Add cables to anything and it’s a guaranteed upgrade. Cables can be fun, classy, elegant — and a real pain to knit sometimes. But if you know all the tricks, you'll be all set to create dozens of gorgeous cable stitches.
What is cabling in knitting?
Cabling is just twisting stitches and changing the order to add nice little twists to the fabric. You usually make cables by slipping stitches onto a cable needle, knitting as you normally would, and then knitting the stitches off the cable needle. You’re just changing the order of the stitches in the row.
Tools and tips for knitting cables
The assortment of cable needles can be a little confusing and overwhelming at first. They’re long, they’re short, they’re thick, they’re thin, they bend in different places — ahhhh! But don’t worry; you can generally use whichever type of needle you like best.
Matching your cable gauge
One thing to remember when you’re choosing cable needles: try to choose a needle that’s about the same diameter around as your knitting needles. Otherwise, you’ll have different gauges in your work. So for example, if you’re knitting with size 6 needles, choose a size 6 or smaller cable needle. If you choose a larger one, you’re going to have issues getting the tiny stitches onto that larger needle — and your cables are gonna look kind of wonky.
Wool yarn works well for this technique since wool tends to stick together. Yarns like cotton are a little smoother and therefore slippery, so they’re more likely to unravel. Be careful if you’re working with a slippery yarn.
Cable with Confidence!
How to knit cables
Cables can create all kinds of textures, but a favorite of many knitters is the knit cable braid. If you can knit and purl, you can knit a cable braid!
This is a quick rundown of the pattern we’ll be using. For the full step-by-step tutorial with photos, keep scrolling down.
(Worked over a multiple of 10 stitches)
Row 1 (Right Side): P2, k6, p2.
Row 2 (Wrong Side): K2, p6, k2.
Row 3 (Cable Row): P2, place 2 stitches on cable needle and hold to front, k2, k2 from cable needle, k2, p2.
Row 4: K2, p6, k2.
Rows 5 and 6: Repeat Rows 1 and 2.
Row 7 (Cable Row): P2, k2, place 2 stitches on cable needle and hold to back, k2, k2 from cable needle, p2.
Row 8: K2, p6, k2.
Repeat Rows 1-8 to continue the pattern.
Work the first two rows of the pattern above: P2, k6, p2 on the right side, then k2, p6, k2 on the wrong side.
Purl the first two stitches of Row 3.
Grab your cable needle. Slip the next 2 stitches onto the cable needle.
Hold the cable needle to the front of the work. This is what puts the twist in the cable, plus what decides in which direction the twist leans. If your cable needle is shaped like mine, you can pull the needle so that the stitches sit securely in the curve of the needle.
Knit the next two stitches from the left needle, leaving that cable needle dangling in the meantime.
Now knit the two stitches from the cable needle. Make sure you’re not twisting the stitches around when you knit them. I usually just rotate my cable needle to knit the stitches off that short end.
If it’s easier, you can move the stitches back to the left needle first, then knit them. For some knitters, that’s easier than dealing with the cable needle.
Knit 2, then purl 2 to finish up the row. You should be able to see where the stitches cross over to start forming the braid. Sometimes it takes a few pattern repeats for the braid to really become visible, so don’t panic if it’s not obvious right away.
Work Rows 4-6 from the pattern above:
Row 4: K2, p6, k2.
Row 5: P2, k6, p2.
Row 6: K2, p6, k2.
Adding these rows in between the cable rows helps to put some space between the twists and elongates the braid a bit.
Now we’re ready for the second cable row. This row is only a little different than the first cable row we worked. Purl the first 2 stitches of the row, then knit the next 2 stitches.
Slip the next two stitches onto the cable needle, but this time hold the cable to the back of the work. You can see my cable needle peeking out above…
…and here’s what it looks like on the back (wrong) side of the work.
Knit the next two stitches from the left needle, leaving the cable needle dangling in the back.
Knit the two stitches from the cable needle.
Purl 2 to finish up the cable row.
Work Row 8 (K2, p6, k2) to finish the cable braid. Notice how the cable rows are always worked on the right side.
Repeat Rows 1-8 as many times as you’d like to lengthen the braid.
Changing the size of your knitted cable
The cable braid in this tutorial is a four-stitch cable, but you can play with that number to create a braid that’s either more narrow or wider.
For example, for a narrower braid, simply change the cable row to this: P2, place 1 stitch on cable needle and hold to front, k1, k1 from cable needle, k1, p2.
For a wider braid, knit this for the cable row: P2, place 3 stitches on cable needle and hold to front, k3, k3 from cable needle, k3, p2.
