This is the second post in our series about cables! Be sure to read the first one here.
Success with cables can rely partially on your personal arsenal of techniques and tools. Cable needles, which help you cross the stitches over each other, are often bent or U-shaped to help manipulate the stitches. Choose a cable needle close to or larger than the needles used in your project, as this will help the stitches retain their size and your gauge look even throughout. You can also use a short straight DPN or a Lantern Moon cable needle (it has awesome ridges for keeping your stitches from slipping).
Here, I’m using an aluminum, U-shaped cable needle. Cables are often designated in a pattern by a special abbreviation. Be sure to check out your pattern’s legend to see which cable abbreviations mean which. The cable I’m showing (knit here on Stonehedge Fiber Mill’s Shepherd’s Wool Worsted) is a simple crossed cable over four stitches, with a left lean. It might be abbreviated as C2F (cable two front). This means that you slip two stitches to the cable needle and hold the needle in front. Then you knit the next two stitches with your standard needle—then knit the stitches from the cable needle to make the cross.
I usually prefer to cable without a cable needle, as I tend to find the addition of even a short double-point distracting and fiddly. This technique, originally popularized by this blog’s tutorial, is especially handy on smaller cables that cross one to four stitches. If you’re knitting larger cables, a cable needle is generally a better choice to keep you from dropping moving stitches.
To cable without a cable needle, you want to have sharp tipped needles, so that you can slide the stitches around easily. If your tips are too blunt you’re going to spend a lot of time poking at stitches, trying to get them back on the needle. (This is also relative to your yarn choice and the cables’ complexity. I am using a slightly blunter needle, but I’m also using a worsted weight yarn.) Here’s how to do a C2F cable without a cable needle:
First, you’ll knit up to the cable. My cable is flanked by two purl stitches, so I moved the yarn to the back of the work to prep for the cable. Since typically the next two stitches would be held on the cable needle, just skip them, and knit the next two stitches.
This is where it gets a little tricky. You need to move the stitches around to make the cross, using both needles. Using the left-hand needle, come in front to put both of the held stitches (the ones that have not been knit) onto the left needle.
Then, gently slip the two stitches that are on the right-hand needle off, allowing the held stitches to properly align (giving them a little room). Put them back on so that you can now knit the two stitches on the left-hand needle, completing the cross:
For a C2B (cable two back), the process is similar, but the yarn indicates which stitches are held a little easier. You will skip the stitches like before, but keep the yarn in front. Knit the next two stitches as normal.
Then, move your left-hand needle around to the back and pick up the two held stitches with the left-hand needle.
Slide the right hand needle out of those stitches and the already-worked ones, then put the already-worked stitches back on the right hand needle.
You can now knit the two unworked stitches on the left-hand needle as usual, completing the C2B cross.
While this might seem trickier at first, it saves you time when working large cable motifs like sweaters. You can follow along on your chart without needing extra tools for those smaller cables (like those featured on the front of the Brooklyn Tweed Crosby pullover!). Practice makes perfect, so if you find yourself needing extra help, check out some of these sources:
Knitting Help – Cables without a Cable Needle
Ysolda – Technique Thursday, Cables without a Cable Needle