Look Ma, No Cable Needle!


If you are a knitter who has already mastered the art of knitting cables without using a cable needle, feel free to change the channel pronto.   But if you are afraid of trying out this method, hang in with me for a mini-tutorial and a great project recommendation to get you started.

This work-in-progress is another lacy shawl project, although it’s not nearly as large or voluminous as my last one.  I was charmed by this Bristol Ivy pattern:


Lacy, lightweight and really versatile.  I ordered the pattern and the Quince & Co. linen yarn, settled down to acquaint myself with the pattern and saw, ugh, cables.  I usually associate cables with  heavier wool sweaters and hats.  In fact, my only UFO knitting project was a black fisherman’s sweater I started knitting for David.  This was an early project and maybe a little advanced for my skill level at the time, but once I dropped a few cabled stitches and lost count of my rows on the first sleeve I had to put it down.  I don’t think David will miss it. After all, we do live in Arizona.

Since I hate using cable needles and I’m not particularly good at it, I decided to try my hand at knitting without the cable needle.  For the non- knitters out there, cables are simply a twisted design achieved by knitting or purling stitches out of order.  A cable needle is typically used to hold the stitches you are not ready to knit yet out of the way.  When knitting without a cable needle the approach is to move the stitches around on the regular needle and then just knit across them.  What’s intimidating is that for a split second in the process your “live” stitches are hanging out in no man’s land off the needles potentially leading to dropped stitches, which we never want if we can help it. Are you totally confused yet?

This shawl project turned out to be a great one to experiment on for two reasons.  First, the cables are three stitch cables which means you are either stranding one or two live stitches.  That’s not so bad.  For a six stitch cable, for example, you’d be hanging three live stitches out at once.  I’m not sure I’d try that!  Second and more importantly, in this pattern, if you do happen to drop one of the live stitches (and I’ve done it plenty) it’s very easy to retrieve the dropped stitches because the previous rows are all stockinette stitch.  When I first started knitting this I literally kept a crochet hook between my teeth–  that’s how often I had to go retrieving stitches.  But I finally got the hang of it.  Here’s how I did it:

Here’s a place where I am going to do a right cross cable on three stitches.  The three stitches on the left needle are the ones we’re moving around:


The first step is to insert the right needle into the front of the third stitch on the left needle:DSCN1978

Next you slide all three stitches off the tip of the needle.  This will leave the third stitch on the right needle and the two others hanging out behind the work:


Can you see the two stitches on top?  You quick, quick put the tip of the left needle through those:


And then slide the last stitch on the right needle back onto the left:


Lots of drama just to reorder those stitches!  Once you’ve done that (and that’s the hairy part) you just knit across those stitches like you normally would and it looks like this:



The left hand cross is the exact opposite of this one.  First insert the right needle into the back of the second and third stitches:


Slip them off the tip of the left needle, leaving two stitches on the right needle and one hanging out in front of the work:DSCN1984

Quick, quick (can’t forget that part) slip the tip of the left needle into the free stitch and then slip the two stitches from the right needle back to the left:DSCN1986

Knit across these three stitches and voila:


Cables are done!

This takes a little bit of practice, but it makes the entire process so much more enjoyable and less fussy!

This was my first attempt at offering up any bit of knitting “technique” on my blog and I’m not sure these photos are clear enough to be actual “tutorial” material, but if I’ve encouraged you to face your knitting fear and ditch that cable needle then I’ve done what I set out to do.  As with everything, there are tons of videos and other how-tos all over the internet that can help you get started.

In the meantime it shouldn’t be much longer before this project is done.  I’ll report back with the finished garment.







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