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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