Tips & Tricks For Twisted Stitches

Red Scarf Project Connections Scarf

(Try saying THAT title three times fast!)

It's true that the Connections Scarf I designed for the Red Scarf Project was my first cable-knitting project ever. I've managed to avoid cables until now, thinking that wrangling the cable needle was just too much fiddly knitting for this gal, thank you very much. Then my husband Nicholas asked for a cabled pullover for Christmas. When I started in about my distaste for cable-needle wrangling, he raised his eyebrows and pointed at the knitting I happened to have in my hands at that very moment: a sock being knitted with five very tiny, very fiddly, dpns.

I hate it when he's right.

So that's when I decided to design my red scarf pattern as a cabled scarf. I used the designing process as a way of getting to know the whole process of knitting cables: how they worked, how they fit together, how to incorporate them into a pattern. I learned a few tricks along the way, so I thought I would share those with you.

Use the cable needle that is right for you. I found that I kept dropping the little short/straight needles made specifically for cabling, so I tried a regular sock-sized double-pointed needle. Worked like a charm, because my fingers already knew how to wrangle that one. But that's just me. There's many different choices out there when it comes to cable needles. Try a few until you find the one that works for you.

Corollary: Try cabling without a cable needle. It sounds impossible, but you can learn to manipulate the cable crossings without the extra needle. There are many cable knitters who swear by this technique! I did the first end of the scarf with a cable needle, and then I tackled the second end without one. The effort it took to learn which stitches went where was well worth it, because now I feel as though I am understanding cables instead of just knitting them by rote. We have a list of online tutorials in our Techniques section.

Don't pull on the "held" stitches too hard. When you are holding the cable stitches off to the front or back of your knitting, don't pull them too far away from the rest of your knitting! Too much pulling will distort the stitches in the area of the crossing. Keep them as close to the main knitting as possible in order to help keep the tension and texture of your cable stitches even.

What The Back Looks Like

Watch what you are doing. Until you are comfortable with cables, cable knitting is not the time to multitask! I made several whopping mistakes because I was trying to knit the cables in a restaurant whilst talking with friends. Bad idea. (Lots of ripping out ensued.)

Steam-block Cables wrong side up. This may seem obvious, but just in case: If you are using a steam-iron to block your cable knitting, do it with the WRONG side of the cables facing upwards, or you will flatten all your nice intentionally-bumpy cables. Don't press down–keep the iron just a little bit above the fabric! And try using a pressing cloth to further help minimize the flattening factor.

You asked for it…Lynn G. asked if I would be willing to post a photo of what the reverse side looks like. There you go, Lynn!

What are your cable-knitting tricks?

C'mon, don't be shy. If you have tips on how to work with cables, leave a comment! After all, if I'm going to be knitting Nicholas an entire cabled pullover for Christmas, I'm going to need all the help I can get!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I am working out customizations for the Husband Sweater so I will be ready to cast on when the yarn arrives. What is the Husband Sweater? It's my nickname for the pullover my husband requested I make him for Christmas.

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Knitting Daily Blog

102 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks For Twisted Stitches

  1. Elsbeth Lavold states in Viking Knits that a knitter with loose tension can knit 2 stitch cable crosses without a cable needle! So I know I have lots of practice to go to that level.

  2. good luck with the X-mas sweater Sandi! I promise that when you are done with it, you will love working cables. I know I do! And you’ll learn to read the pattern after the first repeat or so, which means you won’t have to pack your pattern around with you. Best of luck!

  3. I really enjoy working with cables, especially the intricate celtic knot types. For the first cable project I ever worked on I realised that I did not own a cable needle. Never fear- there were toothpicks in the cupboard- I thought I would try it out. It worked like a charm. I have made several cable projects since then- always with my trusty toothpics. They are small, sturdy, not slippery, and if you loose one you are sure to quickly run into another.

  4. For some projects that I don’t want the cables to tighten the fabric and stick out too much, putting one column of purl stitches in the middle of the cable and using it as part of the cable that goes behind (using the stitch as the first knit stitch and then purling the stitch that will make up the center of the cable “set”)makes for a nice, flatter cable.

