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How to Knit Cables: Knitting Cables 101

Understanding the Elements of Knitting Cables: the Rope Cable

By Eunny Jang

Cable knitting is one technique that epitomizes the free hand we knitters have to shape and mold our fabric as it grows. All cables—the whole lot of them, from simple ropes to complex panels to eye-boggling allover fabrics—are really just stitches knitted out of order in a certain way, forcing the stitches to cross over one another. When combined with knit/purl texture, as cable knitting patterns usually are, some of the stitches appear to come forward, while others appear to recede, creating the illusion of individual "strands" that move across the surface of a plain fabric.

How to Knit a Cable: The Basic Cable

The most familiar type of cable knitting pattern is a simple rope cable (see photo at right). A rope cable is worked over a set number of stitches that are (usually) worked in a straight column, without moving over background stitches to the right or left.

How to Knit a Cable Stitch with Left Cross or Right Cross

The actual cabling in a rope cable couldn't be simpler.

At predetermined intervals, and usually while working a right-side row, half the strand stitches are placed out of sequence before knitting. Cable instructions and chart keys often direct you to do something like "place two stitches onto a cable needle, hold in front, knit two, knit two from the cable needle." This means that you use a third, smaller cable needle to hold half the strand's stitches out of the way, knit the former second half of the strand first, then knit the former first half of the strand. Doing so switches the order of the two halves, making them pass over one another and creating a cable knit crossing.

If you hold the first half of the stitches to the front of the work while you knit the second half, you will have a left cross (see photo at left), where the first half of the cable passes over the second.

If you hold the first half of the stitches to the back of the work while knitting the second half, you will have a right cross (see photo at left), where the first half of the cable passes under the second.

Rope cables typically repeat the same cross direction over and over for a continuous twist that resembles a rope.

Counting Rows to Compare with Your Cable Knitting Pattern

Working with Cables & The Cable Knit Pattern

Cable knitting patterns are usually planned with an orderly structure, crossing and moving strands at predictable intervals. Multi-stitch cables are almost always crossed only on right-side rows, with wrong-side rows worked with the stitches as they appear.

If you've lost track of where you are in a cable repeat, it's easy to count the number of rounds or rows since your last crossing (see the photo at right on counting rows). Pull a cable apart gently to see where the out-of order stitches of the last crossing are knitted and joined to their new neighbors. Start counting with the second stitch above that slightly stretched stitch, and include the row on the left needle. Compare with your chart or instructions and cable on.

If you find a mistake in a cable crossing several rows (or even repeats) down and don't want to live with it, don't rip out all your work to that point! Instead, insert a small double-pointed needle or stitch holder into the stitches in the row just below the incorrect cable (see the photo below on repairing a cable). Work up to the point of the offending crossing and then drop only the involved stitches from your needle. (If the error involves strands that have since separated, this point may be several stitches away from the original crossing point. The stitches in each strand stay with it throughout the knitting, meaning that you must drop from wherever the original strand's stitches have ended up.) Ladder the dropped stitches down until you reach the held stitches. Rework the pattern correctly, using the ladders as the working yarn. Use a blunt-tipped needle to even the tension in any wonky stitches afterwards.

Cable Knitting Stitches: Repairing Knit Cables

Cables add so much to a knitted garment. Whether you're making a cable knit sweater or a simple rope cable scarf, I know these tips on how to cable knit will help you the next time you want to give cable knitting a try.

—Eunny Jang, Adapted from an article in Interweave Knits Winter 2011

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