Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Tracking complex cables using box-and-circle. Part 2 of a series

complex cable pattern example techknitting
Keep track of simple single or multiple cables using box-and-circle charts was the subject of Part 1 in this series.  

Box-and-circle charts also work for complex panels of cables such as this one, and that is today's post, Part 2. 

* * *

Most complex panels are made up of at least some simple patterns. The main components of this* complex cable panel are:
  • mirrored twisted cables (12 row repeat--a simple cable, but worked in a tricky way)
  • zig zag panel, right and left (24 row repeat--a minimalistic traveling cable)
  • twisted trellis (28 row repeat--a traveling cable which does deserve to be called complex)

The following stitches are used in this panel.

Symbol and instruction key for complex panel

click here to enlarge stitch key in a new free-floating window

Mirrored twisted cables:
The left twist cables (LTC) and right twist cable (RTC) are worked in mirror-image pairs, one pair at each outer edge of the panel. Twisted cables are worked with an interesting trick: instead of crossing the cables as usual, you actually put the 4 cable stitches on a cable needle, then twist the entire needle end-for-end, then knit the stitches in reverse order. Naturally, twisting the stitches around 180 degrees in this manner means the stitches show their purl sides when you knit into them, but the purls really won't show on the cable surface. If you don't use cable needles, you get the same effect if you slip the stitches to be twisted off onto a holder, twist the holder, replace the stitches on the left needle in reverse order, and then knit them. LTC is twisted away from you, RTC towards you. You've done it right if LTC appears to slant upwards to left,  RTC appears to slant upwards to right. If yours are reversed, twist them the other way. 
The act of twisting the entire 4-stitch assembly makes these cables very 3-D: they really stand out above the fabric. Because they are so very architectural, they can't really be spiraled like ordinary cables, this would overly distort the fabric. Instead, each individual cables waves back and forth like seaweed, first twisting one way, then the other, rather than always spiraling the same way.  

Here are the written directions and the charted directions for this component of the panel:
Written and charted directions for twisted cables component of the complex panel
Also refer to symbol and instruction key, above

 With these mirrored twisted cables, the action is fairly simple: both cables twist on the same row. Then, on every row except the twist, you simply knit the knits and purl the purls. With only two kinds of action, this panel is like the simple cables discussed in part 1: circles (plain rows) and boxes (crossing rows) are enough to encode what you need to do. 

Here is the box and circle chart for this component of the complex cable panel. 

box chart for twisted cables, 12 row repeat with twisting
action on cable rows 6 and 12 (boxes)
circle = knit the knits, purl the purls on that row of the cable

The charted directions here, like many charted directions, do not show the wrong side rows--that is made explicit in the note below the chart.  However, the written instructions do include the wrong side rows.  The point is, when making a box chart from a symbol-chart, make sure to include provision for all the rows, right and wrong side, whether charted or not, extrapolating the non-charted rows from the notes or from the written directions.  In a box -and-circle chart, every row knit gets a shape to check off. 

Zig Zag ribbing:

Here are the written and charted directions for the LT/RT zig zag ribbing component of this complex panel.

written directions for zig-zag ribbing

charted directions for ribbed zig-zag component of panel

Zig-zag rib is a species of cable because its components (Left- and Right twist) involve stitches trading places--what we've called a "cable-cross." As it happens, it is the smallest possible cross--one stitch trades place with one stitch--worked in the most minimal style--no holder, but instead the stitches are merely worked out of order. The two stitch-arms of this cable aren't both the same, meaning, unlike conventional cables where the cable arms are worked in stockinette, this cable has one knit arm and one purl arm. The knit and purl alteration is why this is a species of ribbing. 

The particular manner of working out of order causes the zig-zag ribs to not only twist around one another, but to travel to the left or the right: "Twist Left--TL" and "Twist Right--TR," per the symbol chart and instructions above. The front fabric face rows ALWAYS twist, the back fabric face rows are the usual cable-return: knit-the knits, purl-the-purls. If working in the round, keep reading!

Charting this sort of pattern is where your own personal preferences come to rule. See, the underlying issue with all box-and-circle charts is just how much information to encode. I generally try to encode a bare minimum.  Encoding a lot of information complicates the chart, reducing the advantage that box-and-circle has over an ordinary pattern chart. 

