Okay. So I promised a tutorial on Twist stitches... but its not that simple. I started writing up what I wanted to say and the next thing I knew I had pages and pages and pages of stuff. First we should go over cabling, then charts, and finally the Twist stitches. It will all tie together if you can stand it.
First off let's take a moment to look at the difference between Cables and Twist stitches. Generally speaking Cables are made up of a group of knit stitches on a purl background that at certain points cross over each other. A 4 stitch cable may be worked by crossing 2 stitches over the adjacent 2 stitches. Cables can be worked with a cable needle or without if you know how to do it. The crossings are usually worked on the right side of the work. Cables generally are not worked every row but rather at regular intervals such as every 4, 6, 10, 14, or 24 rows.
There are 2 main differences between cables and twist stitches. The first big difference is that the knit stitches in Twist stitch knitting are knit through the back loop, thus, they are twisted. This makes for a very tidy stitch that stands out from the background quite pronounced. The second big difference is that Twist stitch designs are often so detailed that they are crossed or worked on every row.
This is one good reason to work Twist stitch patterns in the round. Working back and forth can make for some nail biting knitting... having to work and twist stitches on a wrong side row is enough to send some knitters screaming into the night. Now, anybody that knows me knows that I'm a big advocate of knitting in the round whether there are cables or twists involved or not. Knitting in the round just makes sense... but what if we have just cause for knitting something like Twist stitches flat... should we just decide not to because it sounds too difficult? Nope. But we'll get to that later.
There are 2 things I'd like to discuss before we get to the actual Twist stitches: Cabling without a cable needle and reading charts.
Ditch That 3rd Needle!
I know the "I can cable without a cable needle" thing has been done about a million times but I'm afraid I'll need to address it again. My reasoning, however, isn't just so you don't need to worry about a third needle but because if you cable without an extra needle it will just make so much more sense. I don't like codes and I can't read hieroglyphics. I don't want to decipher weird acronyms like Cr3L. My first few adventures with cable knitting were with patterns that were written with line by line instructions and for the life of me I couldn't remember what Cr3L meant so every time I came across it I had to look back at the key and fumble around with an extra needle putting stitches to the back and crossing things over and bringing them back and though I managed to do it I never really understood what I had just done. I mean, the instructions had me moving stitches " to the back" and "to the front" but in all reality when I was finished with the maneuver there weren't stitches "in front" or "in back" they were side by side! So if all I was really doing was shuffling stitches like first graders in the line for the bathroom why didn't it just say so... and why hadn't somebody just told me? Working that way also took forever and I found I had to take frequent breaks because I would get lightheaded from holding my breath. And if I made a mistake somewhere there was no recovering. I had no idea what to undo in order to redo so my stress level made the whole thing more like a must-win-situation instead of an enjoyable knitting experience.
That said... I'm going to show you how I cable without a cable needle so that you can understand where your stitches are going. I promise that if you take the time to really look at your stitches and SEE where they are going and where they came from you'll be able to cable/twist anything your heart desires ever on the back side if you want to. I swear... if you can knit a stitch and purl a stitch you can do this. Its that simple once you "get it".
The day I decided to sit without a cable needle and conquer my cable/twist stitches was a life altering day. I'm not exaggerating. It was totally life altering. (So was the day I decided to figure out that whole fair-isle-stranded-one-color-in-each-hand-at-the-same-time-thing but that's a discussion for another day.)
I will also say that when I first decided to try cabling without a cable needle I visited some blogs and some knitting sites to read about how other people did all these maneuvers without a cable needle but I never really "got it" until I sat and did it myself. I really don't see myself as a great teacher but I would like to think that I can convince you to try the things you haven't learned yet. It only looks or sounds confusing because its something you don't know how to do. Once you do it... even if it means messing up and ripping out and swearing and eating ice cream for dinner once you conquer it... its conquered.
Cables and twist stitches are nothing more than stitches that have been shuffled around and put in a different order before being worked. Seriously. They are still either knitted or purled and you already know how to do that. So just move them around and then knit them or purl and continue on your way. Its that easy.
**Disclaimer: I am a very visual knitter, learner, teacher. The following all makes perfect sense to me. If it sounds like a bunch of hoopla to you... I apologize.**
Here's how I do it...
Here's some of my own personal terminology for ya:
*Lead stitch(es) are the stitches involved in a cable crossing that go over top of everybody else. They are the ones we are following (because they are leading). Everybody else will fall in line as long as we keep our lead stitch(es) in the lead.
*Follower stitches are the ones that end up under or behind the Lead stitches.
Let's dissect something simple to get a basic idea of where I'm going with this.
Here's a traditional 4 stitch cable. (Yes, its the same cable in the first picture up there but that doesn't matter.)
This one is, hieroglyphically speaking, a C4R (cross 4 right).
The *cable 4* part is self explanatory... its a cable made up of 4 total stitches. The *right* part is the direction the *lead* stitches are going. In this case they are headed to the *right* and they get there by crossing over top of the other stitches.