  5. My tip for knitting cables: because I am left-handed but knit right-handed I struggle sometimes with movements that are strictly right sided. So, I use a stitch holder, pushing the stitches onto the holder with my left hand and then knitting them off just as you would with a cable needle. I can keep up with stitch holder by closing it onto my knitting with not in use. Right-handed knitters that watch me are always afraid I will twist the stitches but for whatever reason it works for me. Good luck with your husband’s sweater. Merilyn Tilley

  6. I love knitting cables and still remember the second sweater I ever knit (made during the Nixon-Kennedy debates when I was in high school), which was a cardigan with all-over honeycomb cables – chosen BECAUSE THEY HID THE FACT THAT MY KNITTING WASN’T ALL THAT EVEN. That was always one of the reasons I appreciated cables and suggest that others use them as well, if one is concerned about how their stockinette efforts look. Making up one’s own Aran sweater patterns with a mix of cables is also great fun.

  7. Gorgeous, classy and simple. I just love it. Can’t wait to get knitting on it!

    My cable tip: Use a needle close or the same size as the one you’re knitting with. I may knit more tightly than most (OK, I do) but I found this helps keeps the needle from slipping out when using the short straight cable needles. The thin U shaped ones worked best for me if using a thin cable needle since the U keeps the stitches from coming off. I found I liked the straight thicker ones, with a job in the middle best.

  8. Just for the record, with my first cable project I used DPNs simply because they were readily available in my collection. I kept setting them down at home, though, and found that a plastic coffee stirrer and a bar straw (when I was stuck at Starbuck’s and my neighbourhood watering hole, respectively) worked just fine too.

  9. What I would like to know about cables is what sort of yarn 1) shows them best and 2) is not wool or another animal fiber. I recently tried out a snowflake cable pattern with acrylic (since it was just a technique swatch and it was handy) and it’s very obvious that that particular (very untwisty and splitty) yarn is NOT what I want for cables.

  10. Thanks for this post, Sandy. The one cabling tip I have to share is for those who like to use cable needles: I try to use a cable needle that is the *exact* size of the needles I’m working on–that way, when it is time to slip the stitches back onto the left hand needle, I just knit them directly off the cable needle, thus saving a step. Can’t wait to see Nicholas’ sweater when it’s all done!

  11. I work best with the short wooden cable needles they sell–the stitches don’t slip off. And that from a gal who doesn’t like knitting with wood because it’s too slow.

    And my cable story–on a beautiful Aran I knit, the big cable on the sleeves ended up as mirror images. Looked wrong somehow. So I dropped down the stitches of the cable only, and knitted them back up twisted properly. A lot of work, but not as much as ripping out the whole sleeve!

  12. Wow, I can’t believe that I made it into your post today! Thanks very much for posting the reverse-side scarf photo–very helpful! Also, did you find that you had a strong preference either for working the cables WITH a cable needle or WITHOUT after trying it both ways? I ask because I’ve never made a cable despite being a decent knitter and crocheter, so I’d like to know if I should force myself to try the no-needle method right from the start or if I should use either my new wooden-notched cable needles or my Grandma’s old-fashioned metal cable needle. Clearly, many experienced cablers have a strong preference for the no-needle method, but I’d like to hear what’s best for the average beginner. I knit continental style, in case that matters. Thanks again for replying directly to posted requests and to e-mailed comments. You and your Knitting Daily team are amazingly responsive and make each one of us feel like important members of your community.

  13. I prefer the cable needle which approximates a very tall U over the straight cable needle with a dip in it. The tall U cable needle doesn’t fall off, but the straight cable needle needs babysitting.

  14. I kept having trouble with my cable needle sliding out. So my dad took a small wooden dowl, cut it to a 4 inch length, angled the ends, sanded the ends to a very dull point and I have the most wonderful cable needle. He used a stationary belt sander so it took him about 3 minutes to craft it.

  15. A couple years ago I decided to knit an afghan that is all cables – looks like a bunch of yarn strips all interwoven – and I couldn’t find my cable needle. While hunting for it, though, I came across a 4-pack of golf tees. They’ve turned into my new favorite cable needle. When you think about it, a golf tee is really just a knitting needle in miniature, so it makes sense it would work for knitting. And if I happen to lose all of them, it’s easy to get more, usually free! The only thing I have to check is to make sure there aren’t any cracks or splinters in the tee. Golfers don’t care about those too much, but for knitting they cause snag issues!

  16. I find cotton yarns make nice cables, but beware of the weight.

    Second, fixing a miscrossed simple cable is no different than fixing a misplaced knit or purl in ribbing.

    Drop your cable stitches down to the wrong row, pick them up on a DPN, re-cross correctly, then hook up your stitches one by one with a crochet hook.

    I did this on the very first cable sweater I was knitting, figuring that if I really blew it, I’d have lost nothing in the rip and re-do. Worked like a charm!

