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Knitting Cables: An Introduction

by Laura Bain

I love to knit with cables! I remember very fondly my first attempt to knit a cable. I'd done a few patterns, from a book I've long ago lost and forgotten the title, and was working up to some of the more complicated projects. When I found this lovely blanket only used knit, purl and cables, I was very excited to give it a try. The beautiful designs that come from cables make them seem difficult, but if you can slip a few stitches to a 3rd needle, you can add cables to your knitting repertoire!

Here are a few free patterns from redheart.com which use cables.

Cabled Pillows
Knit in With Love
Cabled Pillows Free Knitting Pattern LW3694
Casual Cables Throw
Knit in Comfort Chunky
Casual Cables Throw Free Knitting Pattern LW5459
Cabled Holiday Balls
Knit in With Love
Cabled Holiday Balls Free Knitting Pattern LW3676

What is a Cable?

two-color cableCables are the fun fancy twists and braids that you see in all kinds of knitted objects. They're used to add embellishment and visual appeal to your work.

Cables are worked by sliding a number of stitches (usually between 2-5 stitches) onto a cable needle, while you work a number of stitches from the left hand needle which will cause those stitches to cross in front of or behind the stitches that have been placed on the cable needle. This creates the appearance that the knitted stitches are icords that have been wound or braided around each other. NOTE: In the image at the left, I have added to this twisted cord effect by using color work that follows the slipped stitches. This is an advanced technique, which I have shared here as a nice visual display but would only suggest that knitters who are VERY comfortable with Fair Isle and intarsia techniques attempt to construct a cable with more that one color. I'm not aware of any patterns that use more than one color to create a cable.

Cables are usually worked in stockinette stitch on a field of reverse stockinette.  In a pattern, cable stitches should be listed at the beginning of the pattern where special stitches are noted.   There the pattern will specify how many stitches are to be slipped and whether one should hold the cable needle in the front of your work or behind your work to create the desired appearance. If you hold the slipped stitches in the front of your work, the cable will appear to twist to the left. If you hold the slipped stitches behind your work, the cable will twist to the right. In the example to the left, the slipped stitches were held in the front of my work, thus the cables twisting to the left.

Common cable stitches are noted as such:
CB4 (Cable 4 Back): Place 2 sts on cable needle and hold in back. Knit next 2 sts from the left hand needle.  Knit 2 sts from cable needle.
CF4 (Cable 4 Front): Place 2 sts on cable needle and hold in front. Knit next 2 sts from the left hand needle. Knit 2 sts from cable needle.
C6B (Cable 6 Back): Slip next 3 sts to cable needle and hold in back, k3, k3 from cable needle.
C6F (Cable 6 Front): Slip next 3 sts to cable needle and hold in front, k3, k3 from cable needle.
2/2 RC (2 by 2 Right Cross): Slip 2 to cable needle, hold to back, k2; k2 from cable needle.
2/2 LC (2 by 2 Left Cross): Slip 2 to cable needle, hold to front, k2; k2 from cable needle.

To work a cable you will need a cable needle. For my swatch, I've cast on 27 stitches. In my example I’ve chosen Red Heart Soft in Wheat and size 8 needles and worked the following 2 rows, two (2) times (for a total of 4 rows):

Row 1: K6, P6, K3, P6, K6
Row 2: K3, P3, K6, P3, K6, P3, K3

cable 1

The next row will be our cable row. In a pattern, this row would be noted as such: K3, P3, C3F, P3, C3B, P3, K3. So before you work the cable you will knit 3 and purl 3 stitches. To work the C3F, slip 3 stitches onto your cable needle.

cable 2

Then let your cable needle rest in the front of your work.

cable 3

Now work the next 3 stitches from the left hand needle.

cable 4 cable 5

Now you will work the 3 stitches from your cable needle.

cable 6 cable 7

Now you will continue the instructions for the row by purling the next 3 stitches. Then you will work the C3B just like the first cable, except that you will let the cable needle, with the slipped stitches rest behind your work. Begin by slipping 3 stitches onto the cable needle, as before. Let the cable needle rest at the back of your work.

cable 8

Work the next 3 stitches from the left hand needle. Here is what the back of your work will look like:

cable 9

Now work the slipped stitches from the cable needle.

cable 10

Now, just complete the row with 3 purl and 3 knit stitches.

cable 11

You can alter the cable's appearance by changing the number of non-cable rows worked between each cable row. In the next image I have worked the first two rows listed above 2 times for a total of 4 rows and then worked the cable row.

cable 12

The following image shows how the cable is elongated when I worked the first 2 rows listed above 4 times, for a total of 8 rows before working the cable row.

cable 13

Here are two videos to help you work these cables.

4 Stitch Front Cable

4 Stitch Back Cable

Row 1: K6, P6, K3, P6, K6
Row 2: K3, P3, K6, P3, K6, P3, K3
Rows 3 & 4: Repeat Rows 1 & 2
Row 5: Repeat Row 1
Row 6: K3, P3, C3F, P3, C3B, P3, K3
Rows 7 - 10: Repeat Rows 1 & 2 two times
Row 11: Repeat Row 1
Row 12: K3, P3, C3F, P3, C3B, P3, K3
Rows 13 - 20: Repeat Rows 1 & 2 four times
Row 21: Repeat Row 1
Row 22: K3, P3, C3F, P3, C3B, P3, K3

You can have a lot of fun creating your very own scarf using this pattern making the cables as long or short as you would like, or simply repeating the panel above until your work is long enough to cast off.

Finally, here is a nice brief video to help you see knitting cables in action!

Now that you have mastered knitting cables, here are other patterns that you can use to practice this new skill!

Cabled Jar Cozies

Cabled Jar Cozies Free Knitting Pattern LW3671

Lacy Baby Legwarmers

Lacy Baby Legwarmers Free Knitting Pattern LW5204

Knit Cabled Hoodie

Knit Cabled Hoodie Free Knitting Pattern WR1872

Hot Water Bottle Cover

Hot Water Bottle Cover Free Knitting Pattern LW4790

Cable Edge Scarf

Cable Edge Scarf Free Knitting Pattern LW3004

Knitting Cables: An Introduction