Anatomy of Cable Abbreviations

My newest project has been working on cables. For some reason lace came instinctively to me. YO = hole. Big circle on a chart = hole. Even the basic increase and decrease abbreviations and symbols made complete sense. (Well, I admit to having a bit of difficulty remembering which of ssk vs k2tog leaned which way) But cables are a challenge.

Not precisely a challenge to actually knit , I can follow instructions just fine. But to truly internalize what all of the symbols mean – well, that has taken some time. And I don’t know that I can say with 100% certainty that I have got it. Hopefully I am close. While writing a pattern I have had to come to a concrete decision on one particular issue. Abbreviations. I have to pick a style and stick with it, and there lies the conundrum.

Are the two kinds of cable crosses Front/Back or Right/Left. They both mean the same thing but represent two different ways of thinking about things. To prevent any suspense, I settled on Front/Back because that is what makes the most sense to me. But there really isn’t a correct way of doing it. As long as I remain consistent I hope that everything will work out all right.

To the subject at hand. For now I don’t want to address reading cables on a chart. It isn’t that difficult to find guides to reading charted cables, but when I started really looking online to find somewhere that breaks down understanding the abbreviations used in written instructions for cabling – well, I came up a bit short. I am going to put this out there, and it is my understanding of how it all works. If I have erred at some point, please do not hesitate to let me know personally or in the comments. As I said, I have come to grips with cables through a difficult path and I might have miss-stepped along the way.

The best way to understand how to cross a cable is to read the instructions provided in the pattern. A good pattern writer will describe how you are to execute the cable based on the abbreviation they use. That being said, I would like to arm you with the ability to suss out what the cable means if you are in a situation where details are unavailable. Onward (allonz-y)!

Learn how to decipher a written cable abbreviation in a knitting pattern. - TumpedDuck

Cable Two Back

This is what a basic cable abbreviation looks like. The specific cable illustrated would be written out Cable Two Back. The abbreviation can be broken down into three elements – which I have labeled as such.
  1. C – this big ole c starting things off announces, “Hey, we are fixin’ to cable!”. Some say that the C stands for cable others that the C stands for cross. Regardless, when you see the C prepare yourself to cable.
  2. A Number – the number tells you how many stitches are involved. (edited for accuracy, for original see*) In this example there are two stitches involved which will be crossing one over one. You could also see C4B – which would indicate crossing 2 over 2, C6B … and so forth.
  3. Direction – this tells you whether you are crossing Front or Back. This letter can be one of four options B, F, R or L. For now we are sticking to F & B, specifically looking at a Back cross. When dealing with the Front/Back naming system you are being instructed what to do with the first stitches you come to. With Back this tells you that the first 2 stitches of your 4 stitch cable will be held to the Back of the work, the next two stitches will be knit (and therefore cross to the front of the work) and then you will knit the stitches from the cable needle.

If there is no number, meaning that you have run across the abbreviation CB or CF, then you can safely assume that it is a 1/1 cable. With CB you would hold the first stitch to the back knit the next stitch and then knit the held stitch. With CF you would hold the first stitch to the front knit the next stitch and then knit the held stitch. Pretty much C2B and CB mean the same thing. Capiche?

Learn how to decipher a written cable abbreviation in a knitting pattern. -TumpedDuck

Cable One over Two Front

But what do we have here? There appears to be a fraction in the middle of my cable! Looks can be deceiving, there is no fraction (waves hand). It is a different kind of cable.

  1. Why hello there Mr. C – you are once again telling me that we shall be cabling forthwith.
  2. A Number – but what a strange looking number indeed. When you see this notation it is telling you that you have an uneven cross. It is not a fraction but instead the number of stitches that you are working with (as above). This particular one is a One over Two cross. The number in the first position tells you how many stitches will be at the Front of the work and the second number tells you how many stitches will travel behind, regardless of whether or not it is a Front or Back cross because …
  3. Direction – and here we have a Front cross. As I said above this tells you what to do with the first stitches you encounter. You will have to do a little figuring with this. You have a 1/2 cross which means that you know that you will need to be holding 1 stitch to the front of the work and crossing two stitches behind – but in what order? The Front tells you “Hey, the first stitch you come to goes to the Front!” so you would take the first stitch, hold it to the front of your work, knit the next two stitches and then knit the held stitch. The reflected version of this stitch is C1/2B. Reading it you would hear “Hey the first stitch(es) you come to go to the Back!” and since it is a 1/2 Cross (where you know the single stitch always goes to the Front) you would hold the first two stitches to the Back knit the next stitch, and then knit the two held stitches.

