Knit Like a Boss: Basic Cables

Last week, we took a break from learning new techniques to talk about fun gifts to make for the babies in your life. Well, the rest is over. It’s back to the grinde stone. This week I’m going to teach you about cables.

Like most knitting techniques, cables look really complicated, but once you get the hang of them they’re not hard to do. You will need either a cable needle or one DPN that’s about the same size as, or a little smaller than, the needles you are using.

Cable needles come in different shapes and sizes.

What you are doing with cables is rearranging the order of the stitches, creating a wrapped effect on the item. They can look different by changing the number of stitches moved, the pattern surrounding the cable, or whether you cable to the front of back of the work. They add bulk and warmth, as well as visual interest, to pieces.

In patterns, cables are usually abbreviated with a c, the number of stitches in the cable, and an f or b for front or back. For example, c4b, which means a four-stitch-wide cable where you hold the stitches to the back. The number means the total width of the cable, so you will actually be moving half of it onto the needle to move.

That probably still makes no sense.

Using the example, I will explain it step-by-step. When you see c4b, the first thing you do is take the next two stitches and move them onto the cable needle. Then, you let the needle hang behind the work. Then you work the next two stitches. Lastly, you will work the two stitches that are on the cable needle.

There are a lot of variations, of course. Holding the needle to the front will make the cable appear to twist in the opposite direction. If you alternate front and back on the same column of stitches as you move up a piece, it kind of looks like a braid. You can also mix knit and purl stitches for a different effect. And a cable surrounded by purl stitches will stand out more than one among knits. There are a whole lot of different abbreviations, and the blog The Knitting Scotsman has a really comprehensive list.

Knitting Help, as always, has some video tutorials on cabling that are fairly easy to follow. They also have instructions for making cables without using a cable needle. I’ve never tried that, but if you’re feeling brave, give it a shot and report back on how it goes.

Cables require that you pay attention. A row counter is a good idea, because it can be hard to eyeball what row you are on. They are also time-consuming. As a parting gift, I leave you with a picture of the sleeve from a sweater that I have been working on for about a year and a half now. Because this cable pattern is on every single piece of it, I have nicknamed it the Sweater of Doom. It’s going to be gorgeous, but it has been quite the project.

Cables can be complicated, but ultimately look really cool.

I think I found a section to show you without any mistakes in it. My goal is to have it finished by May. I’m getting there.

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

15 replies on “Knit Like a Boss: Basic Cables”

I love cabling! I was so afraid of them when I first started knitting. My first cable project were similar to your sweater of doom, but instead were gloves of doom from a Jared Flood pattern. Good lord, trying to cable up the finger is insane. 4 dpns plus the cable needle… felt like knitting on a porcupine! Totally worth it though, even if I did make one thumb too short. This is what they should have looked like:

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