Here are the factors I'd consider: 
  • If working FLAT (back and forth) the knitting itself would tell me whether I was on a backside row or a frontside row.  
  • Because the knitting is a physical reminder of which fabric face I'm working, I personally would consider the TWO rows (front + back) of each twist to EACH be a "plain row." A different kind of plain row, what with that front side twist, but because of the consistency of the twist (every! front side row) both front and back are "plain" in their own way. 
  • Therefore, I would use a circle to indicate both of these rows, on the theory that circle = "plain row." 
So...what deserves a box?  So far, box has always meant "cable cross."  But if you think about it, the larger meaning of box has really been an alert that something different is coming up.  In this meta-view, circle = do the usual, and box= do the UNusual. What's usual in the simple cables we've been looking at so far is to knit the knits, purl the purls.  Usual=circle.  What's unusual in a simple cable is the cross itself. Unusual = box. The question then is, what's UNusual about this more complex pattern? (It isn't the consistent front-side twist--we've already labeled that as being "plain" in its own little way because it always happens, on every row.) 

The unusual thing which would interrupt my rote-like knitting of this pattern is keeping track of where the pattern changes direction--where the zig becomes a zag. The direction change is a disruption of the pattern, and disruption = unusual. Also, it only happens twice in the 24 rows of this pattern, another thing which makes it unusual. Therefore, my bare-bones chart would save the box alert only for the direction change, per below. 

zig-zag ribbing box chart

HOWEVER--and here is the beauty of analyzing the pattern to make your own box charts--if you were working this pattern IN THE ROUND, it would make sense to differentiate the twist rows from the intervening "knit the knits and purl the purl" rows. This is because you don't have the knitting itself to tell you which KIND of plain row you're on: 
  • are you are working a twist row (front) 
  • or an intervening knit-the-knits, purl-the-purls row (back)? 
Working in the round, you're always on the front. Therefore, it would be easy miss that intervening non-twist row and get off-pattern by a round.  So, if working circularly, you might choose to make a box and circle chart which distinguishes between the "two kinds of plain" rows, like this.  

zig zag ribbing box chart differentiating the "two kinds of plain rows" for working circularly

Of course, absolutely nothing is stopping you from using a differentiated chart like this for back-and forth knitting if you prefer it, or from color coding the differentiation. Drawing by hand, I'd probably color-code the two different "plain" (circle) rows by switching between pen and pencil for the two kinds of circles, or two different color pens. And, there's no reason you couldn't use a third shape, as well, as is illustrated in the twisted trellis pattern, coming up next. 

Twisted Trellis
This is the most complicated (and beautiful) component of this complex panel.  Here are the written and charted directions.

written directions for twisted trellis component

charted directions for twisted trellis component (click to enlarge)

Twisted trellis reminds me of a formal line dance, a 19th century Grand Promenade, perhaps. The eight stockinette cable arms of the panel are the partners in this dance.  These dancers, all in a horizontal row, travel from south to north along a large "purl-y" dance floor in a stately repeating pattern. 
  • The eight dancers enter the floor at the beginning of the dance, arranged into four evenly-spaced couples. The dance itself begins with the partners of each of the four couples twirling around one another once--the four separate cable twists along row 1. 
  • Next, they separate, each of the eight individual partners traveling diagonally outwards, one-by-one, on their way to form a new pattern (rows 2-8). 
  •  Once they have reached their new dance-set position, the outermost partners walk along the sidelines, keeping pace, but not twirling. The inner six partners meet to form three new couples, still evenly spaced, still moving north along a straight horizontal line. Each couple twirls once, and then again, a total of two twirls per couple. These three couples each twirling twice = the three evenly-spaced cable twists along the row, performed twice in succession, meaning a line of three cable twists (rows 9-13).
  • After these double-twirls, all partners travel back to their original positions (rows 11-20).
  • When they re-meet, the partners of the four original couples each twirls around one another twice (which brings you to the end of the charted and written directions) and then once more time (begin the repeat again) for a total of four couples, twirling three times each = four evenly-spaced cable twists along the row, performed three times in succession (rows 21-28 plus row 1).
And so it repeats, all the partners proceeding evenly in a horizontal row, moving steadily up the floor from set to set, combining, separating, traveling, recombining and twirling together in a formal and beautiful architecture.

