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Dear Kay,

Straight up, I have never used a cable needle while knitting on double-pointed needles.

Wellllll, I have now.

Let me give you a little free advice: do not begin your journey of discovery about using a cable needle and DPNs while on a sold-out Southwest flight from Nashville to New York, particularly when your seatmate is a dude with armrest-mooching issues who falls asleep with his head tilted up as if receiving a blessing that results in him snoring so astonishingly that your Bose noise-cancelling headphones are but a mockery. He broke through the sonic wall! He who could not be cancelled! Who was this freak of nature?

It was such a disaster, such a comical lack of success that I am proud that I managed to do the thing I rarely do, which was to stick my knitting back into my bag and just stop.

You can drop a cable needle on a flight like this maybe three times before you start to kind of dislike the whole concept of knitting.

I really wanted to have a great time making my Appleseed Mitts in Jill Draper’s Windham in the exuberant shade of Peridot. This rough launch was not what I’d anticipated. I couldn’t figure out a way to tape up that fella’s piehole. It was all I wanted to do in the whole world.

The good news is that I got through that trip despite an appalling lack of knitting.

When All Else Fails

When I got back to Nashville, I did the other thing I rarely do, which is to rip out all my work (a grand total of maybe 15 rows, 630 hard-fought stitches I’ll admit), and start over.

So, in the calm of my own home, with only an 18-pound cat to fool with the DPNs, I began again.

Kay, what a difference a day makes.

I decided the only way to get past my Southwest Airlines debacle was to knit as slowly as possible. To let the arrival of a cable needle in my Appleseed Mitts be a welcome thing: not “I have to” but “I get to.” (Thank you to commenter Francis for this life-altering gem.) (More thoughts on meditation here.) When I ditched my constant impulse to crank as fast as possible, it all became so simple.

Knits and purls. Rearranging the order of stitches. Decreases and increases. It’s just knitting, right?

As you may know, I’m a big fan of knitting cables without a cable needle. But there are many beautiful cables that require the use of a cable needle. The angled slidey stitch that Thea Colman chose for the cuff of these mitts is one of those.

This Brittany cable needle is most excellent. The wood has a bit of tooth to it, just enough to help a knitter hold on to those stitches. I like that it’s short and has a subtle narrowing in the center. LOVE YOUR GEAR, friends.

But how to be nimble with this thing? I saw a video on Creative Bug of Norah Gaughan, the high priestess of cable knitting, knitting away with her cable needle. (It looked like a DPN, actually.) Her solution for keeping track of her cable needle when not using it? She sticks it into her work below.

No big deal. Picks it back up when she needs it, snipsnap just like that.

This revelation changed everything for me—I couldn’t find a rhythm for how to hold the cable needle without, you know, constantly dropping it on the floor of an airplane with a guy snoring next to me.



PS So happy to see so many Bunchalongers joining our epic Bunchalong, in which we’re all going to knit a bunch of stuff from MDK Field Guide No. 8: Merry Making.  Join the fray over in the Lounge, where the Bunchalong group is already cranking. And you could win a prize! Remember to post your Bunchalong pix to Instagram with #MDKbunchalong, to your Ravelry project page, or in the Lounge to be eligible for our weekly $50 MDK Shop credit prizes.

PSS I hasten to mention that there’s a correction to the Appleseed Mitts pattern here.


  • Don’t use a cable needle. Doesn’t matter where I am, what needles I use, I ALWAYS drop it. Grumperina has a great tutorial on cable stitches without a cable needle. Made my life a lot less fiddly. Not sure if that applies to DPNs, though, but I am a magic loop woman as much as possible. Really want to knit those mitts.

  • I find using a round toothpick works great. They are cheap and plentiful. They also have that bite you need.

  • Sorry for your horrible plane ride but your right-on description of your seat mate added laughter to wake up to. Thanks. PS Happy the mitts worked out in your homey quietness.

  • Maybe you could perfect a really convulsive sneeze on occasions like that. Which would also have the desired affect of knocking Piehole Man’s head off your shoulder should it have dropped off there.

