At first glance, knitting cables can seem like an intimidating technique to pick up. The twists and braids look so intricate and impressive that surely they must be difficult to learn!
In reality, knitting cables is a simple process comprised of straightforward steps. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be a cablework pro in no time!
In this guide, you'll find:
- • an explanation of what cables are in knitting
- • basic instructions on how to knit cables for beginners
- • basic instructions on how to read cable abbreviations
- • an easy cable pattern for practice
- • suggestions for knitting cables without a cable needle
- • an outline of things to consider when choosing a cablework project
- • some of our favorite beginner cable patterns!
In knitting, cables are textural patterns created by crossing stitches and knitting them in a different order than in previous rows/rounds. Think of it almost like "braiding" your stitches. A cable can appear as a traditional braid, a wave, or even as a honeycomb-like structure. There are plenty of different cable combinations to explore, but they mostly originate from the same basic steps.
The exact steps in knitting cables depends on what kind of cable you are creating, but the basic process is this:
- 1. Transfer some of your stitches to a cable needle (or one of these cable needle substitutions!)
- 2. Place the cable needle in front of or behind your work — the direction will depend on your pattern
- 3. Work the next stitches from the left-hand needle
- 4. Work the stitches that had been placed on the cable needle
Example: Cable 4 Back
Let's use a simple cable stitch called Cable 4 Back (C4B) (What does this mean?) as an example.
- 1. Transfer the next 2 stitches onto a cable needle
- 2. Place the cable needle behind the work
- 3. Knit the next 2 stitches from the left-hand needle
- 4. Knit the 2 stitches from the cable needle
For a video demonstration of C4B, check out our tutorial below:
Cablework can be presented in a pattern as written instructions, as a chart with symbols, or both!
For written instructions, you may see a cable written as something like C4B. So what does that mean? Let's break it down:
- • C simply stands for cable. This means you'll be putting stitches on hold and crossing them.
- • 4 represents the total number of stitches in the cable. Usually, cables are evenly split; so in this case, you will be putting 2 stitches on hold, knitting the next 2 stitches, and then knitting the stitches on hold.
- • B refers to Back, meaning you'll keep the held stitches behind your work. If your cable has an F instead of a B, you'll keep the held stitches in front of your work. Keeping held stitches in front of or behind your work will affect which way the cable will lean: a front cable is left-leaning, while a back cable is right-leaning.
If your pattern includes a chart, there will usually be an additional guide explaining what each symbol represents.
If you aren't working from a pattern and just want to experiment with knitting cables, try this beginner-friendly swatch pattern using C4B:
In case you need a refresher, to do C4B (Cable 4 Back): Slip the next 2 stitches onto the cable needle and hold it behind the work, knit the next 2 stitches from the left needle, then knit the 2 stitches from the cable needle.
These basic steps can be repeated and combined with other types of cables to create a variety of different designs!
While a cable needle is definitely convenient to have, it isn't necessary. If you're traveling and realized you forgot your cable needle, or simply misplaced yours, don't fear! All you need to knit a cable is something to hold stitches. If you don't have a cable needle on hand, you can use:
- • a set of circular needles (in a similar size to your working needles)
- • a pencil
- • your index finger or thumb! This option is great for bulky or super-bulky yarn. Index fingers are generally better for Back Cables, while thumbs are generally better for Front Cables.
Watch the video below to see how to knit cables with an extra set of circular needles or with your fingers.
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a cable-knitting project, such as:
- • Yarn Color
- • Yarn Weight and Fiber
- • Cable Intricacy
- • Garment Type
When it comes to cables, yarn color has a big impact on the final result. We've found that solid colors in lighter or brighter hues best highlight cablework.
Options like tweeds or dark solid colors can also work, but they may produce a more subtle effect and you may lose some of the cable's details. Check out the photo below, which compares our Cable Dress in two different colors:
Notice the difference in how the cable pattern appears? Neither version is necessarily better than the other, but they definitely have different effects!
Yarn Weight & Fiber
Color isn't the only yarn characteristic to consider! Yarn weight and fiber content will also play a part in how a cable will appear in your knitting project.
For a bolder look, opt for chunkier (aka thicker) yarn. If you want something a bit more delicate, use a thinner option, like worsted weight.
Garments made from different types of fiber will drape (or hang) differently, and garments with cables are no exception! Take a look at Our Cropped Fisherman Cardigan in Merino No. 5 (left, 100% merino wool) and Big Cotton (right, 100% unmercerized cotton):
See how the heavier drape of cotton affects how the cablework appears in the Big Cotton version, despite being a very similar motif to the Merino No. 5 version?
The same idea applies to pullovers! Check our the Urban Fisherman Sweater in Merino No. 5 (left) and Big Cotton (right) below to see how:
Urban Fisherman Sweater in Merino No. 5: Get the DIY Kit
Learn to knit the Urban Fisherman Sweater in our video tutorial below.
Some cable designs are more complicated than others. Some patterns are made more challenging by featuring a combination of different cables — or cables combined with another technique like lacework! — while others may seem more complex due to the sheer amount of cablework in the project.
One of our most intricate cable patterns is the Off the Shoulder Top in Big Cotton. This gorgeous sleeveless blouse includes not only cables, but lace as well! Eyelets are worked between the twists of cables for a truly marvelous look on both the front and back panels of the garment. This is a great option for those who have a bit more experience or are looking for a challenge!
This design is also available as a sweater in Big Cotton and Merino No. 5.
Learn how to knit the Off the Shoulder Sweater in our video tutorial below.
All sorts of projects can be adorned with cables, from hats to scarves to cardigans and more! If it's your first time knitting cables, you might not want to jump into a more complicated project like a sweater — or you might like the challenge! The choice is yours, but it's definitely something to consider.
We have an entire series of patterns specifically designed to provide an easy introduction to knitting cables: Meet the "My First Cable" family! Each style in this collection features the same simple cable pattern.
Whether you want to start off with a hat, scarf, or blanket, these projects are fun and fast ways to learn cablework. There's even a video tutorial to go along with each one!
My First Cable Hat
My First Cable Scarf
My First Cable Blanket
This blanket pattern comes in 3 different sizes: 2 baby blanket sizes, and 1 throw.
Also available in Big Cotton! This version comes in 5 sizes: 2 baby blanket sizes and 3 throw sizes.