  17. My best cable tip is to make small cards (3″ x 3″ or so) with each row’s pattern written out. If there’s an unfamiliar stitch sequence, I put the instructions for that abbreviation at the bottom. I fasten them together with a binder clip. When I’m done with the row, the card goes to the back of the stack. A row counter tells you what number row is next, and matches with the card (row) number. It helps me to have the wrong side rows written out as well – if there’s a knit or purl stitch out of place, I know quickly that there’s a mistake on the front!

  18. Don’t know if this would work with steaming a cabled scarf, but I early learned to iron a monogrammed object with the right side down into a towel, so it wouldn’t go flat on the right side.
    Would that work with steaming knit cables?

  19. I, too, hate those slippery metal cable needles. But DPN’s are too long for my taste, so I make my own cable needles out of wooden dowels. I buy a dowel about the same diameter needle I am working with and then cut it off so it’s about two inches longer than my index finger. Sharpen both ends with a pencil sharpener and sand the entire rod, not just the points, with fine and extra fine sand paper. Sometimes, I sand the center a little more so it’s slightly smaller.

  20. I use one of those U-shaped cable needles, but I open the bend to about 50 degrees. That seems to help manipulate it back and forth. My biggest problem with cable needles is keeping up with them!

  21. Hi, I am adept at cable stitches, but am currently doing one that is 8 rows in length and 12 stitches across. It leaves quite a “hole” when I bring those 12 stitches over the 8 rows. Any way to minimize those holes? Thanks! Babs in Chicago.

  22. My favorite tool for cables are those plastic locking stitch markers that look like big safety pins. I just slip the stitches in question onto one and let them hang there until I need to knit them. The stitch marker is so light it doesn’t pull the stitches at all, and if I’m really worried about them falling off I can close the marker. The best part is that when I’m not using it, I just hook it into the side of my work, so I’m never without it. Unfortunately, this only works with fine yarns or smaller cables, since there are only so many stitches I can fit onto it. I may have to go find a big safety pin next time I do larger cables, since I’m guessing it would work just as well.

  23. Timely, timely…..
    I am planning my next project now, which is my first:
    1. Cabled piece
    2. Wrap/large garment
    3. Personal design. As in no pattern. At all. Saw one at Nordstrom that I liked but was scratchy and I thought I could make it more interesting in the stitch selection department so……. My sister (a Knitter with a capital K) is so proud.

    This may not seem big to y’all experienced folks but this is a huge deal to me. So any continuing advice/posts on this topic would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

  24. Tip for blocking cables. Get yourself one of those scunci steamers. Works great for all sorts of knitting, but especially the cables. Lots of steam without the urge to press down.

  25. You may want to try the cable needle that looks like a fish hook–holds the stitches and takes up less space while in use than a dpn. The round part of the hook holds the stitches, and if it is the same gauge as the needles you are using, you can knit off the cable needle, instead of transferring back and forth.

  26. I want to express a great, big “THANK YOU” to you, Ms. Wiseheart, for creating such a fun pattern for the Red Scarf Project. I made a scarf for the project last year, and I was in search of a new unisex pattern for this year when I received your latest newsletter. I can’t wait to get started on this year’s scarf, thanks to you!

    Best regards,
    Merryl Rosenthal
    Brooklyn, New York

  27. I’m knee deep in cable obsession lately. I’m working on my first pair of socks that I designed myself, full of twisted stitches. I’ve got 2 other cabled socks on the needles, and I really want to knit Norah Gaughn’s Turbulence sweater.

    I usually knit cables without the cable needle because I can never find one handy.

    Here’s my silly trick. For a right cable, you hold the stitches to the back of the work. In my head I tell myself “I’ll be RIGHT BACK.” That helps me remember right cable = back of the work. Somedays I can’t tell my left from my right, so I need all the help I can get.

  28. I once made an allover-cable sweater, where the short sleeves were knitted in as part of the sweater body. I had a hard time working out where in the cable pattern I was once I started having to increase sts at each end of the rows. The best advice I can give in such a situation is to put a marker in at the start of the first full cable pattern of that row, then you can count back from that marker to the beginning of the row to see where, in the cable pattern, you would start.

