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I love to KIP: knit in public. I’m always carrying my projects about with me, so I want to keep my toolkit fairly compact and light.

Working cables without a cable needle not only reduces the kit I need to carry, but also impresses at knit night.

Here’s how to do it.

The Principle of the Thing

When working a cable, what you’re doing is working stitches out of order.

That is, a C4R (cable 4 right) is worked over 4 stitches. If we number them, in the order in which you knit them, you’d usually be knitting stitches 1, 2, 3, then 4.

If you’re doing a 2-over-2 cross to the right, this means that you want to knit them in a different order: 3, 4, THEN 1, 2.

To work them without a cable needle, therefore, all you need to do is rearrange them on the needle, before you knit them.

That’s it. Arrange the stitches in the order you want to work them, and then work across them.

How to Do It

Yeah, OK, so the trick is in how to do the rearranging. I’m going to show you examples with four-stitch cables, crossing 2-over-2.

I’ve seen various instructions and methods for this. Below I’ve outlined how I do it. Ultimately, however you actually go about doing it isn’t relevant; what’s important is how the stitches end up.

WARNING: As you do this, some stitches will be briefly off the needles, loose and live. Prepare yourself. The strategy illustrated here keeps these shenanigans to an absolute minimum.

Going Right

If the cable is swinging to the right, the first two stitches move behind the second two. (Remember our mnemonic, “Right Back.”)

Step 1. Take the tip of the right needle, and put it—purlwise—into the fronts of stitches 3 and 4.

That is, you’re inserting the right needle tip so that the stitches to be worked second are in the back of it.

Why? A cable needle holds the stitches that get worked in the second step of a cable. For a right-leaning cable you hold those stitches to the back. The same principle applies here: the stitches to be worked second for a right-leaning cable worked without a cable needle are in the back, and the stitches to be worked first are in the front.

Step 2: Gently and carefully slide the left needle out of all four stitches. Stitches 3 and 4 are neatly caught on the right needle, leaving stitches 1 and 2 loose and live.

Step 3: Quickly put the tip of the left needle—which is in the back—into those loose stitches, to catch them.

Step 4: Return stitches 3 and 4 to the left needle.

Done. Now you just work across them.


When catching the loose stitches, focus on getting them back on the needle. If they have twisted around, that’s fine. Catch them first, and then fix the stitch orientation when you work them. If it’s left-leg forward, just knit it through the back loop.

These pre-rearranged stitches will be pretty tight and bunched up. That’s fine; everything settles down when you work the stitches. Just make sure that you’re working each stitch individually. It’s helpful to have good pointy tips on your needles.

In the MDK Shop
The needles we reach for time after time are our Addi Rockets. Thanks for your purchases. They keep all the knowledge flowing here at MDK.

Going Left

In this case, you want to take the first two stitches and bring them over the front of the other two.

Step 1: Take the tip of the right needle, and put it—purlwise—into the backs of stitches 3 and 4.

Step 2: Gently and carefully slide the left needle out of all four stitches. Stitches 3 and 4 will be neatly caught; stitches 1 and 2 will be loose and live.

Step 3: Quickly put the tip of the left needle—which will be in the front—into those loose stitches, to catch them.

Step 4: Return stitches 3 and 4 back to the left needle.

And done.

Pretty Much Any Cable

The samples show 2-over-2 cables, but of course this works exactly the same way for larger cables, for cables with knit and purl stitches, and for cables that have unequal numbers of stitches to be crossed. Although it requires care, it’s a straightforward technique that is immensely powerful.

But Not All Cables

Although I love working this way, there are times when I just won’t.

If it’s a particularly large cable—crossing 8 stitches over 8, for example—I’m going to do it the old-fashioned way, with a cable needle. It’s hard to get the tip of the working needle into so many stitches, first of all; and that’s a lot of live stitches to drop and catch.

I’ll be more cautious with very fine yarn and tiny stitches. They can start to unravel pretty easily, and sometimes my eyesight just isn’t up to the task.

And I choose to use a cable needle if I’m using a particularly slippery yarn—smooth silk, or bamboo. Stitches can unravel too easily. I also use a cable needle if I’m knitting a yarn that’s got a lot of fuzz like mohair or a bouclé, or a very splitty yarn.

In the MDK Shop
These are the cable needles we use and love. The length is long enough but not too long. And—the part we really love—the center of each cable needle is slightly narrower than the tips.

Two-Stitch Cables

There’s a special case that’s worth mentioning. Two-stitch cables can often be done without the suspenseful “letting them drop” stage.


If it’s 1-over-1 to the right, knit into the front of the second stitch (staying on the front of the work).

Pull the yarn through while leaving the stitch on the needle.

Then knit into the first stitch, and let them both drop off.

Hey presto! Stitches worked out of order.


If it’s 1-over-1 to the left, knit into the back of the second stitch.

Pull the yarn through while leaving the stitch on the needle.

Then knit into the first stitch, and let them both drop off.

Yes, it’s true that you’re working through the back loop of the under-side stitch. This will tighten the stitch up a tiny bit, and if you’re working a lot of cables like this, you could see a slight difference in your fabric tension and gauge.

This strategy works best with knit-over-knit twists; introducing purls raises the specter of purling through the back loop, which is nobody’s idea of good time.

Even if you don’t completely ditch the cable needle, these methods can absolutely speed up your knitting—and make you feel very clever.

