Stephanelli’s Knitting Guide: Cables

After last week’s post on my newest knitting pattern I was asked if I could do a beginner’s guide to knitting cables – so this week, I present to you the first in a new series of posts!  The series will look at some of the different concepts in knitting starting off today with cables and will eventually include things like lace and various forms of colourwork.  I may also do a guide to the very basics of knitting for the complete beginner.  This is a work in progress so we shall see how it goes – feedback along the way would be really helpful as I’ve never done a how-to series before although I’ve taught a variety of knitting concepts to people over the last couple of years!

A Beginner’s Guide To Knitting Cables

Cables stitches create a more textured fabric and are very visually appealing.  There are many types of cable stitches.  We will look at a variety of them today from the very basic to the slightly more complicated and I’ll direct you to some of my favourite resources for taking your cabling skills further.  Before we start I’m going to assume for now that you are able to cast-on in your preferred method; you know how to do both knit and purl stitches and you are able to cast-off in your preferred method.

A cable is made by swapping the order that you knit (or purl) the stitches from the left hand needle to the right hand needle.  This creates an effect that is visual appealing, is often raised and can sometimes make for a different texture.  You can knit cables in the round or flat, but make sure you know what the cable pattern is written for otherwise you’ll get some (potentially lovely) effects that you weren’t after!  They are often knit on a background of reverse stocking stitch – that means that if you’re looking at the right side, the cable itself will have the usual vertical V shape stitches (like what you get on most socks – the picture on the left below) and the background will have the horizontal bar (-) purl stitches (the picture on the right below) – this background helps to emphasise the cable so it looks even better!

What You Need

If you want to knit cables you’ll need:

  1. Some yarn
    • I prefer to use plain colours for cables as colour-changing yarn can hide your lovely cable pattern
    • Lighter colours often work best to see the cable most clearly but it depends on the look you’re going for and the yarn you’re using
    • The yarn can be of any weight – I’ve done cables all the way from chunky to lace and in various weights in between.  Chunky yarn will give thicker textures and cable will often be raised fairly high whereas lace yarn will give very low cables.  I suggest practising in some basic DK yarn to start with though.
  2. Knitting needles appropiate to your yarn

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    Yarn and needles
  3. A cable needle
    • You can buy specific cables needles, they normally look like this and this is what I’m going to use in all the photos below:

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      Kinked cable needles
    • If you don’t have a cable needle then you can use a double pointed needle (DPN) that is at least a size smaller than your main knitting needles.  It needs to be a size smaller because when you cable you are swapping the stitches and pulling the stitches tighter than those around them.  Shorter ones are normally easier to work with.

      dsc04133_800x600
      Selection of DPNs
    • If you don’t have either of these you can use a pencil/pen/large paperclip/stitch holder, hair grip, etc. – basically anything that will hold your stitches securely but won’t ruin your yarn and is preferably thinner than your knitting needles.

      dsc04134_800x600
      Various items you could use as a stitch holder
    • If you still don’t have anything or would prefer not to use anything then there are various methods of cabling without a cable needle, here are a few methods on the LoveKnitting Blog, for beginners though, I would highly recommend using something, even if it is just a pencil.

Right, got your materials together?  Let’s look at how to knit some cables!

Knitting Your First Cable

Before we look at a specific cable, the basic steps for any cable are:

  1. Follow your pattern up to the cable stitches
  2. Slip the required number of stitches onto a cable needle
  3. Hold the cable needle at either the front or back of the work
  4. Work (knit or purl) the required number of stitches from the left hand needle (as normal)
  5. Work the stitches from the cable needle
  6. Continue following your pattern (which may or may not have more cables!)

The most basic cable stitches are what I know as the Cable 4 Back or Cable 4 Front.  We’re going to do the Cable 4 Back first.  This is sometimes known as Cable 4 Right because the front stitches of the cable lean to the right.  If you’re following a pattern then its always recommended to check what the designer defines the stitch as just in case its a particularly interesting cable – I know cable 4 right as a different cable entirely!