In other words, varying the number of stitches you place on the cable needle controls the width of the braid. You can also add purl stitches to both sides of the cable braid to widen the entire panel. Play around with the design!
How to knit cables without a cable needle
If you don't have a cable needle or can't find yours, you can still knit cables! Here's how.
For this tutorial, let’s take a look at how to knit a C2B (Cable 2 Back). Later we’ll cover how to knit a C2F (Cable 2 Front). I’m using Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick in Flamingo.
Here’s the pattern we’ll be working with for our practice swatch:
Cast on 8 stitches.
Row 1: Knit 3, C2B, knit 3.
Row 2: Purl.
Repeat these 2 rows.
Working a back cable (C2B)
Cast on 8 stitches. Knit a few rows. Then, on a new row on the right side, knit the first 3 stitches.
For a back cable (C2B), first bring the yarn to the front of your work. Then, instead of slipping the next stitch onto a cable needle, slip it purlwise (as if to purl) onto your right needle.
Bring the yarn to the back of your work again, then knit the next stitch.
Insert your left needle into the back of the slipped stitch. (This is the stitch that would usually be on the cable needle.)
Remove the right needle from the first and second stitch, so that only three stitches remain on it. The slipped stitch is now on the left needle, and the last knit stitch is now hanging out. (Ah! We know it’s scary, but don’t panic!)
Slide the right needle back into the knitted stitch again. We just switched the order of those two stitches.
Knit the slipped stitch, which is now on the left needle. That’s it!
You should now have a tiny little cable running down the center. It looks exactly the same as if you knit it with a cable needle!
Working a front cable (C2F)
If you’re working a front cable, the process is the same except that you will keep your yarn to the back of your work in Step 2 rather than bringing it to the front.
Working larger cables without a cable needle
This no-cable-needle method can work for bigger cables too, but it can get a little scary when you’re working with more stitches. For example, if you’re working a CB6, you’re going to have three live stitches hanging out instead of just one.
To help keep those live stitches in place, you can just put your thumb on top of the stitches until you can pick them up with the needle again.
Mock cables: An easier way to create the cable look
Another option for knitting cables without a special needle is to knit a mock cable.
As with most things knitted, there are several variations on the mock cable knit stitch. They can twist to the right or the left (just like regular cables). The key component of most mock cable knit stitches is to use a passed over stitch or to knit your stitches out of order to create that illusion of a cable twisting.
Passing over stitches
This mock cable pattern is a four-row repeat that's based on a 2 x 3 rib, with only one row varying from the rib. That one row involves a slipped stitch that's then eventually passed over three stitches to create the appearance of a twist. The trickiest part is getting used to passing a stitch over three stitches, but once you get the hang of it, this pattern flies by.
Knitting stitches out of order
Another variation on the mock cable knit stitch is to knit your stitches out of order. This is the underlying principle of cables, so it makes sense you could make a mock cable this way.
For example, in the photo above, we're knitting the third stitch on the left-hand needle first; then we'll go back and work the second and then the first. Then all three stitches are slipped off the left-hand needle at the same time. It sounds more complicated than it really is!
Knitting reversible cables with no wrong side
Have you ever knit a cabled scarf that was so lovely on the right side, but not quite as impressive on the wrong side? You’re constantly trying to wrap the scarf around you so that only the right side shows, but that can be difficult when the wind is blowing! One solution for this dilemma is reversible cables.
When to use reversible cables
Reversible cables are great for anything that wraps around, from scarves to cowls. But reversible cables can also work well for garments. Some garments show off the wrong side of the work, whether it’s with a fold-over collar, a folded cuff, or an asymmetrical hem. Using reversible cables for these projects just makes everything look neater and more unified.
Why all cables aren't reversible
Cables cross each other in both the front and the back, sure, but the stitches that surround the cables can often hide the criss-cross. If your cable crosses on both the front and the back, for example, but you are knitting the stitches on each side of the cable in stockinette stitch, the purl stitches on the wrong side might blend in with the crossed cable and hide it.
How reversible cables are constructed
You don’t have to do anything special to knit a reversible cable. If you know how cabling works, it will be a piece of cake! Reversible cables can be constructed in a couple of different ways:
Use reversible stitches
One way is to use a reversible stitch like ribbing to make both sides of the work look the same. Those knit stitches of ribbing automatically want to stick out and hide the purl stitches, so no matter which side you look at the ribbing, it looks the same.
Use slipped stitches
Another reversible cable technique is to use a slipped stitch. This stitch is passed over another stitch, creating what looks like a cable on both sides without actually using a cable stitch. These are just a few examples of how you can stitch reversible cables.