Introduction: How to Knit a Cable

Cables are a wonderful way to add interest and texture to your knitting. The very basic cable looks a lot like a rope in the middle of a field of purl stitches. However, there are hundreds of patterns out there that will teach you how to make large, beautiful, complex cables. Looking at a cable on your sweater makes it seem confusing, but it's not at all. All a cable is is a group of stitches that are knit out of order on your needle. To get your stitches out of order, you put them on what is called a cable needle and hold them to the front or back of your work. After knitting the next few stitches, you slide the stitches on the cable needle back onto your left needle and knit them.

Step 1: Gather Materials

For this instructable, I'll be knitting a simple swatch with two identical cables. I got the "climbing cable" design from this book:

Erika Knight. Cables & Arans: 250 Stitches to Knit. 2007. Interweave Press LLC: Loveland, CO. 70.

Here's what you'll need:

knitting needles
cable needle
cable pattern
stitch markers

Step 2: Cast on Stitches

This swatch consists of a 3 stitch purl border, 1 4-stitch knit cable, 1 purl stitch, a second 4-stitch knit cable, and a final 3 stitch purl border. Therefore, cast on a total of 15 stitches. I like to use the long-tail cast on method.

Step 3: Row 1

This is a base row in which you establish the pattern of the swatch. You will notice that it repeats in rows 5, 9, and 11.

P3, K4, P1, K4, P3

P means purl, K means knit. Please see one of the excellent instructables on these stitches if you are unfamiliar with them.

Step 4: Row 2

This row is knit as the exact reverse of row 1. You will notice that this is repeated in every even numbered row.

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 5: Row 3: Cable Row!

Get ready, it's the moment you've been waiting for. Get that cable needle out--you'll finally get to use it. If you don't have a cable needle, look for something else to put your stitches on. The closer it is to the size of your needle the better. A pencil, skewer, crochet hook, circular needle, and a threaded tapestry needle are all things I've used successfully. Here's the pattern:

P3, C4B, P1, C4B, P3

Ok, so the C4Bs are a little unusual. It stands for cable 4 back. This is a little misleading though, as you will only be putting two stitches on your cable needle and holding them in back of your work. The entire cable consists of four stitches and as a whole, it twists to the back as you knit.

I like to push the stitches on the right needle a little further on so they don't slip off while you work with the cable needle. Carefully slide the next two stitches on your left needle to the cable needle "purlwise". They will look just like they did on the big needle, in other words. Hold the needle in back of your work with the middle and ring fingers on your left hand.

Carefully knit the next two stitches on the left needle.

Push back the stitches on the right needle again. Slide the two stitches from the cable needle back onto the left needle. Don't twist the cable needle or anything weird...

Purl the center stitch and repeat the process, finishing with that border of 3 purl stitches.

Step 6: Row 4

As with row 2,

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 7: Row 5

As with row 1,

P3, K4, P1, K4,P3

Step 8: Row 6

As with row 2,

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 9: Row 7: Another Cable Row!!

Let's see if you can read the secret knitting code now. If you need more details, go back to row 3. If you need more still, please let me know and I'll post some more pictures or something.

P3, C4B, P1, C4B, P1

Step 10: Row 8

As with row 2,

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 11: Row 9

As with row 1,

P3, K4, P1, K4, P3

Step 12: Row 10

As with row 2,

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 13: Row 11

As with row 1,

P3, K4, P1, K4, P3

Step 14: Row 12

As with row 2,

K3, P4, K1, P4, K3

Step 15: Repeat Rows 1-12

Yup, just do it again.

Step 16: Tada!

Sit back and admire your work for a minute. All those twists, just beautiful. Of course you'll want to bind off your work. You can even do this in pattern to keep it neat looking. Instructable to come!

Now that you've made your first cable, you can see how easy it is to achieve dramatic effects from simple variations in spacing the cables. Design cables in different widths, alternate directions, put them next to each other, cross them over one another, whatever you like. Try drawing out a design on graph paper first, drawing diagonal lines to redirect the row wherever you like a cable. Outline each cable where it meets the purl stitches to give it definition, so you can see how your cable would look if knit.

Step 17: Let Loose Your Cable Inspiration

You can put cables in a lot of places: on a hat, on a mitten, on a scarf, sweater, sock, etc. If you have some otherwise boring stretch of stockinette stitch, you could easily modify your pattern to fit in a cable pattern. Just keep in mind that cables bunch in your yarn, so they may pull the unstretched piece in a little bit. If you'd like something to be form fitting, you can pair cables with increases and decreases for a snug sweater that's possible to get in and out of. Here are a few swatches and pieces I've made featuring cables.

Some of them have cables 5 stitches wide alternating in spiral direction. These are for a coat that I hope to make when I'm good enough at making cables. More complex cable instructable to come!
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