How to Create Beautiful Cables in Your Knitting

Step-by-step directions for knitting the cable stitch, plus tips and tricks to make it look fantastic

Cable knit stitch

How do you feel when you see an example of a knitted project with cables? Are you inspired? Awed? Intimidated?

“Awed and intimidated” were the best ways to describe how I felt when I first saw a knitting project that featured cables. I thought it looked beautiful. I also thought, “I could never knit that.”

Has that ever crossed your mind? If so, I believe you’re not alone! Many new knitters, as well as those who have knitted for years, have the impression that they could never knit cables.

If this is a thought that you continue to believe, however, I’d like to invite you to reconsider.

cable stitch

These fingerless mitts are a project I knitted after I had been knitting for about a year, maybe 2 at the most. (In case you’re curious, the pattern name is Fetching, a classic from the online magazine Knitty.)

You see, I was so intrigued by this beautiful pattern that I decided to try knitting it myself, even though I had never knitted cables before. And I found, to my surprise, that it’s not nearly as difficult as it looks!

Today, I’m hoping to entice you into trying your hands at knitting cables. We’ll start with a very simple swatch to help you get the hang of it, and then you can take a look at some tips and tricks to get the most out of your cable knitting.

Instructions for Knitting Cables

To knit this swatch, you’ll need a set of needles (they can be straight or circular), and one additional needle. This can be an actual cable needle if you happen to have one on hand. If not, you can easily use a spare double-pointed needle (DPN). In fact, I almost always use DPNs when I knit cables.

Note that in the instructions below, I use the term “cable needle” and the abbreviation “cn.” This just means whatever kind of needle you’re using, whether it’s an actual cable needle or an extra DPN.

(You can, apparently, knit cables without an extra needle. However, I’ve never mastered this, and I don’t recommend trying this for your first attempt.)

This swatch is designed to introduce you to cable knitting; however, you can easily use your finished project as a coaster, or even as a square for an afghan!

1. Cast on 34 stitches. Since we’re knitting cables, it isn’t a bad idea to use the cable cast-on. You can find directions and a video on the cable cast-on here (it’s the 3rd cast-on listed).

2. Knit 4 rows of seed stitch. To wit:
a) Row 1: * K1, P1, repeat from * to the end.
b) Row 2: *P1, K1, repeat from * to the end.
c) Row 3: Repeat Row 1.
d) Row 4: Repeat Row 2.

3. Begin the 6-row cable stitch pattern. Here’s how you’ll do this pattern repeat.
a) Row 1: K1, P1, K1, P1, *P2, K6, repeat from * to 4 stitches from the end, K1, P1, K1, P1.
b) Row 2: P1, K1, P1, K1, *K2, P6, repeat from * to 4 stitches from the end, P1, K1, P1, K1.
c) Row 3: Repeat Row 1.
d) Row 4: Repeat Row 2.
e) Row 5: K1, P1, K1, P1, *P2, slip next 3 stitches to cable needle (CN) and hold to the front of the work, knit next 3 stitches, knit 3 stitches from CN, repeat from * to 4 stitches from the end, K1, P1, K1, P1.
f) Row 6: Repeat Row 2.

4. Repeat 6-row cable stitch pattern until you feel comfortable with the process. For the swatch I’ve needed here, I knitted this pattern repeat a total of 5 times.

5. Knit Row 1 and Row 2 of the pattern repeat one last time.

6. Knit 4 rows of seed stitch, following the pattern in Step 2.

7. Bind off. I bind off very easily: Knit 2 stitches together through the back loop, move the stitch to the left needle, knit the next 2 stitches together through the back loop, and repeat until you have one stitch left, then break yarn and pull through.

Believe it or not, that’s all there is to it!

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Tips & Tricks for Knitting Cables

1. When you first begin to knit cables, it can be tricky to ascertain exactly how to hold your cable needle or hold your yarn when you’re knitting the out-of-order stitches. A great way to train yourself is to slip your stitches from the cable needle (or DPN) back onto the left needle before you knit them.

Just be sure that if you try this trick that your working yarn is at the back of your work rather than the front. This will ensure that your yarn doesn’t get entangled with your stitches.

2. A sturdy border is an absolute must! Many knitting patterns for flat knitting with cables call for garter stitch borders. Personally, I prefer seed stitch borders. I find they look far more uniform and much more attractive. If you prefer the look of garter stitch, of course, feel free to use it!

Whatever border you use, make sure it has a mix of knitted and purled stitches. This is what makes for a sturdy border. Stockinette stitch curls, and when you have a stitch like cable stitches that will pucker and pull your work this way and that way, you do not want a curling border!

Your border should be at least 3 stitches; 4 stitches is even better.

3. Blocking is also a must. Even with a sturdy border, your project will still have some pulling and puckering unless you block it. Wool and cotton yarns take wet-blocking well; acrylic yarns of any kind (including blends with cotton or wool) do better with steam-blocking.

Take a look at the photos below. The one at the left has not been blocked; the one at the right has. It really does make a big difference!

4. Feel free to play. Knitting cables does not have to be serious business! You might have noticed that the cables in my swatch are not perfectly uniform. I did that accidentally-on-purpose. I lost count a couple of times with my stitch pattern repeat and found that one row of cables wound up being shorter than the other.

Rather than redoing it, I decided to make it a design feature! You can do that with cables. Make some of them taller and others shorter. (Just add a few more rows before the “twisting” row, or take rows away before twisting.)

You can also, of course, make skinnier cables! Try making four-stitch cables and hold the first two in front on your cable needle. Or make them wider; try 8-stitch cables and hold the first 4 in the front.

You can make them twist in the opposite direction as well; just hold your cable needle in the back of your work rather than in the front.

I hope you’ve come to see that knitting cables is far from impossible or even frightening. Dive right in, and I think you’ll find that cables are a relatively simple and fun way to dress up your knitting!

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5 Comments

  1. I was fortunate enough that my Aunt taught me the cable stitch “early” in my learning! I knit many cardigans using this lovely pattern for the entire sweater–and, yes, it was lovely. However, as the years have passed–I decided that for the most part, putting in the EXTRA work didn’t seem to make my items appreciated any more than an easier pattern! So, sad to say–I have not used the cable stitch for many years. But, I do recommend learning it–once you are comfortable–it is NOT as difficult as sit looks–and certainly enhances the beauty of your “masterpiece.” Do try it!

    1. Thanks for the “endorsement,” Sandra! (And you are not the first one to misspell your own name, don’t worry about that. *cough*) As for the appreciation factor, definitely don’t do it because you think your “fancy” stitches will be more appreciated… but DO do it because you, the knitter, have fun with it! (I think that goes for any stitch pattern, really! 😉 )

    1. Isn’t that fun, Denise? I had such a blast knitting these swatches! I definitely want to try creating a blanket with a bunch of little mini-cable-blocks. 😀