Crazy for Cables: Knitting Cables 101
Knitting cables 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 cables 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.
A Refresher: The Basic Cable
The most familiar type of cable is a simple rope cable, used on the Alice Hoodie from knitscene Fall 2016, below. 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.
The cable strands are most often made of stockinette stitch (knit on right side, purl on wrong side), which tends to come forward when viewing the right side of the work. The background is usually worked in reverse stockinette stitch (purl on right side, knit on wrong side), which tends to recede when viewed from the right side. The flanking areas of reverse stockinette stitch make the central stockinette-stitch cable pop forward in high relief.
Knitting cables 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 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, 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, 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.
Other Cable Types
An entire universe of cables grows from the basic idea of crossing stitches over each other. Freed from the confines of a single vertical rope, cable strands can cross over background stitches to meet with other strands. Or they can be worked without any background stitches at all, for a fluid allover fabric. They can start and stop as needed. Cables can include eyelets or textured stitches. They can be turned on the bias or shaped with short-rows. Almost any woven or braided sequence can be worked with knitted cables. Knitting cables is a great way to add classic texture and movement to your project.