This post is sponsored by Red Heart Yarns
A Guide to Getting Started With Knitting Cables
Have you found yourself asking “how do you knit cables?” If so, you’re in the right place. With this getting started guide, you’ll be on your way to knitting cables before you know it.
To make knitting cables, you need to understand a few principles before you even get started. This way you are setting yourself up for success and the many knitting cable projects that follow.
For my demonstrations today I’ll be using Red Heart Baby Hugs yarn, a favorite go-to acrylic. Baby Hugs is a smooth yarn that has great stitch definition – perfect for your first cable knitting swatches.
First, I would love for you to check out my video – Knitting Cables: A Getting Started Guide for Beginners. Then I’ll outline the key points below.
The Fundamentals of Knitting Cables
As you saw in my video, there are some things you should really understand before you start your first swatch. My first experience knitting cables was a pretty bad one because I dove in without knowing these basics and I don’t want you to go through the same thing. Before you pick up your cable needle, run through these principles first.
Principle #1 – The Right Yarn for Knitting Cables
Get yourself a smooth, worsted weight yarn like Red Heart Baby Hugs to knit your first few cable swatches. Smooth yarn does two things; 1) It makes it easy to see your stitches and 2) it makes it easier to see (and admire) the cable pattern.
If possible, stay away from variegated yarns that will distract from the cable design. You spent all that time creating beautiful knit cables and you want them to be the focus, right?
Principle #2 – Start Knitting Swatches first, then try a pattern.
Before you dive into a cable knit pattern, make several swatches from a knitting stitch book. I recommend 400 Knitting Stitches, a Complete Dictionary of Essential Stitch Patterns by Potter Craft.
This book has a great section on knitting cables. You’ll find over 35 different cable stitch patterns to practice with from the very basic to some fancy knit cables too. What I love about this book is that it provides the written instructions for each cable as well as a description of how to do the cable twist. It’s perfect for beginner cable knitters.
By the way, that book link is my affiliate link through Amazon and if you purchase it after clicking one of the links on this page, at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission. This, however, is not my motivation to recommend this book! I learned how to knit cables from making swatches from the stitch patterns within and I think it will help you learn how to knit cables too!
After you have worked several swatches, your confidence will soar which leads me to my next point – you’re only ready to follow a cable knitting pattern when you feel confident working through a swatch.
It may be tempting to branch into designing with a book like 400 Knitting Stitches at your fingertips. Avoid the temptation! It’s better to work through a few published patterns before attempting to develop your own. My biggest mistake was jumping into this too soon. Through that experience I learned that there really is a learning order when knitting with cables:
- Swatch first to build skills and confidence.
- Follow a few patterns with knitting cables to develop cable knitting muscle memory and give your confidence a big boost.
- Dabble with designing your own cables or patterns to prove what you’ve learned.
The pattern for each of the cable swatches shown in this guide as well as the video can be found in this book.
Principle #3 – Knitting Cables Look Complicated but they are only the result of twisting stitches.
Twisting stitches is just the act of working them out of the “normal” order.
It’s deceiving because knitting cables look extremely complicated (some are) but stripping it down to the bare bones, a knit cable is the result of working your stitches out of order (twisting them).
The number of stitches and how we twist them makes each cable unique, however, never forget that a cable is just the result of twisting stitches.
Once you know how to work the stitches out of order, you can knit virtually any cable you want.
Principle #4 – Knitting Cable Abbreviations, “Lingo”
You’ll see cables described in your pattern in a “formula” that looks like this:
C#(f) or (b)
The “C” simply stands for cable. The # represents the number of stitches in your twist. “F” stands for “front” and “B” stands for “back”, both of which tell you where to hold your cable needle while you’re knitting. Here’s an example:
Which is your cue to cable six to the front (or hold your cable needle to the front)
Front and back also tell you which direction your cable will lean.
Front = Left leaning cable
Back = Right leaning cable
In less frequent instances your pattern might spell these terms out for you a bit more:
Cable 6 front (k3, k3)
which tells you to hold your cable needle to the front (left leaning cable) and knit all stitches in your twist. 400 Knitting stitches takes it one step further and gives you even more actionable steps which is why I really like it for beginners. It will tell you the physical steps to cable six stitches to the front (or which ever cable you’re attempting).