  29. Cables are practically the reason why I started knitting in the first place!! I remember as a child, looking through my grandmother’s pattern books and being fascinated by the curves and twists in the aran sweaters. It’s like some part of the fabric was alive and had grown and rooted itself through the stitches. I couldn’t wait to learn how to make them and most of my first knitting attempts had cables involved. Today I still find it hard to pass up a cabled item – the more twisty the better! My method of dealing with the “moving stitches” is to actually just pinch them together with my finger and thumb on my left hand until I need them. Only works on 5 stitches at a time or less, and isn’t great when you’re travelling in the back of the bus through town, but given the fact that I’m not always organized enough to bring a spare needle, or just plain too lazy to go find one, it works fine for me!!

  30. I’ve found that cable needles are like knitting needles: use a slippery one with yarn that is sort of sticky (plastic-y cable needles+aran or coarse wool), and not-so-slippery cable needle with slippery yarn (wooden cable needle+smooth fine wool, soy-silk, etc). And maybe everyone else already knows this, but I was really proud of myself when it dawned on me that if I put stitch markers at the start and end of cables and other textural things it helped my distracted mind keep track of where I was in the pattern!!

  31. I have arthritis very bad in my hands so holding the cable needles was a challange that I was determined to make work for me. What I did was I took one of my double pointed needles and I bent it into a wide U shape it now holds to the cable and I dont have to hang on to it with my hands while I work the other part and then I knit it off of the large U needle …works great for me and hopefully other arthritic people. Eva

  32. I make my own cable needles much the same way you can make knitting needles out of chopsticks. I especially like the thick chopsticks because it allows me to make a fairly deep groove in the middle to hold the little stitches, I then sharpen the other end in a sharpener at the length I’m comfortable with, and sand and buff the entire piece with a nail buffer which is ridiculously convenient as it has the three or four degrees of smoothing all in one handy tool. This way my cable needle is the length (and sometimes the width) I’m most comfortable with. You can also use those bamboo skewering sticks which can come even thinner than chopsticks and you can sometimes buy them 100/$1.

  33. Sandi,

    One thing I’ve learned about cables: stitch markers are your friends! Buy some metal jump rings used for jewelry and use them as markers. You can usually buy them in bulk and they are relatively inexpensive. Don’t knit without them! 🙂

  34. Hi, Tephra. As you can probably guess from your ordeal with the splitty yarn, a smooth, firmly-twisted yarn works best for cables. As for non-animal fiber, I’ve had good experiences with acrylics as long as they were not too loosely twisted. A doubled strand of cotton crochet thread has also behaved well for me.

    A cable needle was handy when I was first learning to work cables. It let me watch where the stitches were going without having to worry about them getting away from me. Now I generally cable without the extra needle so I don’t have to worry about that getting away from me!

    When I do use a cable needle, I just knit the stitches directly from it. The size doesn’t matter much since it is only the size of the right needle that affects gauge. You just don’t want it so big that it stretches the stitches or so small that it falls out too easily.

  35. Markers, Markers, Markers. Those little wonders have saved many a cable. I love the idea from Vicki B.. My husband modified an electric pencil sharpener to make wooden dpns for me and it’ll work great for these cable needles and the slight dip should work out great. I’ve seen some wooden cable needles with dip type indentations along the body of the needle but I have never tried them. My hang up is the stupid row counters, and I’m always geting interupted so its usually hash marks on paper. My husband jokes that I need a counter that sits on the floor that I can tap with my foot or something that sits on the table top that can be lightly tapped, any Ideas folks.

  36. I’m a huge huge fan of knitting cables without a cable needle. The concept may seem a bit scary at first (you have to pinch the stitches that are off the needles together so they don’t get lost!) but once you get the hang of them they are a priceless trick!

    In a pattern that is constantly requiring you to cable, it is just a lot more fluid to not have to pick up the cable needle and use it for some reason. That’s just my personal feeling anyway.

    Please see grumperina’s and wendy’s tutorials for cabling without a cable needle 🙂

  37. When I knit without a cable needle, I do a couple extra slippings-of-stitches in order to ensure against accidentally pulling my work too tight and REALLY dropping the “dropped” stitches. For example, to knit a simple left-crossing cable over four stitches, I slip two stitches to the RH needle, knit the next two stitches on the LH needle, then slip the two stitches I just knit back to the LH needle. Then, I “drop” the next two stitches on the RH needle (the first two I slipped), slip the next two (already-knit) stitches back to the RH needle, pick up the “dropped” stitches with the LH needle, and knit those stitches.
    This method contains a little more slipping-of-stitches than others I have seen, but one big advantage is that the dropped stitches are off the needles for only the amount of time it takes me to slip two stitches behind them, and therefore I run less risk of accidentally dropping them while working the cable. This is especially helpful with working with plant fibers that don’t hold onto the dropped stitches as well as wool.

