Cables are gorgeous, intriguing, raised patterns that make knitting look incredibly complex. In order to make them stand out more, they are usually worked over a background of Reversed Stockinette. When the purl stitches on either side of the cable are loose, they gap and form loose horizontal bars that resemble ladders running up next to the cable. This detracts the eye from the gorgeous cable and can give a garment a sloppy look.
The other problem that happens when the purl stitch is loose, is that the far left column of knit stitches on the cable are uneven.
In this swatch, the cable on the right is formed correctly. The cable on the left has ladders to the left and you can see how the stitches on the far left of the cable are enlarged and don’t look as tidy as the rest of the stitches.
Ladders can also change the gauge and make your garment too wide overall. Notice the width difference in the left and right cables, including the 3 purl sts before each cable. For all of these reasons, avoiding ladders are best.
The first step is to recognize that this happens. Once you see the ladders, you can prevent them from forming.
What causes ladders?
This happens when changing from a knit to a purl stitch that is worked too loosely. When the yarn comes off the knit stitch, the slack in forming the next purl stitch creates the ladder. This usually happens when ending a cable and beginning a purl stitch, so you’ll see them most often to the left of the cable.
The slack in forming the purl stitch happens on every row, but is more exaggerated when you've crossed stitches to make a cable. On rows where you do the cable cross, the ladders are usually worse. This is because the cable has pulled the knit stitches tightly, then a purl stitch is worked at a normal tension, and the pulling effect draws the extra yarn from the purl stitch and pulls it out.
The way to prevent this is to take up the slack in the purl stitch immediately coming off of the cable, or to the left of the cable.
Any of these methods work; try them and find the best for you, or combine them:
1. After knitting the last stitch of the cable, pull the yarn downwards rather snugly, and then work the purl stitch.
2. After knitting the last stitch of the cable, insert needle into the next stitch to begin working the purl, but give the yarn a firm tug before continuing with the purl stitch. You’ll feel the yarn slack being taken up as you tug.
3. Wrap the yarn the opposite way when working the purl stitch. When you wrap the yarn clockwise around the needle, there is less yarn between the knit and purl stitch. When you reach this stitch on the WS row, you’ll need to knit it through the back loop.
4. Work close to the needle tips to prevent the stitch from being stretched out.
I actually do methods 1, 2 and 3 most of the time, at the same time. I work at the needle tips, pull the yarn downwards, and tug a bit. If I’m working a large cable, like a 10, or 12 stitch cable, then I will use method 3 and wrap the yarn around the needle clockwise.
Fixing ladders after they’re knit:
If you notice ladders after you’ve finished knitting, you can usually minimize their appearance. Take a tapestry needle and pull up the slack on the ladder, then work the slack back into the knit stitches on the cable. With each stitch that you pull up, you should have less and less yarn, until they all feel the same. Do this before you block, which will help “set” the stitches. Remember knitting is made up of 50-100 yards long pieces of yarn. Each stitch affects the stitch next to it, so you just need to redistribute the yarn a bit.
This is time consuming, so don’t get me wrong. It’s not the answer. It’s by far better to avoid the ladders in the first place. But things happen and if you find yourself with a finished piece, staring at you with ugly ladders, just know that you can fix them at this point.
By preventing ladders from forming, your cables will look more uniform, the background stitches remain in the background, and you will have better luck staying on gauge. Just remember, pull yarn downwards, give a little tug, work at the needle tips and when all else fails, wrap the yarn clockwise.
The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) has appointed Heather Storta as Vice President of Education and Donna Estin as Vice President of Public Relations to the board of directors.
District of Columbia, Feb 19, 2020 (Issuewire.com) - The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) has appointed Heather Storta as Vice President of Education and Donna Estin as Vice President of Public Relations to the board of directors.
“We are excited to welcome Heather Storta and Donna Estin to our board of directors, allowing us to expand our reach and to support serious knitters worldwide in their quest to elevate their knitting skills,” said Arenda Holladay, Executive Director.
