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.
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.