If you want to try any of the patterns as we go along on a small scrap of yarn, then the instructions will be at the end of each section in this lovely shade of purple, with the abbreviations of K = knit and P = purl.  If you wish to use these on your own knitting, then the stitches for just the cable part will be shown like this – in bold and italics.  The other stitches are to make it easier to practise and give you the reverse stocking stitch background.  All patterns are written to be knitted on the flat (not in the round).

Cable 4 Back (C4B)

This name means that the whole cable is over 4 stitches, and the cable needle is going to be held at the back of work (as you’re looking at it).

  1. Follow your pattern up to the cable row, and work the stitches before the first cable.  To make it easier to see, I’ve already completed one pattern repeat and am about to start the next one in these photos.
  2. Grab your cable needle (or equivalent) and slip the next 2 stitches onto the cable needle.  You want to slip the stitches purlwise – this means insert the cable needle from right to left through the stitch and just lift it off the left needle and onto the cable needle (no working the stitch yet!)

    dsc04140_800x600
    Slip the first stitch purlwise
  3. Hold the cable needle with these two stitches at the back of your knitting (away from you on the other side of your needles).  This can be fiddlely to hold, you can just let it hang and keep an eye on it (this is what I normally do with my kinked needle), I suggest practising and finding out what works for you.

    dsc04144_800x600
    Hold the cable needle at the back
  4. Knit 2 stitches as normal from the left hand needle.

    dsc04146_800x600
    Knitting the first stitch from the left hand needle
  5. Now you want to knit the 2 stitches from your cable needle – be careful you don’t drop any stitches from your left hand needle, again this can be fiddlely to hold until you get used to it.

Ta-dah!  You just knit your first cable!  Follow the next few rows of your pattern to see your cable better!

Grab some scrap yarn and give the following pattern a go to practise the Cable 4 Back.
To start with, cast-on 12 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K4, P4
Row 2: K4, P4, K4
Row 3: P4, C4B (cable 4 back), P4
Row 4: K4, P4, K4
Repeat these four rows until you’re happy with the stitch.

Cable 4 Front (C4F)

This is very similar to the previous stitch, except that when you’ve put the stitches on your cable needle, you’re going to hold it at the front.  I’ve written the steps out in full again just in case you need them.

  1. Follow your pattern up to the cable row, and work the stitches before the first cable.  This time I’ve added an extra plain row at the beginning so you can see the formation of the very first cable.

    dsc04156_800x600
    The row before the cable
  2. Grab your cable needle (or equivalent) and slip the next 2 stitches onto the cable needle.  You want to slip the stitches purlwise – this means insert the cable needle from right to left through the stitch and just lift it off the left needle and onto the cable needle (no working the stitch yet!)

    dsc04157_800x600
    Slipping the stitches onto the cable needle
  3. Hold the cable needle with these two stitches at the front of your knitting (on the same of your needles as you are sitting).  This can be fiddlely to hold, you can just let it hang and keep an eye on it (this is what I normally do with my kinked needle), I suggest practising and finding out what works for you.

    dsc04158_800x600
    Hold the cable needle in front
  4. Knit 2 stitches as normal from the left hand needle.

    dsc04160_800x600
    I just knit two stitches from the left hand needle
  5. Now you want to knit the 2 stitches from your cable needle – be careful you don’t drop any stitches from your left hand needle, again this can be fiddlely to hold until you get used to it.

    dsc04161_800x600
    Knit two from the cable needle

Ta-dah!  You just knit another cable!  Again, follow the next few rows of your pattern to see your cable better!

Grab some scrap yarn and give the following pattern a go to practise the Cable 4 Front.  If you haven’t cast off from your last trial piece then you can just continue with this pattern.
To start with, cast-on 12 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K4, P4
Row 2: K4, P4, K4
Row 3: P4, C4F (cable 4 front), P4
Row 4: K4, P4, K4
Repeat these four rows until you’re happy with the stitch.