    I rarely cable, so far only for hats, but when I do it is sometimes with and sometimes without a cable needle for no apparent reason. Interesting to see that I am not alone — although you actually have a reason. Love the toothpick idea!

  • Remarkably, I still have the aluminum cable needle I got when I was in college in the 60’s — the kind that’s shaped like a long, narrow letter “U” but with one end shorter than the other. Because of its shape, it’s possible to cradle it comfortably in my left hand in between cables on a row. Or — I hold it with my teeth. But believe me, I’ve had to retrieve it from the couch cushions on many occasions. And I feel your pain about losing needles on a flight! I learned the hard way that projects on a circular needle are a far wiser choice for me than something on size 1 dpn’s!!

    • I have mine too. Its blue aluminun=m and kind of skinny, but I have long since retired it in favor of the Brittany needle shown above. I actually rarely use a cable needle, but when i do, I prefer this one for all the reasons above, plus the fact that it comes in three sizes, thus avoiding the issue of skinny cable needle falling out of the chunky knitting

  • When I first starting knitting cables, I used a DPN one or two sizes smaller. A few years ago I bought the cable needle that is like the U – with one size shorter. It has changed my life! I like how the needle hangs down and out of the way while I’m working the other stitches. I’m working on a cardigan right now that on every 7th row of the back, had 13 cable crosses, and each cable uses two cable needles. I was getting very slowed down, putting down and picking up the cable needles for each cross. When I realized to just jab the cable needles into the fabric to hold them, it was like an epiphany! I know that many people are big fans of knitting without a cable needle, but I’m stuck in my ways.

  • (You could’ ve surreptiously poked your seatmate in the underarm with a dpn…..)

    • That was my thought too. Purely by accident, naturally.

    • Heh, heh. That was my thought, too.

      • My thought exactly!

    • I like how you think, Mary!

  • Any knitters out there on an aisle seat in a southwest flight? Your welcome to have my cable needle. Probably right under your seat. Watch out though, it’s fiddely

  • I love DPNs but a knitting friend got me to try knitting with two 16 inch circular needles. It’s my go-to when traveling.

  • Why not use a short circular as a cable holder? Less likely to fall out than anything straight, no?

    Also — about the snoring guy — knitting needles, need I say more. “Oh, sorry, did I poke you?” but only if he complains. The parts in your space are fair game.

    I am verry aggressive about arm rests. I do not cede control lightly.

    • Noooooooo! Can’t get Knitters a bad rap on planes! What if they decide to take our needles off the TSA Ok list?!?!?!
      Tho it could be satisfying….

  • My friend gave me a very small tube (1 1/2″ long) with a single cable motif she had knit that fits around my first finger. The cable holds the needle until I need it again. No more lost or out of reach cable needle, yay. However, you cannot mindlessly rub your face while wearing it……

    • There’s a free pattern for it on Ravelry.called Cable Keeper. I made a couple for fun last year. Now where did I put those?

    • Great idea. Better than my approach which is to put it in my mouth!

  • I have the same Brittany cable needle and love it! On something like the mitts I hold it in my teeth during the cable round, and either stick it in my hair or pop it back into my little notions box while I’m knitting the rest. I’ve done cable needle with DPNs before but used a 12″ circular on the cable cuff of my first mitt and am doing magic loop (so far) for the stockinette.

  • Re Piehole man: always carry a ball of junk yarn. Need I say more?

  • Thanks for pointing out Errata page. Knit Corrugated Shawl and love it and errata be gone! All creative modifications are completely my own. Reminder: Next time look for Errata.

  • I feel your pain about your seatmate Ann:(
    I was blessed with an empty seat between myself and my rowmate on my recent flights (5+ hrs) both going and coming home. It was perfect!! We both piled our stuff in the middle seat & pull down tray. I use a big plastic tapestry needle for cableing and hold it in my teeth between cables. I did loose a stitch marker on my last flight, it just slid off my needle. Just pulled another out of my bag

  • My cable needle gets stashed in my bra.
    OK, maybe not on a plane.