  38. Oh– and someone asked about a non-animal-fiber yarn that shows stitches well: I am currently making the Cables and Os cardigan with the recommended yarn, Queensland Collection Cotolino, and I love the yarn so much I have become a Cotolino disciple. It’s 60% cotton and 40% linen and it absolutely pops your stitchwork! The fabric looks a little open before you wash it, but one run in the washing machine and the linen relaxes– and you have one heck of a beautiful, fluid fabric that really showcases your fancy stitching. LOVE IT.

  39. Hi! for cables with more than two stiches crossing I use a cable needle that I thought was “th unoversal tool” to cables. Well, I’m living in Austria and everyone I saw knitting here used it, so I thought the rest of the world did too… My needle is approximatly 2.5mm in diameter, it is about 4 inches long but not completely straight. In the iddle there is a u-shaped dent where the stiches lie and (almost) never slip away even tought it’s made out of the same material as the metal addi-turbo needels! I hope you can find something like that over at your place! (I read in another post that someone twisted a u-shaped needle open, i think that’s about what my tool ,ooks like!)

  40. Like Joanne I use a cable needle in a hook shape that is called a cable hook. When I taught someone to do cables I told them that the very first thing they needed to do was get a cable hook. It makes doing cables so simple. Like you all I just love cables and the scarf is gorgeous. Can’t wait to recover from my carpal tunnel surgeries and get started.

  41. I have used a variety of needles over the years for making cables. I find that a double pointed wooden needle works best for me. It holds the yarn without being too slippery yet the stitches don’t get caught in the needle (as they do in a cable needle with a bend). Using a needle about the size of your regular needle also helps to minimize the stitches sliding off before you are ready to have them do so.

  42. If the last knit stitch in your cable (the leftmost stitch when facing you) tends to be a bit loose you can make it tighter by wrapping the following purl stitch the wrong way. Just remember on the return row that you need to knit into the back of that stitch to reorient it.

  43. I also recommend using dpn’s for cabling. But, I have learned that using a dpn two to three sizes smaller than the main working needle helps to keep the tension correct and does not stretch the stitches being held (and subsequently keeps the tension correct).

  44. I use a small stitch holder for cables. The one that looks like a big safety pin. When I come to a cable, I slip half the stitches onto the stitch holder and drop it to the front or the back. Knit the other half of the cable stitches and then slide the stitches from the stitch holder back onto the left needle. I hook the stitch holder onto my left pinky to hold until the next cable. When I finish a row of cables, I hook the stitch holder through some stitches on the front of the work for safe keeping until I need it again.

  45. I thought this was too cute not to pass along.. a Friend of mine has a cute name for when you have to tear out stitches.. she calls if “Frogging” because you have to ” rip it, rip it, rip it, rip it out”
    I just love Sandy’s cabled scarf. Good job, keep it up!! Thanks alot, Sincerely, Beth Morche’

  46. I just love the red scarf pattern. I am new to knitting…just a few scarfs so far. The cables are very intimidating. Can this be done by a new knitter? I am still learning the knitting language for patterns. I am bored with the one stitch patterns but don’t want to tackle something too advanced. Thanks for any advise you can give.

  47. I don’t know if someone has posted this tip already, but one of the best tips I found was in Melissa Leapman’s “Cables Untangled.” Usually my left-most stitch on a cable is loose and “wonky”. Melissa recommends an easy fix. After you do your cable stitches, on the next pearl stitch, wrap the yarn the OPPOSITE way. When you come back around to that stitch on the other side, it will be twisted…just knit into the back loop to untwist it. I do this every time now, and I no longer have problems with loose stitches.
    BTW – I’m a fairly new knitter, and I just started cabling…and I’m loving it! The poster above asks if it can be done by a new knitter – absolutely! Just get a good book and read through it first…I used the book mentioned above.

  48. For Charlene M: I, too, use hash marks on paper, but your thoughts about something you can tap made me immediately think of those metal counters used to count people at events. All you do is tap the button to count a person (add a row).

  49. When I knit cables, I like to use the “J” shaped cable needle. I slip the stitches onto the short end and knit them off the long end, and they never get twisted. Plus, I can let the needle hang on its own while I work the rest of the stitches before coming back to it, and it never slides out of the work.

  50. I’ve used all kinds of cable needles, but I like the U or J shaped ones, because I can just hang them there, and not worry about them slipping out if I have to suddenly jump up and pull something out of my beagle’s mouth….like a knitting needle…or a bottle cap.

