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Doing the Twist: Basics of Cable Knitting

January 18th, 2013

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Author, knitting teacher, and erstwhile crochet-along/knit-along host Heather Lodinsky joins us for an article on cables.

This season, style sections of newspapers and magazines are once again telling us that cables are a hot trend in fashion, showing up in all sorts of knitwear for women, men and children.   In knitting, there are those trends that appear again and again, such as lace, fair-isle knitting and cables.   It is safe to say that if you have never tried to knit a cable before…now is a great time to learn!

Cables in knitting look much more difficult than they really are.  I remember as a girl, looking at a cardigan my mother had knit with cables.   I was positive that she must have cut her knitting, and then twisted it to form the “ropes” in her knitting.   Well, I had half of the technique right, as cables are made by twisting  or moving your stitches as you knit, but no cutting of those stitches is necessary.

Choosing the Right Tools for Cable Knitting

In addition to the knitting needles you need to knit your project, you will also want to find the right cable needle for your project.   Cable needles come in various shapes and sizes, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they have two points like a double-pointed needle.   Some knitters do use a double-point needles as a cable needle, but there is a very good reason why cable needles are shaped the way they are.   Some cable needles are shaped as hooks, or simply have a bend in the middle of the needle.   But both work the same with the stitches being “moved” held on the bent part of the needle.

Cable Needle

Frequently cable needles come in a package with 2 or 3 sizes.   It is best to use a cable needle close to the size of the needle you are using to knit your project.   If a needle is too thin, the stitches may slide off as you are working your cable.  Alternately, if the cable needle is too thick, then your stitches will be stretched as you try to slip them on.  Choosing the right size cable needle will make your cable knitting a fun and rewarding  experience.

Classic Cables Scarf

Choosing Your First Cable Project

For your first cable project,  choose a pattern that has one or two  cables that are repeated throughout the project.  This will introduce you to cable knitting and give you the practice of working a cable without worrying about which cable to work.   The “Classic Cables Scarf” (right) is a perfect introduction to cable knitting.

This pattern is a classic – and a super scarf anyone would love to wear!  There is only one cable in this pattern that is repeated throughout the entire scarf.   When working a cable pattern, there will be abbreviations for each cable and in this pattern, the cable is called a 3/3 LC.   Looking at the “Stitch Explanation” section of a pattern explains how to work any cables in for your project.  In this pattern, the 3/3 stands for how the 6 stitches in each cable will be split.  The first three will be slipped onto the left side of cable needle :

3-3 LC Cable Picture 1
3-3 LC Cable Picture 2

In this cable, LC is an abbreviation for a “Left Cross”.  In other words, the resulting cable will be slanting to the “left” each time it is worked.   In order to achieve a “Left Cross”, the 3 stitches need to be held to the front of your work, as you knit the next three stitches on your left needle to your right needle.  (See how the “bend” in the cable needle helps hold those stitches?

3-3 LC Cable Picture 3

If you were to hold those stitches to the back of your knitting, the cable would slant or twist to the right.  For this pattern, all the stitches are held to the front and will the cable will slant to the left.   To complete the cable, simply slide the 3 stitches on the cable needle to the right tip of the cable needle, and knit them with your right needle:

3-3 LC Cable Picture 4
3-3 LC Cable Picture 5

A cable is born!   At first a cable looks very tight, but as you work the rows in between each cable row, you will see the lovely twist of the cables form.  In this scarf pattern,  the cables are worked only every 8th row, with just knitting and purling in those 7 rows in between.

Don’t be surprised if you find knitting cables addictive!  Having an assortment of cable needles will allow you to tackle any cable project on your knitting list.

VariousCableNeedles

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  • joyce

    I can do the cable but my problem is the instructions for the next rows and do you continually repeat the cable patter , right side and wrong side? Thanks ( I took some knitting lessons but instructor told me wrong)

    • catarry

      Hey, Joyce… It might help to re write the pattern so you can see row one through ten in order, instead of the way the pattern is written. You’ll see that you only do the cable on the right side of the scarf and that you only do it once every 10 rows.
      If you rewrite the pattern so that you don’t have to skip back and forth, it will make more sense

    • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

      Hi Joyce, the cable pattern is usually done only every few rows and on the right side. There should be other directions on the in-between rows (often working the stitches as they appear–meaning that if it looks like a knit stitch, knit it and of it looks like a purl stitch you purl it). Check out some of the cable patterns in our StitchFinder to get a feel for these common directions:
      http://www.lionbrand.com/cgi-bin/faq-search.cgi?store=/stores/eyarn&stitchfinder=1

  • http://iamdwj.com/blog DWJ

    I actually used this pattern and modified it (fewer cables) for my husband for Christmas. This is a great starter one and you’re right, cable needles are a lifesaver and definitely something I’m glad I bought. Much more stable than using a double point.

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  • Melodie

    Hear is a joke. I think those needles look like they got hit by a car HAHAHAHAHAHAH!
    wear would I get those needles? Can I get them at *walmart*?

    • Julie

      I got a pack of 3 for 1.97 at Wal-Mart yesterday! They don’t have a big variety but for a beginner it would be alright

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  • http://www.facebook.com/harriett.potter.stoddard Harriett Stoddard

    I’ve always loved cables, they are easy and fun, and give spectacular results (most people don’t know they are easy!)

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