A Beginner’s Guide to Knitting Cables

If you’ve ever wondered how to bring a stunning texture to your knitted creations, look no further than the art of knitting cables. With a simple technique and a bit of practice, you can effortlessly add depth and intricacy to your projects. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll demystify the process of knitting cables, unraveling the secrets behind those beautifully twisted patterns that add a touch of elegance to your knitting repertoire. So grab your knitting needles, cozy up with some yarn, and get ready to embark on a cable-knitting adventure that will take your creations to the next level.

Understanding Cables

What are cables?

Cables are a type of knitting technique that involves twisting stitches to create a raised texture that resembles interlocking cables. They add depth, interest, and elegance to knitted garments and accessories. Knitting cables can transform a simple project into a stunning piece of art.

Why knit cables?

Knitting cables can be a fun and exciting challenge that adds a unique touch to your knitting projects. They introduce variety and complexity to your knitting repertoire, allowing you to create beautiful and intricate designs. Cables can be used to highlight specific areas of a garment, such as sleeves, front panels, or even entire sweaters. They can also add warmth and durability to your knitted items.

Basic cables vs. complex cables

There are two main types of cables: basic cables and complex cables. Basic cables typically involve a straightforward twist of two or more stitches, creating a simple but elegant pattern. These are great for beginners who are just starting to explore the world of cables.

On the other hand, complex cables involve more intricate designs and techniques. They require a deeper understanding of cable knitting and often involve crossing multiple stitches in different directions. These cables create stunning visual effects and are perfect for those looking for a challenge and want to take their cable knitting skills to the next level.

Tools and Materials

To knit cables, you will need a few essential tools and materials.


Choose the right knitting needles based on the yarn weight and your personal preferences. Cable knitting can be done with both straight needles and circular needles, depending on the project and your comfort level.


Select a yarn that is suitable for the project you want to make. Different yarn weights and fiber contents will produce different results. Consider the texture, color, and thickness of the yarn to achieve the desired effect.

Cable needle

A cable needle is a special knitting needle with a slight bend in the middle or a U-shape. It helps you hold the stitches when creating the twists in cable knitting. Cable needles come in various materials and sizes, so choose one that feels comfortable in your hands.

Stitch markers

Stitch markers are useful for marking specific points in your knitting, such as the beginning of a round or the center of a cable pattern. They come in different sizes and materials, and you can choose between split-ring markers, locking markers, or simple loops of yarn.

Other optional tools

Some knitters find it helpful to have a tape measure, scissors, a darning needle, and a row counter or pen and paper to keep track of their progress. These tools can make your cable knitting experience more organized and enjoyable.

Foundation Knowledge

Before diving into cable knitting, it’s essential to have a solid foundation in basic knitting techniques and terminology.

Basic knitting stitches

Make sure you are comfortable with knitting, purling, and following simple knitting patterns. These fundamental stitches form the basis for cable knitting and are crucial for understanding the mechanics of the cables.

Reading knitting patterns

Familiarize yourself with reading knitting patterns, as cable patterns are often presented in written form or as charts. Understanding abbreviations, symbols, and pattern repeats will help you follow cable patterns accurately.

Identifying cable symbols

Cable patterns are often represented by symbols on charts. Learn to recognize and understand these symbols, such as twists to the right and left, crosses, and cables over multiple stitches. Being comfortable with these symbols will enable you to visualize and execute the cable patterns with ease.

Common Cable Techniques

Once you have a good grasp of the foundational knitting skills, it’s time to explore common cable techniques.

Cable forward

To create a cable forward, slip a specified number of stitches onto a cable needle and hold it at the front of your work. Knit the next set of stitches from the left-hand needle, then knit the stitches from the cable needle. This creates a cable twist that leans forward.

Cable back

To execute a cable back, slip a specified number of stitches onto a cable needle and hold it at the back of your work. Knit the next set of stitches from the left-hand needle, then knit the stitches from the cable needle. This creates a cable twist that leans backward.

Twisted cables

Twisted cables involve knitting the stitches out of their natural order, creating a more intricate design. They often require crossing stitches over each other and can be achieved by using different cable techniques such as cable forward or cable back.

Cable crosses

Cable crosses involve rearranging the order of stitches to create a crossing effect. They can be simple, with just a few stitches involved, or more complex, with multiple stitch crossings within a single cable.

Cable turns

Cable turns are used when working on tubular or circular projects, such as hats or socks. They allow you to continue the cable pattern seamlessly while maintaining the correct twist and direction.

Preparing for Cable Knitting

Before you start knitting your cable project, there are several essential steps you should take to ensure success.

Gauge swatch

Knit a gauge swatch using the chosen yarn and needles to determine your stitch and row gauge. This step is crucial to ensure that your finished project will fit as intended and that the cable pattern will look balanced.

Choosing the right yarn

Consider the fiber content, weight, and texture of the yarn when choosing yarn for your cable knitting project. Different fibers can create different drape and stitch definition, so select a yarn that complements the chosen cable pattern.

