Knitting Reversible Cables: A Lesson and 4 Free Patterns!

A Note From Kathleen: Today we're sharing our four staff patterns from the Winter 2009 issue of Interweave Knits. These four varied patterns have one thing in common: they're all comprised of reversible cables. Here's Knits editor Eunny Jang to tell you more about this reversible design element, and to share a video of Lily Chin showing off some gorgeous reversible cable garments.

Reversible Cables Workshop

There's something intensely compelling about reversible cables: they tap into knitting at its most elemental, turning the structure of the fabric itself into ornament, rolling form and function into one elegant package.

There's a clean, mathematical precision about reversible cables that is deeply, fundamentally pleasing, especially so because it works off the very simplest principle of knitting: a knit will always be a purl on its reverse, and vice versa. From there, an entire universe of reversible cables blooms.

I have a serious fetish for reversible cables, myself. Collars that pop, cuffs that fold back, scarves and stoles that look good from any direction-I'm always a fan of knitting that is as well-engineered as it is beautiful.

So what makes a cable reversible? In Beyond the Basics in the Winter issue of Interweave Knits, Lily Chin takes you on a tour of the different kinds of reversible cables and how to make them. She distinguishes between two types:

1) Reversible fabrics that have cables on both sides. Cables are usually in stockinette, bordered by reverse stockinette to make the cables pop. The areas of reverse stockinette become stockinette on the back side, of course, creating another place to cable.

Figure 1: Swatch front   Figure 1b: Swatch back  

2) Cables that actually look the same on the front and the back. Lily brings up a great point in her article: when one group of stitches passes over another, as in a cable, they're crossing on the back as well as the front. Why don't they look the same, then, on both sides? Because the textured surface on the purl side obscures the visual impact of the crossing stitches. The solution, of course, is to use a reversible stitch, such as ribbing. Single rib, because it draws in so much, creates the illusion of smooth stockinette on both sides, but other stitches can create lots of different effects.

 Figure 2: Single and double rib cables   Figure 3: Reversible cables in other stitches

More complex cables can combine these principles, turning background stitches on one side into new cables on the other, for unbelievably intricate effects. Very handy when you need a collar that looks good flat as well as up or a great stitch for a shape-shifting wrap.

Every Way Wrap, Fall 2009   Farmer's Market, Fall 2009  

Try It Now: Free-to-Download Winter Staff Projects

Lisa Shroyer's Pointed Kerchief uses a reversible cable as a simple accent along a reversible background stitch. Marilyn Murphy's Rittenhouse Scarf uses reversible ribbed cables and a reversible background stitch between for sides that are truly identical. Sandi Wiseheart does the same for a necklet that can be worn inside and out. And Kathleen Cubley gets complex with cables that travel as well as cross, for a softly ribbed effect across a slinky cowl.

 Pointed Kerchief   Rittenhouse Scarf    Corseted Necklet    Winding River Cowl

It doesn't end there, of course. You can trim reversible cables with color, stitch changes, almost anything you can imagine-as long as you can find a way to make it reversible. Here's Lily again, talking about just a few other applications on this sneak preview of Knitting Daily TV episode 402.

With this guide and Lily's article in hand, try your hand at making your favorite cable reversible. Where will you use it?


Cable Knitting, Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

24 thoughts on “Knitting Reversible Cables: A Lesson and 4 Free Patterns!

  1. Where can I find the instructions for doing the turnaround cable that’s shown in the video. It’s the blue shawl. It’s simply gorgeous and I’d love to use this for making a baby blanket for my niece.

  2. Why did I have to pay the subscription to my Interweave Knits magazine if you are going to give away the patterns for free, such as the two-sided cable patterns?

    Lea Ann B

  3. I agree with the previous comments. KD usually references books where the patterns can be found. I know Lili Chin has several books and she has a few free patterns out there, but it would be nice to know where we can find the garments she showed in the video. Please share! Thanks for the free downloads; don’t worry Lee Ann B, there are so many more advantages to your subscription than 4 free patterns, just think of the other patterns you don’t see anywhere else and the extra advice, tips and articles you don’t get anywhere else. Sometimes it’s nice just to have the single patterns on hand and not have to flip through the pages.

  4. All of the patterns from Lily’s video will be available in her book that’s not due out until next spring. Sorry to have you wait, but it’ll be worth it!

    I’ll do more KD mailings about Lily’s book when it comes out.

  5. Lily Marlene is the undisputed Mistress of Reversible Cables. She whips her stitches into submission, creating fabrics that no one had thought possible before. I will be eagerly awaiting her new book and practicing the techniques she explains in her wonderful article so i will be able to tackle whatever surprises she introduces in her new book. I only wish that the Knitting Daily show was available on Cablevision. it is a sin that the show is not available to Long Island New Yorkers when Lily herself is a native New Yorker. I have been writing to Cablevision and PBS, and will continue to do so, until they can no longer stand me, and finally give us our show.

  6. I think that Lily’s book coming out in the spring is called:
    Power Cables: The Ultimate Guide to Knitting Inventive Cables

    I just loved that pink rectangular shawl she made with the buttons which could be done up so many different ways.

    Love Knitting Daily emails. It’s the first email I read each day… had a nice little shopping spree with patterns on line too :) It’s terrific to be able to buy and download patterns or DVD’s online. Keep up the good work.

  7. Lily Chin is a great gal … good to have met her at a knitting guild meeting.

    She made me promise to SWATCH for guage. LOL

    Thank you, Lily. Bless you!

    Gentle as you go,
    in Vista, CA

  8. sharks living in Austalia makes thing go tuff unable to get stuff from U.S.A

    love lace stiches and want to learn cable but not much out there for beginners dont explain much.

    thanks barb from aussieland