Principle #5 – Knitting Cable Diagrams
Here is an example of a simple six-stitch left leaning cable repeat. The pattern repeat here is nine stitches wide and eight rows high. When you’re following a diagram for knitting cables, the most important information you should focus on is the number of rows in your repeat and at what row the twist occurs. In our example here, the repeat is eight rows long and the twist occurs on row 7.
So what’s so great about knitting cables? Only one row of twisting results in a beautiful stitch that looks deceptively difficult. The diagram tells you the real story – that it’s all knits and purls until you get to those six stitches that need to be twisted.
Principle #6 – Holes in Knitting Cables and Tension When Knitting Cables
The result of twisting stitches causes a little hole. This is completely normal and you aren’t doing anything wrong if you notice this. The good news is that after you’ve worked a few more rows and the hole is no longer stretching on the needle, the tension settles in and it’s hardly visible.
You’ll also notice that the stitches involved in the twist may appear stretched or loose. Again – completely normal. You’ve just twisted those stitches and stretched them into a different position and this will be tough to see once you’ve completed your swatch or project and blocked it.
If you’re experiencing noticeable holes or loose stitches with your knitting cables, you’ll likely need to work on your tension (steady pull on the working yarn). Your tension when knitting cables should be just slightly tighter on the twist row. More often than not, tension issues fix themselves with loads of practice. Ignore the imperfections and carry on!
Principle #7 – Knitting Cables on Circular Needles or DPN’s
If you’re scratching your head wondering how to knit cables in the round, you’re not alone! The good news is that it’s easier than you think. Remember principle #3, a knitting cable is just a twist and nothing else (usually, unless you’re working a fancy cable) which means you’ll work them in the round in the same way you would using straight needles.
There is a difference in the way you should read your pattern, however, when knitting cables in the round. If you’re following a pattern that calls for circular needles or double pointed needles, you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments. The difference comes when you are translating a flat knitting cable instruction or diagram.
Remember when knitting in the round, you are never flipping the work so you’re always looking at the right side of the work. Follow the instructions for the right side of the work as normal and pay close attention to the details in the instructions for the wrong side. In the case of most knit cables, you’ll knit the knits and purl the purls.
Principle #8 – Fixing Your Knitting Cables, You Can Tink a Cable
Tinking or reverse knitting is what you do when you’ve made a mistake and you catch it early enough. I can’t say that tinking a knit cable is fun but it is possible. Remember principle #3 – a cable is just a twist. So when you’re “undoing” a cable, you need to untwist it.
Start off by tinking the first half of the cable stitches that are available. If you’re working a left leaning cable, these will be the stitches that are out of order and in which case you should hold them on your cable needle while you also tink the remaining stitches in the cable. Carefully place the stitches on your needle in the proper order and you’ll be good to try the cable again.
Now that you understand the fundamentals of knitting cables, what next?
The first thing I’d like for you to do is get a stitch pattern book that has some knitting cables in it. Find a simple cable with six or eight stitches and work a swatch exactly how the pattern tells you.
Then find another knitting cable pattern you like and work up a swatch for that one too.
Do this three or four more times, increasing the difficulty or intricacy of the pattern as you go. I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel confident and comfortable at the end of this exercise.
When you’re ready to make something other than a swatch, find a published pattern that incorporates knitting cables and go to town. Confidence and mastery come with practicing and patience comes with recognizing that you’re not going to be perfect the first several attempts. The sooner you realize this, the better.
I’m here for you!
If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. My intent is for this to be an ultimate resource that grows and develops based on your feedback!
Also, I do highly recommend that you try Red Heart Baby Hugs. Not just because they are my sponsor for this resource but because it really is a great staple yarn. It is available in a light and medium weight version, comes in a vibrant array of color options and it’s affordable. You can buy Red Heart Baby Hugs at many craft stores and of course, directly from Red Heart.
The book links on this page are affiliate links through Amazon and if you purchase after clicking one of these links, at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission. This, however, is not my motivation to recommend this book! I learned how to knit cables from making swatches from the stitch patterns within and I think it will help you learn how to knit cables too!