    Also, I aspire to knit cables like Janet Szabo. She’s a master of the aran sweater, so SANDI, I’d recommend you check out her stuff. She teaches you how to design your own aran, which would be a wonderful gift for your husband.

    And thanks for the Red Scarf pattern. I have the most gorgeous, perfect green yarn, and i only have 3 skeins and now I exactly what to do with it! I’ll have to make another for the project!

  51. Using a cable needle smaller than the knitting needles seems to minimize the inevitable pulling/stretching that can happen while knitting cables. It also seems to make for neater stitches.

  52. Hi Sandi!
    Thanks for the beautiful scarf..and inspiration to design…My comment about your proposed Christmas sweater is: Since it is almost the end of September, assuming you’ll have sleeves and your husband isn’t the size of a typical five-year-old, you may want to pick your yarn very carefully…this, in my opinion, wouldn’t be the project to use laceweight or sock weight yarn on..something substantial–or knit with two strand together to make it go faster…unless of course, this is the ONLY thing you have to knit between now and then. (Methinks not…)Okokok..I am guilty of launching a man’s size cable Christmas/Chanukah project soon–as soon as the spinning is done-BUT–it’s a vest..and I may only cable the front….and I have a small family and no publication deadlines!!!Good luck..keep us posted!

  53. Hi Sandi, I have found the funky U-shaped cable holder to be very useful in eliminating dropped cable stitches. It’s designed with one side longer than the other. For example, if you are knitting a 6 stitch cable which will curve to the left, slip 3 stitches on the short end of the holder and slide them over to the curve portion of the holder. Leave the holder in front of your work with both points of the holder pointing down and the stitches held in the curve portion of the holder — it will most likely fall that way on its own. Knit 3 stitches from your standard needle, then grab the holder and slide the 3 stitches to the longer end and knit them off. It’s like working off a dp needle, but that U shape doesn’t allow the stitches to slip off. This tool works for even the most numerous-stitch cables or thick yarn without dropping stitches! Good luck with your husband’s sweater! Dawn

  54. For Charlene M: I installed some “tap counter” software to my hand-held Palm, and it helps a lot. 🙂 I have all the screen of my Tungsten to tap on and it shows nice big numbers in return.

    And my cable needle looks like this: “__/__”. I find it very helpful.

  55. Knitting cables without a cable needle would make me nervous. I’d be afraid I’d drop those loose stitches! I use a u-shaped holder.
    One thing I’ve learned is to purl the first background stitch after the cable a little tighter to avoid a holes and push the cable up a bit.

  56. I “tackled” cables 2 years ago because I love the look of Aran knits. My “trick” with the cable needle (I use a u-shaped one that looks like a hair pin) is to park it on my left hand over the base of my ring and little fingers while I’m working the wrong side or otherwise not specifically using it. That learning came after having it fall of the table next to me a few times. Haven’t lost it since!

  57. Sandi, I love cables and have been cabling since I was a kid. I still use the same old cable needle I got way back then. It is one of the ones with a dip in the middle. It is probably a size 6. When I need something smaller I go to a dpn. I am going to have to find out about this no hold needle thing. Thanks for mentioning it.

  58. i use a modified version of anne bourgeois’ method of keeping track of a regular increase…take a piece of contrasting yarn and tie it in a series of loops about the size of a stitch on the needles that you are useing. if the pattern is say, 8 rows long, tie 8 loops, and if the cross is on row 6, mark that loop somehow – extra knots, a bead or button, a regular ring marker, whatever. make one for each pattern panel and place it in your knitting at the beginning of every pattern panel. then slip the marker one loop up every time you come to it. the slipped loops count the rows and the marked loop will remind you that it’s a “crossing” row in that pattern panel and it’s right there in your hands.

    vogue knitting’s 25th anniversary book has a reprint of a column meg swansen did on cabling without a cable needle.

  59. I love knitting cable sweaters, but I’m amazed at how people manage those little plastic cable needles, with the “bump” in them. They fall out all the time. I have made my own–born out of necessity when I lost a cable needle years ago. I took a regular metal clothes hangar, and cut off one of the corners, leaving about two inches on either side. Give a quick file to the ends (I used a metal file, but heavy sandpaper would work as well, you just want to smooth off any sharp spots), and voila! cable needle. I have since seen a similar thing in stores, with a u-shaped end, but I like mine better because the angle is more open; it’s easier to move around on the knitting. The metal finish slides very nicely as well. And don’t be afraid of cables! They look impressive, but are among the easiest of “fancy” knitting techniques to master.

