How to Knit Cables
A Simple Introduction for Beginners
Hello and welcome to my first page about cabling!
I have personally always loved the look of cables, but I always assumed they would very complicated to knit.
I finally got the courage up to give them a go and discovered that they are actually a lot easier than they seem. So I'm here today to convince you to try out cabling for yourself and see how simple it really is.
Saying that, my first piece of advice to you would be to tell you NOT to look at any cable pattern charts before you try knitting cables, because they will blow. your. mind. They look insanely complicated and are likely to overwhelm any beginner who has dreamed of cabling, and is likely to put you off for life!
I'm serious, don't look at the charts, they even scare me.
Instead, please take a look at my video below where I give you a nice-and-easy intro into the concept of cabling, and I also demonstrate the use of a cable needle to show you how it's done:
With regards to the cable needle you need, there are a few options which I go over in the video.
For narrow cables it is possible to do cabling without an extra needle, however I personally think it is easier to just use a cable needle.
I use a hooked cable needle, but there are also notched cable needles, and a lot of people just use a straight double-pointed needle. I like the hooked variety because I know it won't fall out of my stitches, but it's down to your personal preference which one you choose.
The diameter of the cable needle you use for a project should be the same diameter as the knitting needles you're using, or a little smaller. You basically just don't want to use a thicker needle because this will stretch the stitches.
The Concept of Cabling
The important thing to grasp about cables is how they are made, because even though you could just blindly follow a pattern, I find that it's so much easier if you really understand why you are doing each stitch.
In the video, I compare the cable needle to a subs bench at a sports match, where players sit out part of the game until they are required again. Stitches on a cable needle are like players on the subs bench; they are just being put to one side until you need them again.
So when cabling, you will usually put between 1 and 6 stitches onto the cable needle and leave this cable needle to one side (either in front of, or behind, your knitting). You will then carry on knitting as normal for at least 1 stitch, before then bringing the stitches off the cable needle and back into your knitting again.
The whole point of this is to pass those cable needle stitches either over or under other stitches - thus twisting stitches around each other and forming that classic raised cable design.
The most popular combination of stitches used for a cable is definitely stockinette stitch for the cable, and reverse stockinette for the background/surrounding stitches.
The reason for using stockinette for cables is because the stitch has a nice flow to it, and the little zig-zags within the stitch seem to point along the cable strands. Basically, it just looks nice :)
And reverse stockinette stitch is used as the background because the pattern of it contrasts well with the stockinette cable, and it also is quite 'sunken' or 'recessed' in comparison to stockinette stitch.
As a result, the combination of these stitches helps to make the cable 'pop' (i.e. stand out) more from the knitting, and look more defined. It just makes the cable more visible and clear. If a stockinette cable was made on a background of stockinette stitch instead, the cable would obviously blend in a lot more and be less prominent.
There's not a rule to say this is the only combination though, and you'll see many different stitches used for cabling, including garter, seed and rib stitch.
When starting out, you'll be knitting simple cables and most of the time these will be worked over an even number of stitches. For instance, a 'C6B' cable is a cable that is worked over 6 stitches (so it's 6 stitches wide in total).
For basic cables, it's very likely that you will be passing half of the total number of cable stitches over the over half e.g. for a C6B, you will be putting 3 stitches onto your cable needle and carrying those stitches over the other 3 stitches of the cable.
If you're looking for easy cable patterns to start with, please head over to my basic cable patterns page.
Another few things to note:
- Cables are knitted on the right side (front) of the knitting only, and on the wrong side (back) of your knitting you'll usually just knit the knits and purl the purls in order to carry on the established pattern.
- Before I started knitting cables, I thought that I'd need to be using the cable needle on every row, but that's not the case; normally you'll only be actually doing cable stitches every handful of rows, with the rest of the rows usually just being simple knit & purl rows.
- When doing basic twist cables, you'll see that the further apart the cable rows (i.e. the rows where you do the cable stitches) are, the further apart the actually twists of the cable are, and therefore the more loose the cable looks. The closer together the cable rows are, the closer together the twists and the tighter the cable will look.
- You'll often see cables referred to as 'back cross' or 'front cross' cables; for example, a 'C4F' is a front cross cable, and a 'C6B' is a back cross cable. It all depends on where you hold the cable needle when making the cable; either in front of, or behind, your knitting.
If you hold the cable needle behind your knitting needles when it has stitches on it, then you are knitting a back cross cable, which is a right-leaning cable. If you hold the cable needle in front of your knitting needles instead, then you are making a front cross cable, which is a left-leaning cable.
A good way of remembering this is to think that 'R' stands for 'right-leaning' & also for 'rear', so to get a right-leaning cable, the cable needle needs to be held at the rear of the knitting needles :)
I hope these notes have been useful, and I hope I've persuaded you to have a go at knitting cables!