January 2017

The first fibre club of the year should have landed in its new homes by now, so it's time for some glamour shots of the January colourway!

Diving into the Deep on Romney

Diving into the Deep on Romney

This month's colourway was inspired by a woman who mapped the unseeable. Marie Tharp was an American geologist and ocean cartographer and, together with her research partner, Bruce Heezen, made the first systematic effort to map the entire ocean floor. When their map of the entire floor of the Atlantic Ocean was published in 1977, it revealed the existence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an enormous crack in the planet's skin running from north to south along the entire length of the Atlantic. This rift is the site of new crust formation, as molten rock from the earth's core swells upwards, creating a globe-long series of volcanos. The eruptions of these volcanos create new ocean floor, forcing the tectonic plates apart. Their maps helped provide proof for the theory of plate tectonics, which revolutionised geology.

My mind’s image of the colours around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge inspired this month’s dye combination; white hot molten lava hitting the icy cold ocean depths and rapid cooling through orange to red to purple and ultimately cold black. With a lot of blue thrown in for the deep water, this colourway will spin up mostly dark blue and purple tones, with pops of bright red and yellow throughout.

I think I'm going to spin mine up for a pair of socks - Romney is one of the longwools, and I'm going to spin this as a two ply with lots of twist to make a hard wearing yarn. Looking forward to getting started on this over the weekend!

Lab Goddess Fibre Club, Q4 2016

So somewhere in the haze that was October-December, I managed to completely forget about a) this blog and b) sharing the monthly fibre club colourways. What this means is that I now get to do one biiiiig blog post about all of them, and remind you to sign up for the first quarter of 2017, which is currently being dyed...;-)

First up: October's lovely Alchemy on moorit Shetland, inspired by Irène Joliot-Curie:

As the Lab Goddess Fibre Club came around to its one year anniversary, it seemed appropriate to highlight the daughter of the inaugural Lab Goddess, Marie Curie. Like her mother, Irène Joliot-Curie worked on radioactivity. However, her path to scientific success took a different route. Her scientific studies were interrupted by World War I, and she spent time with her mother running the mobile field hospitals equipped with the first X-ray machines used in the field. After the war, she returned to Paris to study at the Radium Institute, and met her husband, Frédéric Joliot. They combined their efforts to study atomic nuclei, identifying positrons and neutrons.

In 1934, the Joliot-Curies made the discovery that would later earn them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935; they converted boron into nitrogen, aluminium into phosphorus and magnesium into silicon, all through the use of radioactive irradiation. In their successful conversion of one element into another, the Joliot-Curies realised a long-held dream of natural philosophers for hundreds of years: alchemical transmutation. The transformation of aluminium into phosphorus is, perhaps, not as impressive as turning lead into gold, but the actual conversion of one element into another is a stunning achievement.

For the colour inspiration, I found an image of a poster for a modern musical by Clive Nolan, a progressive rock musician and composer, called Alchemy. The colours were a perfect match for the fibre I chose for this month’s club – swirling dark black, blues and greys, with pops of red and orange.

Next up: November - Hive on superwash Bluefaced Leicester, inspired by nuclear physicist Eva Crane:

Eva Crane (née Eva Widdowson) obtained her doctorate in nuclear physics, and was a lecturer on nuclear physics at Sheffield University, beginning in 1941. The following year, she married James Crane and they received a swarm of bees as a wedding present – the giver hoped the hive would help supplement their wartime sugar ration. Dr. Crane soon became fascinated with the hive and joined a local bee club. This unusual wedding present sparked an interest that dominated the rest of her life.

Dr. Crane wrote over 180 papers, articles and books on bees. They ranged from the history of beekeeping through beekeeping methods and the nutritional aspects of honey. Her studies took her all over the world, to more than 60 countries, and she was regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on apiculture. The US Department of Agriculture used her research to help bees in Louisiana develop resistance to mites that had been devastating the local population by breeding them to the Russian mite-resistant bees mentioned in her book.

With the arrival of winter, I was craving some bright, summer colours on my wheel! Enter this colourway, inspired by the buzz of summer: there’s dark amber for sweet, sticky honey, some really dark brown and bright yellow for the stripes of the bees, and some paler tones to even everything out.

Which finally brings us to the last instalment of 2016: Typhi, inspired by toxicologist and occupational health pioneer, Alice Hamilton.

Alice Hamilton was born in New York City and raised in Indiana. She received her medical degree in 1893, and developed an interest in public health, bacteriology and pathology. These interests found common ground when, in 1897, she moved to Chicago to take a position at Northwestern University and became a member and resident of Hull House.

Hull House was founded 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, and based on the Toynbee Hall, a centre for social reform in the East End of London. The mission of Hull House was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people, particularly recent immigrants.

