How to knit a cable: easy as 1, 2, (4), 3

Posted by on July 21, 2012, in crochet & knitting,

Knitted cable pattern from Cable Confidence

Did you know there are 367 different stitch patterns for knitted cables? Well, okay, so I made that number up. I honestly have no idea how many ways there are to knit cables, but I know there are loads of them. It’s mind-boggling how many creative ways you can cross left, cross right, hold in front, twist, slip, add a bobble…the possibilities go on and on. Cables add wonderful texture and interest to a knitted piece, and they can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them. And the best part is, they’re not difficult to do at all! If you’ve wanted to learn how to knit a cable, just keep reading. We’re here to show you just how easy and fun knitting cables can be!

Knitted cable patterns become less intimidating once you understand that they are created simply by working stitches out of order. In other words, instead of knitting stitches 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, you might knit 1, 2, 5, 6, 3, 4. You can do that because you’ve held 3 and 4 out of the way so you can get to 5 and 6. Get it? A handy tool called a cable needle is used to hold those stitches out of the way while the other stitches are worked. The stitches are held either at the back (to create a right-crossing cable) or at the front (to create a left-crossing cable).

This photo, from the book Cable Confidence, shows simple four-stitch, six-stitch, and eight-stitch cables crossed to the left and to the right. See how the cables twist in different directions?

Four-, six-, and eight-stitch knitted cables
Pretty cool, isn’t it?

So how does it work? Let’s use a four-stitch, right-crossing cable as an example. (We borrowed these illustrations from Cable Confidence because they do such a good job of teaching cable basics.) Most cables are made up of knit stitches worked on a purl-stitch (known as reverse stockinette stitch) background. You simply purl over to the four cable stitches. Slide the next two stitches to be worked (let’s call them stitches 1 and 2, the first two cable stitches) from the left needle to the cable needle. Don’t have a cable needle? No worries! You can use a double-pointed needle, a chopstick, even a pencil will do—anything you can slip stitches onto and hold them out of the way. You don’t even need to fret about the slipping part; this isn’t a case where you need to remember whether to “slip as if to knit” or “slip as if to purl”—you simply slide the stitches just as they are from the left needle to the cable needle.
How to knit a cable 1
Now that the stitches are on the cable needle, move that needle to the back of your work, behind your other two needles. Knit the next two stitches on the left needle (stitches 3 and 4).
How to knit a cable 2
Now move the cable needle forward into position and knit the two stitches from the cable needle (stitches 1 and 2) onto the right needle to complete the cable.
How to knit a cable 3
knitted cable scarfSee how easy that was? Seriously, that’s all there is to it. As I’ve said, although you can get elaborate with knitted cable patterns, the basic concept is pretty simple. And fun. I know someone who was so excited when she first learned to knit cables, she couldn’t stop making them. She added them to scarves, fingerless mitts, socks, hats—whatever she happened to be knitting. She searched for patterns with cables just to challenge herself to try new combinations. I think she’s over her obsession now, but I can’t be sure. These things have a way of sneaking up on you.

Are you ready to try it yourself? A quick, easy way to get started is to add one big, chunky cable to a supersoft scarf (right).

You could also ease into the technique by knitting one big cable into a simple shell, like this “Easy Cabled Summer Shell” from Easy Cable Knits for All Seasons.

Easy Cabled Summer Shell

Another easy—and nonthreatening—way to practice is to make pillows. They’re quick, there’s no fitting involved, and you can try lots of different stitches.

knitted cable pillows

And when you’ve built up your skills and your confidence, you’ll be ready to tackle a stunning Aran-style sweater.

knitted cable sweater from Cable Confidence knitted cable cardigan from Cable Confidence

See more knitted cable patterns from Cable Confidence and Easy Cable Knits for All Seasons in the slideshow below.

What’s your take on cables—is their complexity a myth? Does it get easier as you go? Share your advice in the comments!

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5 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I love cables–especially with worsted weight, smoother yarns. I enjoy the challenge and the results are exciting!

    Michelle Harrison on July 21, 2012
  • I have knit cables since my mom taught me how to use the little cable needle when I was in high school. I would see beautiful cable sweaters knit in such beautiful yarns in the department stores and would love to have one, but the price was more than I could afford. My mom said,"You could make those for much less." So we bought yarn to match the skirts she made me and I began making my own sweaters. It is such a satisfying art. I would always have a sweater in the making when I went off to college that was finished by Christmas. And years later when I married my college sweetheart, I made sweaters for family members and years later baby cables for our newborns.And down the road,stylish sweaters for our teenagers. Cables add so much depth to the design of the sweater, scarf, or blanket and they really are very simple to accomplish. If you can knit, you can make cables. Once you see it done, it makes more sense and takes the mystery out of the maneuver. And like anything else, the more you do, the more your confidence grows and you can tackle about any of the complex-looking patterns with ease.

    —Pamela Zajicek on July 21, 2012
  • Making cables is my favorite part of knitting. Another option is to slip your stitches on to crochet hooks if you have those instead of cable needles. I do recommend that you try to have sizes comparable to the size of the knitting needles so you can just knit them right off of them instead of having to slip the stitches back on to the knitting needle. If you don’t have a similar size, though, it is very quick & easy to just slip the stitches back on to the knitting needles.

    —Janet Espeleta on July 21, 2012
  • in the last 60 some years or so, i’ve knit a jillion different kinds of cables on just about everything immaginable. they are facinating, addictive and fun. now that i’m a little older, i really have to work at making them. sigh!

    ritainalaska on July 21, 2012
  • What is the name of the cable at the very top of the page?

    Hi Jess, the pattern is called "Sinead" and it is from the book, Cable Confidence.

    —jess on March 29, 2015

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