EDITOR’S NOTE: For her column this month, Jess got to dig into the book I’ve been dying to spend more time with …
The first knitting book I ever bought was Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson, around a dozen years ago. (Years later, still a reliably solid and inspirational compilation of designs.) But the second knitting book I bought was Norah Gaughan’s Knitting Nature, a striking collection of over 35 knitwear designs and patterns inspired by geometry found in nature. More than any other knitting book I own, this is the one I come back to again and again.
Knitting Nature is one of those books that grows with you as a knitter and, amazingly, years after its publication doesn’t feel stale or outdated. I bought the book when I was knitting nothing more than accessories – the idea of, or even the desire to knit an intricately cabled sweater had never occurred to me. I enjoyed the book in a way that you might enjoy a stroll through an art gallery, with awe and admiration of creative work that feels simultaneously accessible and completely above your abilities as a maker.
But now, I look at some of the patterns that I glossed over when I was younger – like the Pentagon Aran Pullover or the Asymmetrical Cardigan — which both now seem so fresh and contemporary. I could easily imagine the hexagonal cable in the Asymmetrical cardigan being adapted to a top-down symmetrical cardigan (using Karen’s top-down recipe) with a cozy shawl collar in a neutral, worsted weight yarn. Maybe Blue Sky Fibers’ new Woolstok in Grey Harbor colorway? (I got a few skeins recently at my LYS and I’m obsessed.)
Norah has certainly been busy in the past ten or so years since Knitting Nature’s publication. She served as design director for Berroco Yarns and is now a member of the Brooklyn Tweed design team. All of this to say – when I found out (via Squam’s Morning on the Dock podcast interview with Norah) that she would be releasing a new book dedicated entirely to cables, I knew I needed to nab a copy.
KNITTED CABLE SOURCEBOOK
Norah’s latest book, Knitted Cable Sourcebook, is a collection of 152 stitch patterns and over a dozen garment and accessory patterns. A cable dictionary it is not – nor is it intended to be. The patterns and techniques are decidedly Norah’s, many appearing in print for the first time. As Norah writes in the Introduction:
“To my mind there can be no such thing as an all-encompassing encyclopedia of cables (as much as my publisher would have loved for this book to have been called an encyclopedia) because one volume can’t begin to contain all the cables in use already and all of the cables yet to be revealed by our imaginations. This book is intended to be both a resource for existing cable patterns and a jumping-off point for making new cable discoveries.”
The book is simultaneously accessible to newbies and challenging to advanced knitters – quintessential Norah. It starts off with the basics, including an overview of cable terminology, instructions on how to read and follow a cable chart, and troubleshooting tips (one of which Karen described here). This upfront section is worth the price of the book alone, as it so succinctly describes, in less than 20 pages, everything you really need to know to knit cables well.
The rest of the book is broken up into sections defined by complexity and motifs, starting with basic ropes, braids and horseshoes and eventually working towards the final chapter on “drawing” abstract or representational shapes with cables. At the end of each chapter are two or more garment patterns that incorporate cables and techniques covered in the preceding chapter.
But the most exciting part? Each garment pattern is accompanied with recommendations for cable substitutions using Norah’s SSE (Stockinette Stitch Equivalent) method. Each stitch pattern throughout the book is assigned an SSE number – basically, how many stockinette stitches are needed to achieve the same width as the cable. This system allows you to substitute any cable you like for other cables shown in Norah’s patterns – or heck, any pattern with cables in it. This is where this resource book really shines, as it enables any knitter to customize and design her own garment based on her own personal preferences.
While there are many, many stitch patterns in this book that pluck at my heartstrings, the one I was most eager to cast on was Fave, introduced in Chapter 5. The pattern is a distinctive grouping of four 2/2 crosses, which Norah writes is her go-to motif. And it’s easy to see why. It feels both classic and modern, basic and also totally unexpected. A panel of Fave could be easily extended into a scarf and be striking on its own, but any of these variations could be incorporated into a chunky cardigan with a shawl collar (like this one) and be the show-stopper winter cardigan of my dreams.
Since this was my first time playing with the motif, I started off with the first stitch pattern in the the chapter, “To & Fro Fave” (no. 110 on page 169). In this motif, alternating left and right crosses grow out of 2 x 2 ribbing and the column of cables is repeated four times to complete the panel. Every stitch pattern in Norah’s book includes both a cable chart and written description of the pattern. Even though I’m pretty comfortable reading a chart, having the written description was helpful as I knit the first couple of inches and became familiar with the pattern.
For the yarn, I chose Madelinetosh’s DK Twist in “Never” colorway. Amy sent me a couple skeins to try out (thanks, Amy!) and I’m really digging the yarn’s bounce and stitch definition, as well as this soft gray/green color. Reminds me of faded moss or lichen in the middle of winter.
Yarn: Madelinetosh DK Twist in Never colorway
Needles: US 6 / 4mm metal needles
Gauge: 22.5 stitches / 31 rows = 4 inches in Fave cable chart
M E T H O D
For the Fave “To & Fro” cable chart, see page 169 in Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook
PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design