The first time you work a cable, it does seem pretty weird, and possibly even a bit scary: “What do you mean I have to take stitches off the needle?”
But once you’ve tried it, and seen the result, I think you’ll agree that the impact is much greater than the effort.
Skill Set: Beginning Knitting gets knitters started with left- and right-twisting 2 x 2 cables that teach all the basics. Lucky for us, there are literally thousands of variations of cables to explore.
Three cable motifs by Norah Gaughan for Field Guide No. 9: Revolution. From top: Elaine’s Capelet, Liberty pullover, and Calligraphy Cardigan.
From 2 x 2 twists to Norah Gaughan’s brilliant motifs, all cables work the same way: you’re knitting stitches out of order. That’s it! Really!
When you slip stitches to your cable needle …
… you’re just setting them aside, putting them on hold.
If you’ve got 6 stitches, and you put the first three on a cable needle, this means that instead of knitting them in order, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 … What you’re doing is knitting them starting with stitches 4, 5, and 6.
Let’s focus on two key cable elements.
Front or Back?
If you hold the resting stitches at the back, the cable turns to the right. (This is easy to remember, think, “I’ll be right back!”)
If you hold the resting stitches to the front, the cable turns to the left. (“I’ll be left at the front door” is not so catchy, eh?)
How Many Stitches?
There are no rules or limits to the number of stitches over which you can work a cable. The tiniest ones, a two-stitch cable, have one stitch crossing over another.
And you can have giant ones, crossing 8 or 10 or 12 stitches over another 8 or 10 or 12.
Eight stitches crossing over eight! (Looking especially cablicious in MDK Atlas)
The more stitches in the cable cross, the more the cable pulls the fabric in, which can make really great textured effects.
Tip: Generally, when we talk about a cable, the number we mention corresponds to the total number of stitches—both sides. So a 6-stitch cable is 3 stitches crossing over 3.
All of these samples show all the stitches in a cable being knit … some cable turns introduce purl stitches, for even more variations!
Top tips for working cables:
- This might seem counter-intuitive, but I like to use a cable needle that is slightly larger than my knitting needle, so that it doesn’t slip out of the stitches while they’re waiting.
- It’s important to make sure that your cable needle doesn’t twist around when it’s resting. That is, you want to knit them in the order you slipped them to the needle.
- There are many different shapes and styles of cable needles—straight ones, v-shaped ones, curved ones. Which you choose is entirely personal preference. Heck, in a push, you don’t even need a special tool—you can just as easily use a bobby pin or a golf tee!
- My favorites are the white and blue ones in that photo, shaped like a shepherd’s crook. (You can see it in action in these photos, too.) I love this style for several reasons. Because one end is shorter than the other, it helps me keep the stitches in order. I always slip the stitches onto the short end, and then slide them down to the long end and knit off that.
- When the stitches are waiting, I move them along to the bend, and then the cable needle tucks nicely out of the way.
- And when I’m not using it, I can tuck it in the neck of my t-shirt when I’m knitting, so I don’t lose it!
- Most patterns use abbreviations for the cable “name”—for example, C6R—rather than spelling out the full instruction every time. Always consult the pattern glossary for the details; there’s no need to guess what the abbreviation means.
Look Ma, no cable needle!
You read that right. You can work some cables without a cable needle. Check out my MDK Techniques in Depth article here.
Do the twist
Want to play with some cables? Have a look at these gorgeous accessories designs from MDK Field Guides.
Thea Colman’s Appleseed Mitts for Field Guide No. 8: Merry Making
Norah Gaughan’s Ironworks Beret for Field Guide No. 9: Revolution shown here knit up in one skein of MDK Atlas, shade: Mouse.