Cable 6 Back (C6B)

The next stitch we’re going to look at is another very common stitch.  You’ve probably already guessed that the cable is going to be worked over 6 stitches rather than 4 this time.  Any guesses where you’re going to hold the cable needle?  Yep that’s right!  At the back!

  1. Follow your pattern up to the cable row, and work the stitches before the first cable

    dsc04166_800x600
    The row before the cable row
  2. Grab your cable needle and slip the next 3 stitches onto the cable needle and hold the cable needle at the back of your work

    dsc04167_800x600
    Three stitches on the cable needle, held behind the work
  3. Knit 3 stitches as normal from the left hand needle.
  4. Now knit the 3 stitches from your cable needle.

Follow the next few rows of your pattern to see your cable better!  This looks very similar to the C4B, just bigger!

dsc04168_800x600
Cable 6 Back after two repeats

Grab some scrap yarn and give the following pattern a go to practise the Cable 6 Back.
To start with, cast-on 14 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K6, P4
Row 2: K4, P6, K4
Row 3: P4, K6, P4
Row 4: K4, P6, K4
Row 5: P4, C6B (cable 6 back), P4
Row 6: K4, P6, K4
Repeat these six rows until you’re happy with the stitch.

Cable 6 Front (C6F)

No guesses this time…I know you know this!  This cable is worked over 6 stitches and you’re going to be holding your cable needle at the front!

  1. Follow your pattern up to the cable row, and work the stitches before the first cable
  2. Grab your cable needle and slip the next 3 stitches onto the cable needle and hold the cable needle at the front of your knitting

    dsc04169_800x600
    Three stitches on the cable needle at the front of the work.
  3. Knit 3 stitches as normal from the left hand needle.
  4. Now knit the 3 stitches from your cable needle.

Follow the next few rows of your pattern to see your cable better!  This looks very similar to the C4F, just 2 stitches bigger!

dsc04170_800x600
Cable 6 Forward (two pattern repeats)

Grab some scrap yarn and give the following pattern a go to practise the Cable 6 Front.  If you haven’t cast off from your last trial piece (the C6B) then you can just continue with this pattern.
To start with, cast-on 14 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K6, P4
Row 2: K4, P6, K4
Row 3: P4, K6, P4
Row 4: K4, P6, K4
Row 5: P4, C6F (cable 6 front), P4
Row 6: K4, P6, K4
Repeat these six rows until you’re happy with the stitch.

More Basic Cables

There are a huge number of cable stitches out there, the book I’m currently looking at lists 45 separate cable stitches that it uses within its patterns.  For this post, I’m just going to look at the most basic cables.  Another time I’ll look at a few of the other more common cable stitches that are often used to create designs that look very celtic in origin.

Here is a list of basic cables in a shorter notation, including the ones we did above, so you can see the general pattern and you have a list of fun stitches to try, you can use this as a short cut to remember what stitch you’re doing.  They are all worked over an even number of stitches, normally on a reverse stocking stitch (purl) background.  Cables can be done over an odd number of stitches, but we will consider these another time.  You generally slip half the stitches onto the cable needle, knit the other half from the left needle, and knit the stitches from the cable needle.

Cable 2 Back (C2B) – Slip 1 stitch onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 1 stitch from left needle, knit the stitch from the cable needle

Cable 2 Front (C2F) – Slip 1 stitch onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 1 stitch from left needle, knit the stitch from the cable needle

Cable 4 Back (C4B)- Slip 2 stitches onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 2 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 4 Front (C4F)- Slip 2 stitches onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 2 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 6 Back (C6B) – Slip 3 stitches onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 3 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 6 Front (C6F) – Slip 3 stitches onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 3 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 8 Back (C8B) – Slip 4 stitches onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 4 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 8 Front (C8F) – Slip 4 stitches onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 4 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 10 Back (C10B) – Slip 5 stitches onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 5 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 10 Front (C10F) – Slip 5 stitches onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 5 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 12 Back (C12B) – Slip 6 stitches onto cable needle, hold at back of knitting, knit 6 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

Cable 12 Front (C12F) – Slip 6 stitches onto cable needle, hold at front of knitting, knit 6 stitches from left needle, knit the stitches from the cable needle

The more stitches in your cable, the more it is going to pull your fabric in and create a more dramatic effect!  They all look very similar to those pictured above – the larger ones look more dramatic but can be harder to work.