Heather Storta of Concord, North Carolina, earned her certification as a Master Hand Knitter in 2014. She has served on the Master Hand Knitting Committee since 2014 and is currently a Co-Chair. Her background in teaching as well as engineering has served her well in her new career as a Knitting Instructor. She teaches at yarn shops, retreats, conferences, guilds and fiber festivals nationally. She is a TKGA Certified Knitting Instructor, Certified Technical Editor and is the editor of TKGA’s monthly newsletter K2TOG. As Vice President of Education, Heather brings to the board a passion for knitting and education, and the skills needed to guide the educational component of TKGA’s mission into the next phase. To read more about Heather Storta, visit: https://heatherstorta.com/about-me/
Donna Estin of Vienna, Virginia, earned her certification as a Master Hand Knitter in 2017. She has served on the Master Hand Knitting Committee since 2017 and has been running the social media marketing platforms for TKGA since 2018. Her background in sales and marketing and as a successful business entrepreneur in the Washington DC area helped pave the way for her launch in 2015 of Donna Estin Designs, LLC. She currently works as a Knitwear Designer and her designs can be seen in knitting magazine and books worldwide. Her expertise in sales and marketing will help to raise the visibility of TKGA in the knitting industry. As Vice President of Public Relations, Donna will expand the current marketing efforts to increase exposure and reach more knitters. To read more about Donna Estin, visit: https://www.donnaestindesigns.com/about.html
About The Knitting Guild Association
The Knitting Guild Association is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to providing education and resources to knitters to advance their mastery of the craft of knitting. They support serious knitters in their efforts to perpetuate traditional techniques and keep the artisan aspects and high-quality standards of the craft alive. For more information, visit https://tkga.org/about-us/board-and-committee/
Linen is one of the strongest fibers for knitting. It does not break down like wool does over time and as a result, lasts for centuries. It is cool, breathable, wicks away excess moisture, dries faster than cotton and is perfect for warm-weather sweaters, tops and dresses. It has a slight sheen and drape that makes garments elegant and creates a fabric that improves with age. It softens each time you wear and wash it. Linen yarns made of long-staple flax do not pill. If you have sensitive skin, the smoothness of the yarn and moisture absorbing qualities make this an excellent fiber to wear against the skin. A garment knitted in linen will not wrinkle the way a woven linen garment will. It is not susceptible to insect damage when stored.
Knowing the qualities of linen will help you make good project choices. But how does all this translate into knitting with linen? You will need to knit a little differently, so read on! Learning a few tips about knitting with linen will make the knitting process so much more enjoyable.
First of all, about that strong fiber that I mentioned in the first sentence; the flip side to this is that it can feel rough when you’re knitting it. Yes, it will get softer with each wash, but you have to knit it first. So if you want to soften it up a bit before you ever cast on, take the labels off the hank but leave it tied. Soak it in a sink of tepid water, add some fabric softener. For a natural fabric softener, use one part baking soda with two parts white vinegar in a sink of water. Let it soak. Press out extra water in a towel, and hang it up to dry. Then wind it and start knitting.
The wound cake of yarn will be messy so it is best if it stays put. When you pull yarn from a wound cake, let it unravel from the outside. If the ball doesn’t move around the house, and stays in place, you can almost wind 95% of the yarn out, leaving a mesh structure with just a few wraps of yarn left. It will sit there like a sculpture, if not tasseled about. So it’s probably not the best project for traveling or moving around from room to room. Once the yarn cake does collapse, the yarn can tangle easily and be difficult to form back into a ball. If you like to pull from the center, here’s another example of how knitting with linen will push you out of your comfort zone. Unwrap it from the outside and be mindful that the less movement the better.
Part of the strength comes from linen’s lack of elasticity. It feels like a waxed, smooth jute. It is not going to cling to the knitting needles the way wool does. If you try and knit with it like you normally would, your hands will get a real work out. When you knit a stitch, it may stand up and not hug the needles at all. In order to see the knit stitches wrap around the needle and lie uniform, you’ll be tempted to knit tightly. And this takes a toll on your hands and arms. My best advice whenever you start tightening up, is to stop. Think “KNIT LOOSELY”.
