Faster, Easier Cable Knitting: No Cable Needles, No Fear

The thing that has always scared me about cabling without a cable needle is the “without a cable needle” part. Pull a knitting needle out of live stitches? You’ve got to be kidding me. I had resisted learning this technique for years, because I was so afraid I would drop the stitches and thus wreak havoc upon my carefully knitted cables.

I thought there was only one way to do this, the way someone had shown me at a workshop once, where the knitter not only pulled her needle out of the live stitches, but also left the live stitches dangling in mid-air while she blithely went on to knit the first half of the cable! Brrrrr! That was for bolder hearts than mine.

I’ve since discovered that there are several ways to do this nifty knitter’s trick of cabling without a cable needle, in addition to the leave-the-stitches-boldly-hanging-in-midair method. The other methods all involve slipping the stitches back and forth between needles so that no stitch is ever off the needle for more than a second or two.

1. One way was described  in the Fall 2009 issue of Interweave Knits; there is an online tutorial for this method.

2. A second way is demonstrated by Kathleen Cubley, editor of Knitting Daily, in an online video she created.

And now…I’m going to show you a THIRD way. Yup. this is the way my friend Glenna showed me at a knitting retreat a few months back and it made all the lightbulbs in my brain go on–finally! I’d tried the other two methods, but they just didn’t “click” with the way my brain conceptualizes cables.

Which is the RIGHT way to work cabling without a cable needle? Ah, my friends. You know me better than that. There is no right way or wrong way. There is only the way that works best for your knitting and your brain. Your way is the right way.

Terminology: There are two separate-but-equal terminologies for cables: right/left and front/back. Since a left-crossing cable requires that you hold your cable needle to the front of the work, and a right-crossing cable requires that you hold your cable needle to the back of the work, I’m going to make it easy on everyone and use the terms LeftFront and RightBack. (If you have trouble remembering this: Left and Front both have the letter F in them; we also say “I’ll be Right Back.” I’m all about the mnemonics.)

Here we go!


Photo 1: Here’s my nifty swatch, ready to work the RightBack cable in the first half of the row.


Photo 2: In a RightBack cable, all the stitch-switching is done on the RIGHT needle. Thus: Slip all the stitches in the cable to the right needle. (My cable is six stitches wide.)


Photo 3: Keeping your needle to the back of the work, insert the left needle into the RIGHTMOST stitches on the right needle.


Photo 4: Slip the right needle out of all six cable stitches. NOTE: See how my thumb is lightly squishing the base of the live-air stitches to the other needle? That’s how I keep them from going anywhere for the millisecond they are in midair.




Photo 5: Quick-like-a-bunny, insert the right needle back into the live-air stitches. Use your left thumb to corral and control those puppies.


Photo 6: Whoo! Success. See? Not so scary. Too fast to be scary.


Photo 7: Move the front stitches around to the point of the left needle.


Photo 8: Slip the front stitches onto the left needle.


Photo 9: And you’re ready to knit the cable!


Photo 10: A charming RightBack cable.

REMEMBER: For a RightBack cable, the stitch-switching happens on the RIGHT needle, and you insert your needle into the back of the RIGHTMOST stitches on the RIGHT needle.


LeftFront Cables

Photo 1: Now we’re ready to work the LeftFront cable in the second half of the row.
When you work a LeftFront cable, the stitch-switching occurs on the LEFT needle.

Photo 2: Keeping your needle to the back of the work, insert the right needle into the LEFTMOST stitches on the left needle.


Photo 3: Pull all the cable stitches off the left needle, and quick-like-a-bunny insert the tip of the left needle back into the live-air stitches.

Photo 4: Notice how custody of the live-air stitches is constantly held by one of my thumbs. Nothing is going anywhere and the live stitches were only in midair for a mere second.

Photo 5: Move the held-in-back stitches around to the point of the left needle.


Photo 6: Slip the held stitches onto the left needle.


Photo 7: And you’re ready to knit a LeftFront cable!


Photo 8: The finished cables, both LeftFront and RightBack:

REMEMBER: For a LeftFront cable, the stitch-switching happens on the LEFT  needle, and you insert your needle into the back of the LEFTMOST stitches on the LEFT needle.


Great things about this method:

– The live-air stitches are always in front of your needles, so you can control them with your thumbs.