Some Cable Patterns

At this point I’m going to congratulate you!  You now know everything you need to know about cables to give my Meadow Trails Washcloth a go!  It uses the four stitches we’ve looked at in detail above to create two ascending spirals up the sides and a lovely squishy woven cable up the middle.

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Feel free to give this a go, if you want to go deeper into the cables though without just blindly following a pattern, I’m going to show how we can combine just these four stitches to make some other beautiful cables.

Snakey Cable

This time we’re going to alternate the cable 4 back and cable 4 front to create a raised snake on the top of the cable!

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To Knit this pattern with some scrap yarn:
To start with, cast-on 12 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K4, P4
Row 2: K4, P4, K4
Row 3: P4, C4B, P4
Row 4: K4, P4, K4
Row 5: P4, K4, P4
Row 6: K4, P4, K4
Row 7: P4, C4F, P4
Row 8: K4, P4, K4
Repeat these eight rows.

Braided Cable

This is one of my favourite cables and its really easy to do!  (Here’s one I did a while ago!)

DSC09396_800x600
Elven Forest Earwarmer

To Knit this pattern with some scrap yarn:
To start with, cast-on 14 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K2, C4F, P4
Row 2: K4, P6, K4
Row 3: P4, C4B, K2, P4
Row 4: K4, P6, K4
Repeat these four rows.

Owl Cable

In my opinion this is one of the cutest cables going.  Again, this is an old photo, this time of my old phone case.  This is also an example of where some variegated yarn can look good as a cable.

OwlCase
Owl Cable Phone Case

To start with, cast-on 16 stitches.
Then Row 1: P4, K8, P4
Row 2: K4, P8, K4
Row 3: P4, C4B, C4F, P4
Row 4: K4, P8, K4
Row 5: P4, K8, P4
Row 6: K4, P8, K4
Row 7: P4, K8, P4
Row 8: K4, P8, K4
Row 9: P4, K8, P4
Row 10: K4, P8, K4
Row 11: P4, C4B, C4F, P4
Row 12: K4, P8, K4
Row 13: P4, K8, P4
Row 14: K4, P8, K4
Row 15: P4, C4B, C4F, P4
Row 16: K4, P8, K4
Row 17: P4, K8, P4

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this tutorial on cable stitches useful and not too long!  In another post in this series I’ll have a look at the cable stitches you need to create effects like this (which is current design in progress so you might get a new pattern soon too!) and also give you an introduction to reading cable charts.

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I don’t know whether this will be the next in the series or further down the line.  I will attempt to keep the next few weeks related to my guide to knitting, but as my wedding is approaching rapidly I may have to resort to a few shorter posts if I find I don’t have enough time!

Before you go, if you want to have a look at other bits and pieces related to cabling and knitting I’ve compiled a very short further reading section.  I’d also love for you to give me some feedback as this is my first time doing this sort of post.  Some things I’d be particularly interested in:

  • Were the photos clear enough?
  • Were the descriptions clear and easy to follow?
  • Anything else you wanted to comment on?

You can add these as a comment or fill in this little form if you’d rather it was anonymous.

Further Reading

For cabling without a cable needle: http://blog.loveknitting.com/4-ways-to-cable-without-a-cable-needle/

Stephanelli’s Meadow Trails Washcloth: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/meadow-trails

My favourite book of cable stitches: Erika Knight – The Harmony Guide: Cable and Aran Stitches, 250 to knit

Some online stitchionaries:
http://www.knittingfool.com/
http://newstitchaday.com/knitting-stitchionary/cables-arans/

 

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