  60. Cables are great fun, once you get past the complexity of holding the cable needle. One tip…as my project grows, I stick the cable needle through the growing work. That way I can always find it when I need it, instead of grubbing around for it in my knitting bag. Good luck with the sweater. Lyda

  61. I learned to cable without a cable needle from the English comments Schoolhouse Press put into the set of 3 paperback Austrian books on cable patterns. These patterns are interesting because they are based on even numbers of stitches, never odd, stitches are always twisted, and crossings are not limited to right-side rows. I’d also like to put forth the concept that in a cable featuring twisted stitches, the stitches can be twisted in two different ways: the usual, knit-into-the-back way which looks good when the stitch is leaning towards the left, and for right leaning, try this: slip the st as if to knit, put it back on left needle, then knit it in the usual way. A fine point, but looks balanced and better.
    Lately I’ve been gansey knitting from Gladys Thompson’s great historical book, and learned this: the cables on the old blue fisherman sweaters were 3 over 3, crossed every 7 rows. They really do look like ropes, not just a suggestion of a rope. An expert male knitter of ganseys, speaking of cable crossings, is quoted, “Pull ‘er tight or ‘e ‘won stand out!” How true. These are knitted tightly on small needles, and easily dropped stitches meant I had to go back to the cable needle. An old knitting hint pamphlet I had in the 70’s advised putting the held stitches back on the left needle when needed rather than trying to knit them off the cable needle, and this has been my habit ever since. I like the U-shaped one too.
    I would agree not to be afraid of cables as they offer a comforting little world of perfect symmetry that is somehow satisfying. But I also think that finding a balance between simplicity and technical difficulty is probably the best goal in knitting and in life.

  62. The best trick I use is to anticipate the cable approaching and have my working yarn in the correct place from the start. I knit continental, so it’s very easy to move my working yarn front or back as I finish a stitch – and then I practiced until i did it automatically, no thinking Right means back, just reading the knitting and making the next step. The same trick makes ribbing or seed stitch so much faster – eliminate yf and yb as separate action hen you can and your knitting will be much faster.)

    I also recommend the use of charts. You can see the pattern that’s building, and read your knitting instead – you’ll make less mistakes because you are knitting thoughtfully.

    I heartily recommend Jenna Wilson’s Shedir as a intensive project – the 1×1 crossing are easy to make, and the repetition gives you time to really learn where your working yarn goes – by the end of it you won’t need your chart to twist right or left; you’ll see what you need to do, and just do it.

    Oh, and I cable without a cable needle.

  63. I found a booklet of doll sweater patterns at a second hand store and bought it just because it was old and funny looking (1960’s). There are, I think, 17 different sweaters to knit in this booklet. They come in various sizes for Barbie-type dolls. I tried one that had a cabled pattern, to give them a whirl. Albeit, the cables were only 2 stitches wide, but it gave me confidence that I now know how cabling works and will try them on a human-sized piece of clothing soon.

  64. Maybe this has already been said, but I really like EZ’s suggestion that when you are preparing to tackle gauge on a whole cabled sweater, to make a hat out of half your proposed number of stitches for the sweater. As you go up the hat you can change needle sizes if needed, but not affect the hat size too much. That way you have gauge and a nice hat to boot.

  65. I learnt to do cables with dpns because nothing else was available. Since then I have bought and used straight cable needles about 3 inches long in an appropriate size. I’ve had no problems with dropping stitches. Can anybody help with a cable question I’ve been pondering lately: Can you knit cables upside down? For instance could I start a sweater from the top if the pattern starts from the bottom and will it look OK? It doesn’t need to look identical to one knitted from the bottom upwards.

  66. many thanks for the cable tips. I have never been consistent about right side/wrong side blocking.. I personally prefer the J shaped cable needle, but when mine is MIA, I use a broken wooden dpn with rubber band or tape on the broken end. Also, with a complicated cable or if I find instructions confusing, I have learned the hard way to work out the bugs with scrap yarn. I was totally confused about the Celtic knot on the back of the sweater I knitted from one of your 1997 issues. I felt like a fool once I figured out what I had misunderstood. Mary B

  67. I love the look of cables–all kinds. I prefer the skinny “U” shaped cable needle, regardless of the thickness of yarn I’m using. It isn’t too fat so the stitches move on it easily. And I always slip the stitches to be held onto the short end and knit off the long end. That way I never get the stitches twisted either. And of course, make sure you pull the yarn fully forward after the cable so you don’t get a loose stitch on that left edge.