During her time at Hull House, Dr. Hamilton focused her efforts identifying the causes of typhoid and tuberculosis in the surrounding community. Her work led to an overhaul of sanitary practices in the city. In 1908, she was appointed to the newly formed state Commission on Occupational Diseases, and focused on industrial poisons. Their report resulted in the passage of occupational disease laws in a number of states. She continued working on occupational health for the rest of her career, as well as continuing her efforts for the wormen’s rights and peace movements.

In 1919, Hamilton was offered a position in the new Department of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In going to Harvard, she became the first woman to be appointed to the university faculty in any field.



The colourway for the December club was derived from an image from the CDC of multi-antibiotic-resistant typhoid bacteria. The bacteria in the image have been depicted as pink, a somewhat fluffy colour for something so deadly. I found the black/pink contrast too stark when I tested it though, so I paired pinks and burgundy with shades of brown. These supplemental colours also reflect the places in the human body where the Salmonella typhi bacteria live – the blood and intestines.


So that's the overview of the fourth quarter of 2016 from the Lab Goddess Fibre Club. Spaces are still available in the next round, running from January-March - the first colourway is in progress and will be shipping out the week of 16th January. Fibre club sign ups will close at the end of the day on Friday the 13th of January, so don't miss out!

Diffident Light

I've been enjoying a long-ish break from most web things and social media over the holiday period, but as it's New Year's Eve, it seems like a good time to share some words.

The past year has been a pretty awful one in a number of ways - I feel like I'm hearing more hate and vitriol seemingly everywhere I turn, there is an appalling lack everywhere of people using what I still refer to as "listening ears", and hope has been in shockingly short supply in my neck of the woods. Every morning seems to bring reports of new atrocities, or the loss of yet one more public figure, or the normalisation of yet another example of horrible things people say about those that are different. I'm hoping that with this last day of 2016 I can leave some of that behind, and start looking forward to 2017.

Every day on my way to work, I take the train to Waterloo Station and walk through the underpass below the Imax theatre roundabout towards the Southbank. This means that everyday I get the opportunity to read what has become one of my favourite poems - Eurydice by Sue Hubbard. So at the end of a year that is best left behind in our collective rearview mirrors, I share it with you, and hope that it speaks to you in whatever way you need. Happy New Year.

Eurydice by Sue Hubbard (2004)

I am not afraid as I descend,
step by step, leaving behind the salt wind
blowing up the corrugated river,

the damp city streets, their sodium glare
of rush-hour headlights pitted with pearls of rain;
for my eyes still reflect the half-remembered moon.

Already your face recedes beneath the station clock,
a damp smudge among the shadows,
mirrored in the train's wet glass,

will you forget me? Steel tracks lead you out
past cranes and crematoria,
boat yards and bike sheds, ruby shards

of roman glass and wolf-bone mummified in mud,
the rows of curtained windows like eyelids
heavy with sleep, to the city's green edge.

Now I stop my ears with wax, hold fast
the memory of the song you once whispered in my ear.
Its echoes tangle like briars in my thick hair.

You turned to look.
Second fly past like birds.
My hands grow cold. I am ice and cloud.

This path unravels.
Deep in hidden rooms filled with dust
and sour night-breath the lost city is sleeping.

Above the hurt sky is weeping,
soaked nightingales have ceased to sing.
Dusk has come early. I am drowning in blue.

I dream of a green garden
where the sun feathers my face
like your once eager kiss.

Soon, soon I will climb
from this blackened earth
into the diffident light.

The shortest day of the year

It's a dreary grey day in London today, and there isn't going to be much of it. For today is the Winter Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight all year (a mere 7 hours and 49 minutes).

To celebrate the depths of winter, and the gradual return of the sun, today is the kick off of a fantastic KAL hosted by The Fibre Company, featuring their glorious Tundra yarn and the patterns from the Nordlándda collection!

All images copyright 2016 Kate O'Sullivan for The Fibre Co.

The KAL is being hosted in the I Heart The Fibre Co. Ravelry group, and will run through the last day of winter, on March 20th. 

As a special deal, you can get three of the Nordlándda collection patterns for the price of two - just use the coupon code Northland17 when you check out to receive your discount. I'll be hanging around the KAL thread on Ravelry to answer any questions and cheer people on, and I'm excited to be joining in!

Copyright 2016 Kate O'Sullivan for The Fibre Co.

Copyright 2016 Kate O'Sullivan for The Fibre Co.

I'm going to knit Fauske in some handspun Bluefaced Leicester - the singles are done, but now I've got to ply and finish the yarn before I can cast on. Looking forward to having you all join in!