Designing Cables

I often get asked about my “design process,” and I feel sheepish and inadequate and usually make up some kind of nonsense about being inspired by the colors of the turning leaves or the way the light hits the brick of a New York building. . . but since it’s just us, I thought I’d give you a peek into how my days really go, and my real design process (and hi-tech tools!)

I’m a knitter, and I’m a knitting teacher, and I also design sweaters. I think more like a knitter than a great artist, so mostly my designs are wearable sweaters that I would want to knit for myself.

In design I do use a lot of fancy schmancy computer tools like Excel for pattern grading, charting software, and Illustrator for schematics . . . but since I didn’t go to fashion school, I approach my designs with several other highly professional tools (like twist ties, old t-shirts, scissors, paper, and scotch tape).

I thought it would be fun from time to time to peek under the hood and look at some of my silly tools . . . today’s exploration:

Designing Cables

When I design a new cable sweater, I like to be able to see it by creating it somehow in 3D before charting it.

For the Bateau-Neck Pullover for Fall Vogue 2014 I used one of my Knitter’s Blocks blocking boards, some T pins and chunky yarn to design the center cable


And that little exercise in arts and crafts resulted in this:

Finished VK cable sweater


Sometimes you use what you have on hand. I was in a hotel during a teaching trip when I was working on Serena’s Song design for Cascade’s Vest Bets. All I had on hand was a few twist ties from the snacks I packed, but they were handy.

IMG_1631As this, became thisIMG_2800

So the moral of the story in my design world . . . use any and all tools on hand (even the twist tie from a snack bag) to help you see your designs become a reality.


For more cable fun, check out my DVD class Explorations in Cables.

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  • Oneday Designs March 19, 2015   Reply →

    I love your blog post. Thank you for being honest and down to earth. I wish more designers were like you.

  • Darlene Krystal March 20, 2015   Reply →

    Ok….I can understand taking string and pins and a board and making the cable that way…….but what are the standard symbols for drawing a chart….????…….

    I see your posting as Step 1….string and pins….
    Step 2…chart it out for yourself
    Step 3…knit it into your project that you are making following your own chart…..thus the creation of your own knitted design…….

    It’s step 2 that I would like to know how to do…..any reference sheets for chart symbols….???…..beginner knitter….can’t afford the class….any advice you can share would be helpful…….

    • Patty Lyons March 20, 2015   Reply →

      Every publication uses slightly different symbols. In the class I break down all the symbols and abbreviations so you can see what they have in common. Start by looking at published cable patterns and compare the words to the symbols. You can also find some chart symbols online at Craft Yarn Council’s website.

  • Lisa March 14, 2018   Reply →

    Thank you for this helpful tip. I have an idea in my head for a cable and can’t seem to find anything like it. So now I think I might be able to create it 🙂

  • Noel Lynne Figart December 18, 2019   Reply →

    Thank you so much for this! My husband really wants an Aran sweater with the symbol of Rassilon on the front (it’s a symbol from the science fiction series Doctor Who). I’ve been puzzling out just how in the world to create that in cable form, and this is exactly what I need.

  • Idony August 30, 2023   Reply →

    Omg. This has been making me absolutely insane. It’s bad enough the symbols are damn near gibberish in the first place. (I assign different colors to each symbol at the beginning to speed up reference.)

    I really really want to design cables but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to understand…well, HOW to begin. I’m a professional artist and I’m used to just diving into a new medium and noodling around, but I was having a spatial cow about this.

    You are *brilliant*. I get it now!!! I can’t thank you enough! Really excited now!

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