Now, the with-a-cable-needle method would have you * slip 2 stitches to cable needle and leave to the back, knit next 2 stitches, then knit 2 stitches from cable needle*.
Well, that's all fine and good but what's with the *leave to the back* part if ultimately we're supposed to be crossing stitches to the right?
Its much easier to understand without a cable needle: The Lead stitches (there are 2 of them moving together for this cross over) need to travel to the right over top of the Follower stitches. We can do this shuffling before we work the stitches.
Slip the tip of the right needle into the front of the 2 Lead stitches (the 2 stitches that need to travel to the right) like this:
Now pull the left-hand needle out of all 4 stitches. Yup... I said pull the needle out of the stitches. If you're using wool this won't be a problem. If you're feeling a little queasy or using a yarn that you don't trust to just sit there and wait nicely just press your finger tip against the needle shaft right at the base of the stitches you're setting lose. That will hold 'em.
Okay, now move the loose needle tip behind the right-hand needle and reinsert it into the 2 loose stitches like this...
now use the right-hand needle to cross the 2 Lead stitches to the right and place them on the left-hand needle like so...
There... now the stitches are in the proper order for being worked as a C4R (cross 4 to the right). The Lead stitches have moved to the right over top of the other stitches. Just knit the 4 cable stitches and continue across the row to be worked. Viola.
This is the simplest way I have tried for shuffling stitches around without a cable needle. I find it makes more sense to move them first by thinking about where the Lead stitch(es) are going.
A C4L (cross 4 to the left) works in much the same way:
Take a moment to think about it. We need the 2 Lead stitches to cross over top of the Follower stitches and end up on the left.
Use the right needle tip to scoop the 2 Follower stitches from the back leaving the 2 Lead stitches on the needle...
pull the right-hand needle out of all 4 stitches...
and reinsert the loose needle back into the 2 Lead stitches thus pulling them to the left...
bring the Follower stitches around the back and place them back on the needle. They are now in the proper order to work a C4L (cross 4 to the left)...
Knit the 4 cable stitches and continue across the row. C4L complete.
These basic maneuvers can be used to work just about any cable but please understand that you don't have to do it like I do. Above all else I want you to think about what you're actually doing... what stitches are you moving... where are they going? I've seen some knitters that shuffle and work stitches at the same time or just slip all the stitches involved completely off the needles and then work them out of order one at a time. Any of these methods works fine but I choose to do the moving first and then work the stitches because it makes the most sense to me.
The first step is to always look at the stitches that will be involved in the cable and decide which ones are the Lead stitches. The second step is to figure out how to cross the Lead stitches over top of the Follower stitches. If you figure out a better, easier, quicker way than I use... go for it. A fun exercise is to make a swatch with a 4 stitch cable like the one above on a purl background with some wool and work it for a few rows. When you get to the next cable crossing row work to the stitches that will be involved in the cable and stop. Now pull you needle out of all 4 stitches that need to be rearranged. Now just sit there and look at them. With your eyes follow their path down to where they started. Now look at where each individual stitch needs to go and think about how it could get there. Think about how you can use the 2 needles you already have in your hands to move them around and give it a try.
By playing with ways to move stitches around you also end up learning quite a bit more than how to cable without the cable needle. You'll also become more familiar with how crossed stitches look and behave and soon you'll be *reading* your knitting. Just like you know that a knit stitch looks like a V and a purl stitch has a bump you'll know how to look at a cable and figure out how many stitches were involved and which ones crossed from here and ended up there.
Of course, the best way to play with shuffling stitches is to make a little swatch and just play. Fiddle with different ways to move the stitches until you find what works best for you and it makes sense. You'll also become a little less freaked out about pulling your needle out of live stitches. Its quite liberating! Another benefit is that you'll feel more confident about having to pull out a few stitches that maybe didn't get crossed correctly the first time. If you are confident to look at a messed up cable and say "Well, it looks good until I get right here" you'll know you can slip the needle out and reshuffle the stitches back to where they need to be.
So there's my speech on ditching the 3rd needle. I always worry about posting instructional stuff because I know that there's generally more than one way to accomplish something and my intention isn't really to tell you how to do it "right". I also worry that I'll create more confusion that anything. Really, I just want you to enjoy the challenge of learning something new or different. If you can knit a stitch and purl a stitch you can do any knitting stitch/pattern/design out there. Don't let the appearance of cable patterns and other more involved designs stop you. I've found that since I've starting working cables with 2 needles I have a better understanding of my knitting in general because I've learned to shift my focus from the written pattern I'm following to the stitches I'm creating. I pay more attention to what I'm doing and I catch mistakes sooner just because they catch my eye as something that doesn't look right... and I usually know how to fix them.
This was supposed to be a post about working Twist stitches and morphed into something much longer so I'm going to break the topic up into installments. The next installment will be on reading charts so all you chart-haters should tune in :-)
I'm open to questions if ya got 'em.