You want to knit with a loose tension. Let let the yarn flow and don’t worry about snugging up the stitches after forming them. You’ll want to go down two or three needle sizes than you normally would use for another yarn in the same weight. By using a much smaller needle, you are able to achieve the gauge by knitting loosely. The process of knitting will be more enjoyable.
Of course, practice on your swatch and change the needle size to one that allows you to get gauge. But if you’re not getting gauge on the smaller needle, before you go up to a larger needle, try knitting a little looser and see if that helps. The looser the better – your hands will thank you for it later! Our tension changes all of the time. We tend to knit tighter when stressed, anxious, short on time, upset, or during a cliffhanger of a movie. Some people knit tighter at night, some tighter in the morning. You may tend to knit tighter or looser, but know that your tension does indeed change. So you can purposely change it. Focus on knitting looser. And if a pattern has increases or decreases, by keeping it loose you’ll also be able to work those more easily.
Just relax your hands, relax your tension and don’t worry about forming perfectly uniform stitches. Some stitches will be larger than others. Linen isn’t perfectly formed and most linen yarns are thick and thin in places. A finished garment in Stockinette will not look like a uniform piece of Stockinette done in wool. It will have a more rustic look but it is supposed to.
While we’re talking about the look of the stitches, you might also want to use wooden needles. I use metal needles 90% of the time, except when I knit in linen. And bamboo works best for me with linen. The wood isn’t as slick as metal and helps keep the stitches a little more uniform, so the needles are doing the work instead of me. Everyone is different. We knit differently, hold our needles differently and tension our yarn differently. Just know that by changing things up with linen, you may find better, more pleasing results.
Remember that beautiful drape I mentioned? Linen will grow lengthwise slightly over time. A blocked Stockinette swatch usually does not change much from an unblocked swatch, measurement-wise (it will be softer and stitches will start to even up a bit), but wash after wash, you’ll find lengths may get a little bit longer. This is a plus when you’re knitting a summer top or tee, as it just becomes more comfortable with time. When I designed the Heartwood Cardigan [click here to see pattern details on Ravelry], I designed notches in the cuffs and hem to accommodate any lengthening and still allow for a pleasant fit.
While you can toss your linen garment into the washer and dryer, it will be difficult to have lace look as nice. While a pure Stockinette or textured garment can be laundered this way, if you have lace you’ll want to wet block it and use pins to stretch and open up the lace to really show it off. If you have wet blocked your garment, you may find that it is stiff when you remove the pins. Just crunch it up in your hands and voila! It will feel great. You can also put it in the dryer on air fluff for a minute to shake out any stiffness.
When weaving in yarn ends, weave in a bit more of yarn tail than you normally would. If you normally weave in 1” over duplicate stitch or 2” into a seam, add ½” or so, just to keep it snug. Remember it's not going to cling to other strands so make sure you're weaving in a long enough tail to stay put.
Linen is fabulous! It’s strong, gets softer with each wash, lasts forever, and is an enjoyable break from tight knitting if you tend to be a tight knitter. A garment knit in linen will last, stay in better condition for longer, and become softer in time. These will be your true heirloom pieces to be passed down to the next generation. If you haven't knit with linen, or it's been awhile, try it! You may just fall in love with linen. Knitting and wearing!
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Editors of Vogue Knitting. Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. New York, NY: SOHO Publishing, LLC/Sixth & Spring Books, 2018.
Paden, Shirley. Knitwear Design Workshop. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 2009.
Heartwood Cardigan, published in Interweave Knits Spring 2020 magazine, was knitted with Fibra Natura FLAX, by Universal Yarns in shade # 12, Tarragon.
Hello! I'm Donna. I knit every day and enjoy designing knitwear that is artistic, intricate and comfortable. I specialize in women's sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.