Sampling CVM for Cables – Woolen vs. Semi-Woolen

I’ve been sampling some CVM fiber (from Heelside Farms) for my next Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. I’ve been thinking I might want to knit a cabled sweater with this fiber, and I was wondering if my drafting method would make a difference in the cable definition. I would expect that, since worsted-spun yarns are often touted for their cable definition, getting closer to that with a semi-woolen yarn would give me cables that ‘pop’ more while retaining the softer, rustic look of a woolen-spun yarn. But a woolen spun yarn would likely be faster to spin, so I wanted to make sure the extra time for a worsted draft was really worth it. So I did a little experiment.

I’m starting from roving, so my options are to create a semi-woolen yarn using a short forward draft, or go for a fully woolen-spun yarn using longdraw. I pulled off a small amount to sample each way, and attempted to spin yarns with approximately the same diameter and ply twist. Both yarns came out to around a DK weight, and with similar ply twist. The woolen-spun sample came out a bit more uneven, and has a bit of a thick and think quality to it. I also had some areas that were underspun in the singles, so breakage was a problem. I would want to spin a more careful sample before I decided to use this for a sweater, but for my comparison purposes I assumed it would suffice. Unsurprisingly the woolen-spun sample had slightly less twist overall in the singles.

Yarn butterflies of CVM - woolen-spun and semi-woolen.
Left: woolen-spun CVM (spun longdraw); Right: semi-woolen CVM (spun with short forward draft)

I cast on and knit two swatches on US #7 (4.5mm) needles, using a simple 3×3 cable as a test. The woolen-spun swatch came out slightly bigger for the same number of stitches as I would expect – it measured about 3 3/4″ over 20 stitches vs about 3 1/2″ for the semi-woolen swatch. And the cable does appear a bit flatter and less three-dimensional, which I suspected might happen. The semi-woolen swatch also has better stitch definition overall. What surprised me a bit, though, was in that the swatch spun with a short forward draft the stitches appear a bit puffier and seem to fill in the space better. That could be because of my inconsistency in spinning the woolen swatch, though. The other thing that surprised me was the difference in weight of the swatches. I know woolen-spun yarns tend to be lighter, but I was surprised that the two swatches spun from roving were so different. The semi-woolen swatch weighed 4.5 g versus 4.3 g for the woolen-spun – not a huge difference in a swatch of this size. But it made a noticeable difference to the feel of the swatch in my hand. It might be worth sacrificing a bit of cable definition to get a lighter, cozier feeling sweater. I like the look of both cables, and even though the draft did make a difference I’m not sure it was enough to prefer one draft over the other on that basis.

Two handknit cable swatches comparing woolen-spun vs. semi-woolen CVM.
My two cable swatches: woolen spun using longdraw (L) and semi-woolen (R) using short forward draft.

I haven’t decided yet if I will knit a sweater with this fiber – I would need to purchase more of it – or, if I do, which draft I will use. I also want to test how these swatches will stand up to wear – maybe a topic for another post. But I do have an idea of how my choices will affect the final yarn and what I might use it for.


How To Work a Cable Pattern Without the Chart

One of the things I love about knitting cables is they look much more complicated than they actually are. Yes, you can create really complicated cable charts, but at their most basic, cables are simple stitches knit out of order so that they cross over one another. You either hold a set of stitches to the front or back on a cable needle; or, if working without a cable needle you simply rearrange the stitches on your working needles.

The Winding Stream Socks have a cable chart that, with only 10 stitches, is simple enough you may not even have to look at the chart once you’ve worked through it once. All you need is to be able to ‘read’ the knitting, and you can anticipate what comes next. If you look closely at the chart, you can see that it breaks down into a series of just six steps, repeated over and over again. Let’s look at the chart for the left sock.

The cable chart starts with 3 columns of knit stitches, separated by purl stitches. I’ve color-coded them in the charts below: red, blue and green. These columns ‘travel’ toward each other and then cross over and under each other to form the pattern, and you only have to worry about one or two crosses at a time. The steps are as follows:

Step 1. The red and blue columns travel toward each other, crossing in front of the background purl stitches between (left and right 2/1 purl crosses). Meanwhile the green column simply continues on it’s merry way.

Cable Illustration Step 1

Step 2. The blue stitches cross in front of the red. (2/2 left cable cross)

Cable Illustration Step 2

Step 3. The blue and red columns now need to move apart again; this time the blue continues moving to the left and the red is on the right. (2/1 left and right purl crosses)

Cable Illustration Step 3

Step 4. Now the red column continues straight ahead and it’s the green column’s turn to join the dance. The blue and green stitches move towards each other, again crossing in front of the purl stitches between (more left and right purl crosses).

Cable Illustration Step 4

Step 5. The green stitches cross in front of the blue stitches. (2/2 right cable cross)

Cable Illustration Step 5

Step 6. The green and blue stitches move away from each other, crossing in front of the purl stitches between. (left and right purl crosses)

Cable Illustration Step 6

Now even thought the colors have switched around, the order of knit and purl stitches is the same as at the beginning, and we’re ready to start the repeat again.

I’ve created a little animation of this to show the flow of the stitches across the work (full disclosure – I wrote this post just so I could have an excuse to play with animation):

It helps to remember two ‘rules’ for this chart: 1) There is a ‘rest round’ in between every round with cable crosses. On those rounds you simply knit the knits and purl the purls as they present themselves; and 2) Knit stitches always cross over purl stitches.

The chart for the right sock works exactly the same, only you work steps 4-6 first and then steps 1-3. Once you understand how the cable works, you can start to anticipate which cable cross occurs next. It may seem difficult at first, but with a bit of practice you can get into the flow and work the pattern without the chart!

Please do leave a comment if you found this helpful, and let me know what other tips and tricks you’d like to see.

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