This Could Come in Handy

The next time you’re knitting cables, it would be nice to have Kate by your side.
Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • This is very timely! I am knitting Anniversaire by Veera Välimäki which is all cables and knitted in one piece from the top down. It’s a complex and challenging knit and continually interesting. I keep checking the finished projects on Ravelry for tips from other knitters and have been intrigued by the people who say they knit the whole cardigan without using a cable needle – how?? how could they possibly do it??? Now I know. Thanks.

  • Brilliant!!

  • This method will help me avoid the “ping” of a metal cable needle hitting the floor during a guild meeting, or bouncing into the aisle on a plane.

  • I really must try this, but I get nervous! I already get nervous about dropping stitches when I use a cable needle; I really exaggerate my movements.

  • You did it again – exactly the tip I need for today’s project! Thanks.

  • A great bonus of this technique is that you get used to taking stitches off your needles, so you may find yourself willing to try more radical fixes. And you don’t panic nearly as much when stitches come off by mistake.

  • Totally agree with MKG! I haven’t used a cable needle in years unless it is 2/2/2 cable or something (stitches held in front and back)

    • I’ve been using this technique on heavily cabled socks on small needles. It works fine when the “dropped” stitches are in front but I have been loosing them when they are behind. So I have started, when they will be behind, to transfer all 4 stitches to the right hand needle and then do the switch, so that the dropped stitches are in front for that cable too. Works perfectly.

      • Just now read your comment – your solution is brilliant! I’m knitting socks with lots of Bavarian twisted stitches and your tip is much appreciated!

      • Sorry, the above was mentioned as a general reply but I seem to have attached it to an existing one!

  • This is quite possibly the most important post I’ll read all day, Covid19 be damned! Perfect timing for the last remaining 18 rows of traveling cables waiting for me to complete.

  • Great! This looks like fun! I’ll try it soon!

  • Explained so well–and photos are great. Thank you!

  • Thank you Kate! Always appreciate when pictures accompany instructions

  • Best description I have ever seen of this technique – thanks so much. (I’ve done it in the past, but it’s been awhile.) Part of the fun is how clever you feel!

  • I remember Kay or Ann posting about this years ago. It changed my cable knitting life! Thank you!

  • I can’t be the only one who never uses a cable needle, because I replace the cable needle with whatever stray dpn is in the bottom of my knitting bag, including the broken-in-half wood dpn that lives in my sock bag. It doesn’t fall out of the stitches, because as soon as I lift off the moving stitches I poke the tip of the dpn into the knitting until I’ve knit the first part of the cable, then I unpoke the tip and slide the stitches back onto the left needle, ready to knit. If there are frequent cables, I poke the dpn in and out of the lower part of the knitting to park it where it’s handy yet secure. I’ve tried the no-cable-needle technique with success, but I still go back to my dpn system as it seems less fussy!

    • When I use a cable needle I wear one knit wrister or fingerless glove and stick the cable needle in it, super handy to grab and replace

    • I don’t get going to all that trouble and risk of losing stitches just to avoid carrying a small cable needle. IMO using a cable needle is way easier than doing this. Surely I am not the only one who feels this way.

      • I have to agree Moira. I can, and have done it without a cable needle, but I’m much faster and more comfortable using a cable needle. I do like that part about impressing others at knit night though!

  • Yay! Thanks, Kate! 😀 I can’t wait to try this on my current project on the needles…

  • I’ve been doing this technique for years and love it. To save the stitches from dropping or getting out of control, I hold onto the right needle when it has the stitches to be crossed, and squeeze the knitting where the live stitches will be, slide out the left needle, then slip it back into the stitches. By holding the whole thing tight, the stitches don’t go anywhere.

    • That’s what I do too, pinch the free stitches so they don’t unravel while popping them back on in the crossed order.

  • My one real bugaboo regarding knitting is senseless inefficiency, yet I am what is described as a process knitter. Love love love the materials, ditto the tools. But. My capacity for tolerance is challenged beyond endurance by anything fiddly that does not have doggone good justification. So pleased Kate is on the planet so there is someone to come up with all those good ideas that escape so many of us, moi included. Yay, Kate!

  • Awe. SOME!!!!! Totally saving this article, thank you!

  • Drop the mike! Again, such a perfectly written explanation with brilliant photos to match. Thank you!

  • Had to come back to add – tried it, LOVE IT! This is my new go-to for 2 and 1 stitch cables! What a joy! Thanks, Kate 😀

  • Thank you for being very detailed – such as stating ‘purlwise’ into a stitch. So many instructions miss the direction of a slipped stitch. Much much appreciated.

  • Having trouble bookmarking this post

  • Definitely a bookmark article. Very good clear instructions and excellent photos.
    (Aside: What are the dimensions of the Brittany cable needle?)

  • Hi Kate, thank you for this article. Your instructions are always so good and the pictures are great!

    • Hi again, I intended to say that I recently bought Field Guide No. 9 with Norah Gaughan’s cable patterns. I will be trying this technique again because of this article.

  • This was a wonderfully clear description of how this technique works. I enjoy cabling so much more not needing a cable needle. As a side note, I also have Kate’s video workshop on fixing knitting mistakes and want to say it was worth the price of admission for how to fix cables, since I managed to bugger up one of my cables.

  • Great article — thanks, Kate!

  • Fantastic! Inspired me restart a problematic pattern with one over one cables, colour work, and increases all in the same rounds. (The yoke is setting in the frog pond bag because I was totally dissatisfied with the messy looking cables. I have done beautiful bigger cables before so this project totally cut my confidence.) Thank you.

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