Cables Away: Cable with Confidence this Fall

It’s chilly for August in the midwest right now, which makes it hard for my kids to jump in the lakes, but easy to get revved up about autumn knitting! Of course, lace knitting can be alluring all year round, but in fall, my knitting  always turns to cables and textures from our rich Aran traditions. Today, I’d like to talk about cables, including how to cable without a cable needle and make your cables reversible.


Autumn colors, cables and textures!

Cables draw the fabric together, making it denser and warmer. Working it with a larger needle, as shown keeps it soft and drapey, but in the past, sweaters with cables and textures knitted at tight gauges helped keep the water out and seafarers safer.

Cabling is knitters’ friend, providing a stylish and finished look to projects, while actually being easier to work than it appears. I know that I was terrified to try cables, then my neighbor Cindy showed me how to work a simple 4-stitch cable and I felt like I had been given one of the secrets to the universe. Of course, if you desire a challenge, there are all kinds of complicated braidwork and Celtic circles to try, which require keeping your wits about you and a row counter close at hand.


As you probably know, cables are created by periodically taking stitches out of their usual lineup and working them out of turn to create the characteristic cable crossing. You can work cables with as few as two stitches or as many as your needles can handle. Cables are often created using paired stitches, so are usually multiples of two stitches (four and eight are probably the most common), but odd numbers of stitches can be used to good effect. A general cable rule is that you perform the cable crossing row as many rows apart as your cable is stitches wide, so for a four-stitch cable, you cross every four rows; for an eight-stitch cable, you’d cross every eight. A more “relaxed” cable will appear if you go longer between crossings, a tightly twisted one if less.

Cables are performed by slipping the desired number of stitches off of the left hand needle and onto a cable needle just before working them, holding that needle either to the front of back of the work, working the remaining stitches in the cable (usually half the total number), then working the stitches from the cable needle. Cable needles can be a simple double-pointed needle or special needles with an indent in the center for keeping the stitches on more easily. 

A great, classic pattern to start with cables is the Irish Hiking Scarf, where many a knitter tried crossing stitches for the first time. The Fetching mitts, Natalie Larson’s Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret and Milo kid’s vest are also great places to begin cabling. And the most loved sweaters, the Mondo Cable, Kate Davies’ Owls and Central Park Hoodie, will never let you down.

For the more experienced cable knitter, sweaters like Mari Muinonen’s Sylvi, Ysolda Teague’s Vivian, Cirilia Rose’s Aidez and Thea Colman’s Dark and Stormy provide plenty of challenge and stunning finished objects. Jared Flood’s Umaro blanket or Koolhaas hat would make lovely gifts this winter. For shawls, Sue Berg’s Krokus or Mademoiselle C’s French Cancan, with their braided borders, would make a perfect cable-and-lace project.


If you like to go out on your own and find cables to try with your favorite patterns, Barbara Walker’s Treasuries, especially Volume 1 and Volume 2, include many exciting cable stitch patterns. Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Volume 2 and 50 Fabulous Aran Knit Stitches can give you lots of ideas.

 If you want to design your own cabled hats and cowls, remember that they’re knit in the round, so you’ll need to translate stitch instructions so that every other round will be worked with a knit background rather than purl to create a stockinette fabric. Be careful with socks, as cables can sometimes create too much bulk on the foot or pull the fabric tight. Often, using twist stitches work better for adding texture to socks, or keeping the cables to four stitches or less and alternating with lace can keep the fabric lighter.


So, you can slip stitches onto a cable needle and hold it to either the back or front, then work those stitches, creating a cable crossing. What if, like me, you went on vacation away from your usual supplies and your LYS, decided on a whim to start a cable project and didn’t have the extra cable needle (or dpn) with you? Well, my friend, fear not. You can still cable! You just have to be willing to take live stitches off of your work and rearrange them in progress.

This cabling-without-a-cable-needle technique works best with cables of eight stitches or less. As a rule, the fewer the number of stitches, the easier it is to work. I’ll demonstrate below with an eight-stitch cable. Please note: the two stitches on the end are garter edge stitches and not involved with the cable at all.


For instance, here I’m working an eight-stitch 1×1 ribbed cable. Instead of sliding off just the first fours stitches, as I would with a cable needle, I’m going to slide all eight of my stitches off of the needles.


Now all of them are off! This is rather unsettling, not a good time for interruptions.


Because I want the first four stitches to go in back of the second four, I slip them onto the left hand needle. If you were working a shorter cable, it might be good at this time to just use your fingers to stretch the remaining stitches and manually slip them onto the left hand needle. SInce I’m working with more stitches, I’ll use the right hand needle to pick them up, and will then slide them back onto the left hand needle.

So here I have slipped all four stitches temporarily onto the right hand needle  (remember, the two others are just edge stitches).



Getting ready to slip them back onto the left hand needle.IMG_0369[1]

All eight are now on the left hand needle, in the proper lineup for creating my cable.


Now we’re ready to knit all of the stitches in pattern off the left hand needle just like normal. They will be a little tighter than usual from being stretched, so be extra patient and/or move them slightly more toward the needle tips than you usually would.


Voila! The cable is knit! 

I hope that you’ll all enjoy some good cabling weather this fall, and encourage you to try something new! Please do let me know via Ravelry (jaaladay) or by commenting on the blog if you’ve got a cable project going.

Yarn used throughout was Knitcircus Ringmaster, 100% superwash Merino wool, in the Brass and Steam colorway.