  68. My favorite cable knitting tip is: Don’t Rip. Secure your stitches on each side of the flub, drop your stitches down to below the mistake and re-knit the ladders using your cable needle for a knitting needle.

  69. Cables were the first non-“just knit and purl” stitch patterns I ever tackled, and I’ve yet to fall out of love with them. Part of the trick is definitely to find a cable needle that you like best. I despise working with the straight ones with a little dip in them. I typically love working with the ones that look like hooks, because when it’s not in use on a row, I can sling it over my right thumb and carry on, and sling it right back up to my work when I need it. Handy. The only time I don’t use the hook-shaped needles is when working in the round, when I can only use DPNs. Like anything else in knitting, you just have to find your own rhythm.

  70. I can cable by just manipulating stitches, but my preferred way of doing it is using one of those flying-bird-shaped needles… the ones that are straight at both ends with the V in the middle. And I never put the stitches back on the needle before knitting them off–it’s the needle size they’re being knitted onto that determines the size of the stitch.

  71. Sandi, I tend to use the U-shaped cable needles for my cabling. They seem to hold the stitches very well, and they hardly ever slip. As far as tips, though, the best tip I’ve ever received was to do a ptbl after the cable to tighten up the edge of the cable. Much thanks to Victoria at Unique One in Camden Maine for that.

  72. Charlene M–I use a “clacker”–it’s a red plastic counter that you just squeeze to increase the count. It’s only fault is it only goes to 99. I also like, for complicated counts, to use a “Peg-it” counter. You have four sets of counts to keep track of by moving a peg. It is about the size of that metal needle gauge measure we all have.

    Sandi–The scarf is beautiful. I think I’ll try to do the cable on more than just the ends for a fella’s scarf. Do you think it will make it warmer with more cables? The recipient lives at 10,000 feet.

  73. hi! that scarf may just inspire me to try and knit scarves..(well almost).

    about cabling, I have never used a cable needle; infact I don’t even know what one looks like. I was taught to knit by my mum, and by reading Patons knitting books from before I was born – and have always knitted cables using this technique.
    1. I slip the first stitches off the left needle,
    2. then slip the next batch of stitches needed for the cable to the right needle,
    3. then pick up the slipped off stitches,
    4. and finally return the ones on the right needle back to the left and then continue with my knitting.

    I think, like all good things, it all comes from practice, well and patience, and of course perserverance..

    Thanks for the pattern.

  74. This may be a stupid question (but I have an excuse: I’m French-speaking!).. I just started the ‘connections red scarf’ and wonder what ‘pm’ means in the cabled version instructions? I couldn’t find a list of abbreviations anywhere. Thanks!!

  75. I have always loved cables…dating back when I knit in High School 35+ years ago. They always look sooo rich and difficult. I use a rounded, wood toothpick with the sharp ends cut off. Then if I lose isn’t so devastating.

    Ginny Q

  76. This is a tip from my sister: She recently discovered if instead of casting on all the stitches at the beginning, you cast on the stitches held in back on the first cable, that prevents the fanning out you see from cablling.

    1. Sorry, but I don’t totally understand what you are saying. If you only cast on the back of the first cable, where do the stitches for the front of the first cable come from? I’d really love to know this as the way to avoid that fanning out really intrigues and interests me. TIA for your advice.

  77. I did my first cable sweater last winter and it was a lot more fun than I ever imagined.

    Could you do a post sometime on the differences in yarn – for example the difference between sport weight, fingering weight, chunky etc. I am slowly getting it all figured out as I am working my way throug the Favorite Socks book. But what is DK yarn? etc…


  78. Re the Red Scarf – I printed off the pattern, but have 2 questions – – – re the directins, what does pm and sl m mean? Been knitting for 40 yrs, and this is new – thanks for an answer – C. Caruso

  79. I love knitting cables. I had always used a U-shaped cable needle, but on Palindrome, I decided to use a single, same-size DPN, as you suggested. It really is easier–thanks for the tip!

  80. Try cabling without a needle on your swatch first…This will tell you if your yarn and tension will permit it. A smooth yarn with a firm tension may have stitches that are frustrating to keep in place while you make the cables. Black Water Abbey has yarns that are perfect for cabling without a needle, also Bartlett wool yarn. The yarn determines whether this is a pleasant shortcut, or endless aggravation.

  81. I want to ask a knitter, why is it that when I am knitting a cable and I am going to the last half of the cable stitches to knit, I get a small hole by the side of a cable:?