techniques: cables


August 29, 2018

knitting cables with or without a needle

Cables: Decorative flourishes in knitted fabric that make many a knitter's heart beat faster. Impressive in appearance as well as fun to work, cables are what knitters and non-knitters alike often picture when asked to think of classic knitted sweaters.

There are many different types of cables—from the simplest twists, to plaits and honeycombs, to mesmerizing interwoven masterpieces—but when it comes down to it, cables are typically worked the same: By rearranging the order of stitches as they appear on the needle for a given row, crossing a group of stitches over another, creating traveling columns of stitches that are no longer going in their typical orderly vertical line from cast on edge to bind off. 

How you rearrange stitches—either in front of or behind their neighboring stitches—is what gives a directional twist to a cable, either left or right.

We'll go over how to use a cable needle—a simple tool that assists in the rearranging of stitches on the left needle in their new orientation—as well as cabling without a needle. The latter is quite a handy technique to have in your repertoire for those projects where the cables are small enough, or numerous enough, or a combination of the two, as it allows you to cruise along and knit cables with speedy ease.

cable knitting basics

Choose a cable needle the same size as your knitting needle or larger. If you are a loose knitter or working with slippery yarn, go bigger. Your needles should slide easily on the cable needle, but still feel secure, not ready to slip off.

When you work a cable using a cable needle: You place a number of stitches on hold using the cable needle, work the stitches that follow them first, then return to the held stitches, causing the held stitches to be crossed either over or under, depending on how they are held.

When you cable without a needle: You reposition the stitches by allowing some stitches to fall loose while other stitches are brought closer to the LH needle tip, then all the stitches are worked at once, in their new orientation.

The tutorials below use a simple 6-stitch cable—3 stitches crossing over or under 3 stitches—but cables can be worked over virtually any number of stitches. Keep in mind that cabling without a needle is not suitable for every yarn or project; you may find that larger cables or slippery yarn are too cumbersome. Try out the technique in your swatch and see if it works for you—swatching is not only for gauge, but for also testing the tools and techniques you would like to use in your project.

how to knit right-leaning cables

A cable where the twist leans to the left may be called a Right Cable, Twist, or Cross, or a Back Cable, Twist, or Cross. The example here is a simple 6-stitch back cable, or C6B.

Work as established in your pattern to the point where your cable begins:



Using a cable needle:

  1. Slip the next 3 stitches from the LH needle onto the cable needle as if to purl (so the stitches don't twist). Let the cable needle fall to the back of your knitting:

    1. Bring the RH needle and the yarn in front of the cable needle to knit the next 3 stitches:

      1. Then, let go of the LH needle and hold the cable needle in your left hand...

      ...and with the RH needle, knit the 3 stitches from the cable needle:

      Your right-leaning cable is complete!

      Pick up your LH needle and continue working as established in your pattern.

      Other right-leaning cables using a cable needle:

      Slip the number of stitches specified for your cable onto the cable needle and hold in back of your work. Knit or purl the number of stitches specified from the LH needle, then knit or purl the stitches from the cable needle.

      Without a cable needle:

      1. With RH needle in front of work, skip 3 stitches and insert RH needle into the next 3 stitches from right to left:

      2. Carefully slip all 6 stitches off of LH needle. The first 3 stitches will be off the needles and next 3 stitches will be on RH needle (a). Return the first 3 loose stitches to LH needle (b), then return the 3 stitches from RH needle to LH needle (c). Knit the 6 stitches in the order they appear on LH needle (d).

      Your right-leaning cable is complete!

      Continue working as established in your pattern.

      Other right-leaning cables without a cable needle:

      With RH needle in front of work, skip the number of stitches your cable states to be slipped onto the cable needle, and slip the RH needle into the number of stitches to be worked from the LH needle.

      Carefully slip all these stitches off of the LH needle. Return the loose stitches to the LH needle, then return the stitches from the RH to LH needle.

      Knit or purl the first stitches as your cable states they should be worked from the LH needle, then knit or purl remaining stitches as specified to be worked from the cable needle.

      how to knit left-leaning cables

      A cable where the twist leans to the left may be called a Left Cable, Twist, or Cross, or a Front Cable, Twist, or Cross. The example here is a simple 6-stitch front cable, or C6F.

      Work as established in your pattern to the point where your cable begins.

      Using a cable needle:

      1. Slip the next 3 stitches from the LH needle onto the cable needle as if to purl (so the stitches don't twist). Let the cable needle fall to the front of your knitting.

      1. Bring the RH needle and the yarn behind the cable needle to knit the next 3 stitches.

      1. Then, let go of the LH needle and hold the cable needle in your left hand...

      ...and with the RH needle, knit the 3 stitches from the cable needle.

      Your left-leaning cable is complete!

      Pick up your LH needle and continue working as established in your pattern.

      Other left-leaning cables using a cable needle:

      Slip the number of stitches specified for your cable onto the cable needle and hold in front of your work. Knit or purl the number of stitches specified from the LH needle, then knit or purl the stitches from the cable needle.

      Without a cable needle:

      1. With RH needle behind work, skip 3 stitches and insert RH needle into the next 3 stitches from right to left:

      2. Carefully slip all 6 stitches off of LH needle. The first 3 stitches will be off the needles and next 3 stitches will be on RH needle (a). Return the first 3 loose stitches to LH needle (b), then return the 3 stitches from RH needle to LH needle (c). Knit the 6 stitches in the order they appear on LH needle (d).

      Your right-leaning cable is complete! Continue working as established in your pattern.


      Other left-leaning cables without a cable needle:

      With RH needle behind work, skip the number of stitches your cable states be slipped onto cable needle, and slip the RH needle into the number of stitches to be worked from the LH needle.

      Carefully slip all these stitches off of the LH needle. Return the loose stitches to the LH needle, then return the stitches from the RH to LH needle.

      Knit or purl the first stitches as your cable states they should be worked from the LH needle, then knit or purl remaining stitches as specified to be worked from the cable needle.

      Materials used in this tutorial: Quince & Co. 100% American extra-fine merino DK Phoebe yarn in color Cygnus, birch double-pointed needles from Twig & Horn, and KA Grooved Cable Needles.

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