Receive HTML?

Joomla Extensions powered by Joobi


Please fill out the information below to subscribe to our newsletter.
First Name
Last Name
Email Address*

By Fiona Ellis

Cables are luscious and gorgeous and can make you look like a knitting genius.
With long, lean, vertical, or meandering lines, there’s a lot to love. But sometimes to achieve a garment that fits well it’s necessary to add or modify the shaping—how do you do that within cable patterning?

What if you are wider around the hips than the bust, or vice versa? In the former, working the size that fits your hips will require you to reduce the size around the bust. In the case of the latter, choosing the size that fits your hips will be too tight around the bust. Of course there are many other scenarios that will require the piece you are knitting to be something other than a flat rectangle. So let’s take a look at the options.

Lesson 1: Unobtrusive Cable Shaping

Let’s look at how to work shaping without drawing attention to it, allowing the eye to enjoy the cable patterning without really noticing the changes in shape.

Imagine vertical columns of cables with areas of reverse stockinette between; the shaping will take place in these negative spaces between the cables. If the spaces are larger, all the shaping can take place in one space. If the cable columns are closer together, there may not be enough stitches between to work the shaping at the same point each time, in which case, the total number of increases or decreases will be spread across several of these negative spaces.

In the ditch:
The eye is always drawn to the point where the most change is taking place. Cables are typically set on a ground of reverse stockinette because the difference between the two fabrics makes the cables pop. This means that there will generally be at least one purl stitch on either side of a column of cables. Because there is already a change occurring it is easy to disguise a secondary change, like adding shaping, at that same point.

By purling two stitches together immediately before or after a cable, decreases are hardly noticeable—aside from the obvious change in width of the fabric of course. Similarly, when increasing, working the increase stitches in the ditch on either side of the cable makes them similarly hard to detect.

The cable on the right is worked on a ground of reverse stockinette; the decreases are worked as p2tog on either side of the cable, and the increases are worked as M1p. The cable on the left is placed on a ground of stockinette and has one purl stitch on either side. Decreases are worked as p2tog on either side; increases are worked as lifted increases in the last and first knit stitch before and after the purl stitch. 


When crossing stitches:
Another hidden method of changing the stitch count is when a cable cross is being worked. The stitches behind cable crosses are hard to distinguish. Because of this, a sleight of hand can be worked to either decrease or increase the stitch count. Two or more stitches can be worked together to become one stitch or an increase can be worked to add to the stitch count. This can only be done by working into or between the stitches obscured by the cable crosses, otherwise it can be more visible and not very attractive.

This method is especially useful when cables are traveling across the ground of the fabric, rather than set in vertical columns. The downside is that the stitch count can only be changed on a row when a cable cross is taking place.

The cable pattern on the right is worked without any change in stitch count. In the pattern on the left, the stitch count is reduced when working the crosses in the lower section of the diamond and increased when working the crosses in the upper section. Notice how the fabric is pulled in at the narrowest point.

Here, a close-up of two stitches being worked together to reduce the stitch count.

Lesson 2: Feature Cable Shaping
Working cable crosses automatically narrows the fabric and removes some of its elasticity. So the number of crosses in a given row will affect the overall width of the piece. This is why it is important to work gauge swatches over cable patterns as well as over stockinette.

Cable compression:
Cables cause compression of the fabric width, so shaping can be added by careful placement of cables and changes in cable patterning without actually changing the number of stitches on the needle. By changing the number of cable crosses, the patterning can make the piece narrower or wider.

This is useful when gentle shaping might be an advantage, like making a cuff snug around the wrist. The effect can be further enhanced by also changing the stitch count above and/or below any patterning changes to give the illusion of cinching.

Adding cable crosses draws the piece in slightly. Adding more cable crosses across a row will narrow the piece more. Notice how the fabric in the upper section of the swatch flares  where the cable patterning is stopped.

Diminishing cables:
This is a variation of an unobtrusive crossing method shown above. Here, the stitch count is decreased behind the cable crosses with the intention of reducing the overall width of the cable. As with the previous method, two stitches are worked together to decrease the number of stitches within the cable column.

This is often used to shape a yoke; reducing (or, if working from the top down, increasing) the stitch count from that required for the upper arms and torso to the much-reduced width around the neck.

The decreases worked in these cable columns dramatically reduce the width of the piece.

Cables highlighting shaping:
In addition to these methods, highlighting a cable pattern when working shaping can add a feature detail to a garment. This can be especially attractive when worked along a V-neck or raglan-sleeve edge. By transposing the shaping into the body of the fabric, rather than working it at the very edge, a section of the pattern can continue uninterrupted while the shaping occurs, adding a beautiful couture look to the garment.

On the right, the increases are worked in from the edge so that the cable continues around the neckline. On the left the decreases are worked at the edge and eat into the cable patterning.


Fiona Ellis is the author of Inspired Cable Knits, Knitspiration Journal, and Inspired Fair Isle Knits. She is an online instructor at Craftsy; you can find out what she is currently working on at