Each of eight partners in this dance is a two-stitch wide stockinette column, and each either continuously travels on a dance floor of purls or spins into a twirl (cable cross). 
  • The diagonal traveling action occurs when one purl stitch crosses behind the stockinette column, meaning, three total stitches trade place, the stockinette two traveling one way, and purl one the other. These are the R-p-C (right purl cross) and L-p-C (left purl cross) of the directions at the start of this post. The purl component of the cable cross is not only hidden behind the stockinette columns, but also merges invisibly into the other purl stitches of the background, making it "doubly-invisible." The result is that each stockinette cable arm-appears to travel magically across the floor on its diagonal journey to the next dance set. 
  • The twirls themselves are ordinary cable-twists, of the same kind common in simple cables: these are four-stitch-wide left front crosses, (LFC)  where two stitches cross leftwards and in front of the two back stitches.
  • The two outer partners are the only ones which ever travel in a straight line: due north along the edge of the dance floor, they pace the three inner couples as those couples twirl around one another three times (rows 9-13)

Analyzing this action to make up a box-and-circle chart, I come up with this: 

box chart, twisted trellis

Here, I have encoded the twist with a triangle, which would be especially useful if this was to be knitted in the round, because working circularly, I might lose track of whether I was on a traveling twist-row, or on a "resting" (knit-the-knits, purl-the-purls) row. If knitted back and forth, you might chose to use all circles, as was done with two versions of the zig-zag ribbing. (The point is, you are the boss! And can make any shapes or conventions you like!)

Putting it all together

This is what the box-and-circle chart would look like with the components all on the same sheet, ready to knit.

As long as you mark off one shape in EACH compartment on EVERY KNITTED ROW, you'll have a clear idea where you are in each individual cable's repeat, while the control "picket fence" tally marks in the very top compartment will give you a cross-check as to which row you are on overall. 

* * *

As with the box-and-circle chart for simple cables (previous post), the final box-chart does not encode the entire pattern. For one thing, the rope stitch (RS) on the sides of the panel is completely missing, because I, personally, can tell which row of rope stitch I am on whether knitting circularly or back-and-forth. But there is nothing stopping YOU from encoding the rope stitch!

More importantly, what is not on the box-and-circle chart are instructions regarding width of cable (how many stitches wide?) formation of the cables (drop forward? back?) how many stitches appear between the various cable components, shaping instructions, the side panels, the bottom bands, and so on. Box-and-circle is a tracking system, not a substitute for the pattern. However, with box-and-circle, you need not consult the pattern very often. In fact, after a few repeats to get your cables established, you probably won't need it until you get to some point of shaping. 

Another similar complex panel, knit many years ago. Same inner panels, staghorn cables instead of twisted cables as borders. This too was tamed in its time by box-and-circle

* * *
If box and circle seems unduly complicated, then the fault is mine.  I expect I've made this all sound a lot more complicated than it really is. Yet, if you persevere, then after internalizing your cable patterns--usually after a few repeats--you can leave the magnet board at home. A box-and-circle chart will be all the instructions needed for that road trip (plus the pattern itself, if you plan to get to the shaping.)

Even better (provided you have carefully made up your box-and-circle chart before you turn on the TV ) even quite complex cable-knitting is tamed and you can binge-watch and knit cables at the same time. Just don't forget to make a tally mark for each row, as well as check off a box or circle (or triangle) in each cable-compartment of the chart, every! time! you! knit! a! row! 

After all:
  • most cable knitting really is "knit the knits and purl the purls" 
  • If you're NOT doing a plain row, this is where your trusty chart alerts you that something unusual is coming up, like a cable cross, or a change in direction. 
  • The chart is made by you, and personalized for your way of knitting. 
    • Knitting in the round? Then for traveling cables, use triangles or two-color circles to let yourself know which rounds travel and which don't. 
    • Knitting back-and-forth? No need to encode which rows travel, because it's always the front-fabric-face cables which travel, while the back fabric face is always our friend, knit-the-knits, purl-the-purls. 
* * *

Til then, good knitting. 


* Panel and written directions adapted from: Men's Serpentine Cable Pullover pattern, from the pamphlet "Aran Isle Classics, booklet 691" published by Columbia-Minerva in 1984. Charted directions, stitch key and twisted cables do not appear in the original.