– The process is easy to remember:

RightBack cable: Switching happens on Right Needle. Slip cable stitches to Right needle. Insert other needle into back of RIGHTMOST stitches and continue.

LeftFront cable: Switching happens on Left Needle: Keep cable stitches on Left needle, Insert other needle into back of LEFTMOST stitches and continue.

– This method is fast, and workable for either style of knitting (picking or throwing).


Any progress on my not-UFO’s?

On the Farmer’s Market Cardigan: I’ve finished both shawl collars, and have stitched up one side but not the other. It’s starting to look like the picture! Yay! (Photos next week, I promise.)

On the Star Light Star Bright blanket: I’ve decided on a simple knitted-on edging, and have worked out a strategy for picking up all the edging stitches. Now I just have to see if I have enough circulars in the same size to fit around the border!

The Bolero: No progress yet. (Darn, and I have a party to go to tonight and could have worn it. Oh well. You do what you can do.)


May you find a spot in the sunshine to knit cable sweaters in for a while! I’ve been knitting on my porch steps and it’s been heavenly.
Be well.

– Sandi


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi’s personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you’re on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.




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17 thoughts on “Faster, Easier Cable Knitting: No Cable Needles, No Fear

  1. Very, very good photos and tips. I like mantras to help remember, and you offered them! Not working on a cable project now, but WILL TRY THIS NEXT TIME, as I have been unconvinced by previous suggestions (also haven’t had the need, usually knit at home where cable holder is easy to get to).
    Thank you, Sandi

  2. You are amazing. I am working on the Great American Aran Afghan and it is a cable nightmare. Just tried your directions!!! Goodbye cable needle.

    Thanks, Sandi!

  3. This much lauded method does not work for me. It has always been my experience that stitches get dropped or split and the entire situation is tense and unpleasant. I prefer to use a cable needle for med/large cables and for the 1×1 cables (think Koolhaas hat) I use my own method in which no stitches are EVER off the needles. (I have a video on youtube for that one)

  4. This is identical to the interweave 2009 method with the only difference that you pinch the sts between your thumb and the needle instead of between your thumb and forefinger
    however, your detailed pictures make the method clearer

    My preference is for Kathleen Cubley;s method because the stitches that are briefly off the needle have already been knit so if a stitch is dropped it is more easily remedied.

    Either method is easier for loose knitters. I think that either method is impossible for a tight knitter to execute for a 3×3 cable.

    I am a ‘firm’ knitter so i prefer to use a cable needle when crossing 3×3. However, I used Kathleen’s method on a couple of 7 ft scarfs with 2×2 cables at Xmas — these would never have been knit with the slower method using an extra cable needle!!

  5. This is the method I use and it works wonderfully. Thank you for posting this tutorial because I have tried to explain this method to other people online and it’s hard to explain to someone unless you are SHOWING them. Now I can just refer them to your post!

  6. Jean01, this method is different from the Interweave 2009 method in terms of which needle is used for the stitch-switching manipulations. In the IK method, you slip cable stitches over to the right needle for ALL cable crossings, right or left. For the above method, you only slip stitches over to the right needle for right crossings. Cables with left crossings stay on the left needle for the stitch manipulations.

    Isn’t it interesting that for one job there are so many different techniques to get the job done!

  7. This method is brilliant! Thank you for sharing. I was put off cable knitting by my struggle to manage the cable needle. I’m going to try this method, which makes sense.

  8. If I’m knitting a small needle, I like to use a toothpick to cable with. Just the right size, not too bulky and the stitches slide on and off with ease.

  9. Oh my God – this tip with fantastic photos is just what I needed at this time of my life. Thanks so much for sharing your excitement. Who would think? Thank you, Carole

  10. Thank you Sandi! The tip has arrived just in time! I figured out my own way to do without a cable needle, but I like your method better and am going to give it a try tonight 🙂

  11. I hope this non-cn cable method works – I have never found a good place to dock my cn and I’m tired of the dirty looks my cat gives me when I have to interrupt her nap to see if she is lying on it.

  12. Thank you for sharing the cable technique. I will certaily be using this in the future!

    You say you don’t like turning arms after the body is done on a top down sweater and I confess I don’t either. Have you tried working the sleeves first? I confess I haven’t myself, but I’m thinking ‘why not?’