  • hmmmm… i think I would have “accidentally” stabbed the snorer with my cable needle…

  • So sorry about that flight! Your mitts are now coming along nicely. I’ve heard others dread the DPNs plus cable needle. I think I’m glad I forged ahead with the Knitty (2006?) Fetching mitts back when I was too ignorant to be skittish. I just dove in and knit three pairs on my crowded train commute. Ignorance can be bliss!

  • Kermit would argue that he does not “fool” with your DPNs; rather, he is testing the yarn for snag resistance and tensile strength!

  • When a cable needle or crochet hook is not in use, I place it between the temple of my glasses and my head, and they hold there well. When out in public knitting, be ready for lots of comments when people notice it.

  • I stick my cable needle through my wedding ring. It works for me! If that’s not a possibility, I put a small ponytail elastic on my finger & use it as a holder. Just a thought!

  • “I get to” rather than “I have to” has changed my attitude very much for the better this week. You never know what you’ll learn on MDK!

  • I love the Brittany cable needles. I stick mine under my watch band while working. Not an apple watch, just a plain old one.

  • If I’m not at home I also “weave” my cable needle into my project when not in use. Or, maybe hold it n my mouth if the next use is soon (sorry).

  • Wow. Came back to the Comments on this post, which I occasionally do, and am kind of delighted to see all the tips, tricks and spur of the moment paraphernalia that people employ and stash their cabling projects with. Comments can be very useful and fun. (I use the bra trick myself sometimes but it only works when I’ve gained weight.)

  • I also had never used a cable needle w/DP needles. I completed 2 pairs of the mitts, and did not feel very Merry in the process. My original plan was to make mitts for all the females in my family, but have decided to throw in the towel on that plan. They look great, but I am emotionally drained! I do love the Firld Guides!

    • Hi Jean! I think it would be the easiest modification in the world to make the cuff in a plain knit-purl pattern of your own choosing–I was SHOCKED and DELIGHTED to discover how fast the second half of my mitt came together. Each mitt is a one-night knit–and if I made them without the cable pattern, it would be a total breeze.

      • I agree Ann… I have been knitting for 34 years & rarely get as frustrated as I did. I am new to the Modern Daily blog family, but have enjoyed your books for years! Thank you for the support!

  • Based on previous comments, I may be a rarity…I have never made cables *without* using something to hold those stitches – be it a cable needle, dpn, short circ, toothpick, or reed (I knit outdoors quite often). When the no-cable-needle-cable began showing up everywhere in knitworld a few years ago I did try it but found it unworkable for me, perhaps because most of my knitting is relatively tiny stitches that begin to retreat into the stitch below the moment they sense freedom from the restraint of a needle.
    Gosh, Ann, that plane ride would have been hell for me…if loud fake coughing didn’t wake mr. mouth I might have rung for the flight attendant and then feigned even more hearing loss than I already have…”Sorry, could you repeat that, please? A bit more loudly?” I hate confrontation but cannot ignore background noise. And human-body-generated background noise? Ugh.

  • Had trouble with the pattern period. Could not get it to come out right at all.

  • I have been known to park my cable needle behind my ear or poked into my ponytail or messy bun (when I had hair long enough). I’m sure I looked pretty weird at times, but who cares? I was in my element!

  • I was much luckier on my last SWA flights (despite sitting on the tarmac in Dallas for an extra hour and almost missing my connection!) and had room to knit those snazzy little coasters!
    I ❤️ my Knitpicks cable needles, truly! They have three little grooves that ‘catch’ the stitches for me. I love that depending on where those stitches are going next (back in the left needle or knitting them off), you can pick which groove they rest in so they’re poised for their next move.

    I just stick my cable needle in my skein of yarn to rest between its duties. . . so far so good! Only dropped it once on the transfer during my last trip!

  • I may need to get over myself and try cabling. It’s good to push beyond our fears, right? I think the concept of slowing down and enjoying the process is the key.

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