These uneven crosses are usually an uneven number 2/3, 1/2 but they can be an even number of stitches that are worked unevenly. You could conceivably run across a C3/1B, a 4 stitch cable where you have three stitches passing in front of a single stitch. At times you may also see a notation such as C2/2F which would mean the exact same thing as C4F – only more spelled out.

That is pretty much it in a nutshell. As long as you remember the 3 distinct sections of a cable abbreviation you should be able to be able to read a set of written instructions for a cabled piece.  I had planned on explaining the Right/Left notation and how it differs from Back/Front in this post but this has gotten a bit long and it might be enough to ponder for now. There will be a Part Two of this post coming in the next few days that will hopefully clear things up.

If you have any questions, please feel free to pipe up and I will do my best to figure it out! If I can answer the question in the comments I will, but if not it might show up in Part Two!

Part Two is live and you can read it here.


*Originally I had the following “If the number is even then it is actually telling you that the number of stitches that you will be working with is actually double the number shown. In this example the number is 2, so you will be making a 4 stitch cable – 2 crossed over two. (More on this in a wee bit.)”  Because I have see cables written like that. After CatBrown (thank you!) made her excellent observation in the comments I did a bit more digging and found that this is the less common way of doing things. As I said – the best thing to do is read the instructions in your pattern.

If that isn’t working out, consider the context of your pattern. If you have a picture take a look at it. If it looks like a big honkin’ cable and your instructions are C4F then most likely it is 4 over 4 as opposed to a 2 over 2. The lack of standardization can be frustrating at times!

9 thoughts on “Anatomy of Cable Abbreviations

  1. Hi Barbara! I have also seen cable codes as C6F, which actually was put 3 stitches to the front… I prefer your way better though, that makes more sense to me! Just wanted to add to the confusion. 🙂

  2. Before you go too far with your scheme, be prepared to figure out how you’ll signal a mix of knitting and purling on cables: some cables do both.

    The “Great … Aran Afghan” series of books (there are a couple of aran ones) by XRX Books does a good job with cable instructions. Each chart has a written set of instructions (using abbreviations) and a key to the abbreviations and chart. This is not to say their stuff is easy: a block on one of their afghans may have multiple sets of cables with varying numbers of rows in a repeat and with some cables starting at a different point on the chart than the other cable does (to enable you to reverse a cable twist while using just one chart for the regular and the reverse). I wind up taking a sheet of paper and numbering to 100 (for a 100-row block), then writing the row numbers for all the sets of cables. It’s the only way I can keep track.—tipsy-cable

    Also: for people who like front/back and get confused when they encounter the right/left instructions: “front” is 5 letters; “right” is 5 letters: “front” = “right”. “back” is 4 letters; “left” is 4 letters: “back” = “left”. This is how I remind myself which is which when I’ve got written instructions that say right or left, which I’ve always found confusing.

    • I hadn’t planned on getting into really crazy cables – just an overview of the more basic concepts. I know that there are some absolutely *mad* cables out there and I think that you get into some even *more* non-standard terminology. At some point (just as with lace) written instructions become untenable and you just have to stick with a chart.

      I will address the right/back in the next post. But I will mention that Right and Back are the same thing and Left is the equivalent of Front, which makes things especially confusing.

      • Absolutely correct. You can tell how badly I get right and left backwards when I knit. It’s because it’s not telling you what to do with the stitches you’ve just come to; it’s telling you what will eventually happen to the stitches once you figure out how to do what they want you to do, which is kind of a backwards way to tell knitters to work. It would be much more useful if they told you what to do with the stitches–like front and back do–rather than “figure out how to get your stitches to lean one way or the other.”

        The purling stuff gets important because to make cables pop, you often need to make them be knit stitches on purl backgrounds. Two cables of knit stitches can cross each other, but the stitches around (and between) the cables often need to be purled to make the cables show.

  3. Interesting post – but you lost me completely at the part where you said the C1/2B was taking the first two stitches to the back knit 1 and then the two stitches…? If that is the case what would the abbreviated instruction be for doing the following: holding the first stitch to the back, knit two and then the first stitch?

  4. Pingback: Last week on the web | Threadpanda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s