Calculating stitches

Refer to the cable pattern instructions to calculate the number of stitches required. Take into account any stitch repeats, border stitches, and desired garment measurements to achieve the desired fit.

Setting up the foundation row

Before you start knitting the cable pattern, set up the foundation row by knitting the necessary stitches for the border or any pattern repeats. This will provide a solid base for the cable pattern and ensure its proper placement within the project.

Knitting a Basic Cable

Now that you are familiar with the basics, let’s dive into knitting a basic cable.

Preparing the cable needle

Slip the specified number of stitches onto the cable needle and hold it securely in front or behind your work, depending on the cable pattern instructions.

Holding the cable stitches

Hold the cable needle parallel to the knitting needles, making sure not to twist or pull the stitches too tightly. Keep the cable needle steady and easily accessible as you work the cable stitches.

Performing the cable stitches

Following the cable pattern instructions, knit the next set of stitches directly from the left-hand needle. Then, insert the right-hand needle into the first stitch on the cable needle and knit it. Continue knitting the remaining stitches from the cable needle.

Returning the stitches

Once you have completed the cable stitches, place the cable needle aside and resume knitting the remaining stitches from the left-hand needle. Continue with the rest of the knitting pattern as directed.

Increasing and Decreasing with Cables

Incorporating shaping techniques into cable patterns can create beautifully tailored garments and accessories.

Increasing stitches within cables

To increase stitches within a cable pattern, use specific increase techniques such as knitting front and back (KFB) or make one (M1) to add stitches in the desired areas. Be mindful of maintaining the proper cable twist and alignment while increasing.

Decreasing stitches within cables

Decreasing stitches within cables can be achieved using techniques such as knit two together (K2tog) or slip, slip, knit (SSK). Follow the cable pattern instructions to determine the appropriate decrease method and ensure the cable design remains intact.

Shaping cables with outer stitches

If you want to shape your cables more dramatically, you can work the outer stitches differently. For example, you can create a faux cable effect by working decreases or increases on the stitches outside the cable motif. This creates a curved or slanted cable design.

Fixing Cable Mistakes

Mistakes happen, even to the most experienced knitters. Here’s how to fix common cable mistakes.

Dropping a cable stitch

If you accidentally drop a cable stitch, use a crochet hook to pick up the stitch and bring it back to the correct position. Take your time and work slowly to avoid making further mistakes.

Tinking back cable stitches

If you need to undo a few rows of your cable knitting, known as “tinking,” carefully undo each stitch, one by one, until you reach the desired point. Pay extra attention when working with cables to avoid twisting or crossing the stitches unintentionally.

Using a crochet hook to fix mistakes

A crochet hook can come in handy when fixing mistakes in cable patterns. Use it to fix small errors, such as twisted cables or uneven tension. Carefully unravel the stitches, correct the mistake, and then re-knit the affected rows.

Incorporating Cables into Patterns

Cables can be used in various ways to enhance your knitting projects.

Using cable patterns

Many knitting patterns incorporate cable designs that you can follow as written. These patterns often include instructions for cables in different sizes and placements. Choose a pattern that appeals to you and follow the instructions carefully for a successful cable project.

Creating your own cable patterns

Once you feel comfortable with cable knitting, you can experiment with creating your own cable patterns. Play with different stitch combinations, twists, and crossings to design unique and personalized cables. Don’t forget to take notes and create charts or written instructions for your future reference.

Alternating cable sections

Alternating cable sections can add visual interest to your knitting projects. You can rotate between different cable motifs, creating a rhythm and flow in the overall design. This technique is commonly used in sweaters, scarves, and blankets.

Combining cables with other stitch patterns

Cables can be combined with other stitch patterns, such as lace or textured stitches, to create intricate and visually striking designs. Experiment with different combinations to find the perfect balance between cables and other stitches.

Advanced Cable Techniques

Once you have mastered the basics, you can challenge yourself with more advanced cable techniques.

Working cables without a cable needle

Experienced cable knitters often choose to work without a cable needle to speed up the process. This technique involves rearranging the stitches directly from the knitting needles without using a separate cable needle. It requires practice and confidence with cable knitting.

Working cables on both sides

Traditionally, cables are worked on the right side of the fabric. However, you can also work cables on the wrong side, creating a unique reversible cable design. This technique is ideal for scarves, blankets, or other projects where both sides will be visible.

Crossing multiple cables

For those seeking a challenge, crossing multiple cables within a single row or round can create stunning, complex designs. You’ll need to keep track of multiple cable instructions simultaneously, ensuring each cable twist is correct and aligned.

Working with thick cables

Thick cables add a bold and dramatic effect to your knitting. These cables involve working with a high number of stitches over a few rows or rounds. They require larger needles, and the resulting fabric creates a cozy and eye-catching texture.

Congratulations! You now have a comprehensive understanding of knitting cables. With the right tools, techniques, and creativity, you can knit beautiful, intricate cable designs to elevate your knitting projects. Happy knitting!