Basic Cables

Cables are some of the most popular knitting stitches, suitable for all members of the family. They are formed by crossing and twisting stitches. They can be as simple as two or three stitches crossed over each other, to complicated all-over-patterned Aran sweaters.




We will start with simple ones.


There are a few tips that make cabling easier. Yarn itself can make a difference. Do not use yarn that splits easily; if it tends to get caught up anywhere on the machine, or the transfer and latch tools go through the strand of yarn instead of the stitch, do not use it for this project.

Creating a column of purl stitches beside each cable really helps them stand out from the background. You may find some old instructions for standard gauge machines that say to just leave a needle out of work beside the cables. Frequently the open space will just gradually disappear over time, expecially after repeated laundering. Try this for yourself if you wish to see what happens. A much better option is to drop and relatch the stitch as purl.

When you first begin the cable section, knit 2 rows. Drop and relatch the stitches for the purl columns. It's amazing how much easier it is to find the correct cable stitches for transferring when you have these purl stitches for visual reference. 

cable chart
cables 1

A simple 3x3 cable is illustrated. It corresponds to the right cable in the photo, and also the right cable on the graph. This will be worked on the 6 center stitches. First drop the stitch from needle 4, each side of center 0. Using two 3-prong transfer tools, remove three stitches on each side of center.

cables 2

Hold the right transfer tool with the prongs tilted slightly back towards yourself, and hang the stitches from the left tool onto the 3 needles right of center 0.

cables 3

Hang the eyelets of the right transfer tool onto the left 3 needles. This will be tight. The illustration does not show it, but it will be easier to rehang the stitches if you allow the deliberately-dropped 4th stitch to run downwards. You will be raveling these back to relatch as purl stitches anyway. Let them go now to make more ease for transferring the crossed stitches.

cables 4

To make it easier to knit the next row, bring the 6 cable stitches forward. Russel levers should be in the forward positon (ll).

cables 5

Drop the stitches for the purl columns and ravel them down to the beginning of the cable section. If you began by reforming 2 rows at the beginning, as suggested in the tips above, this will be very easy. If you did not set up your knitting this way, be careful when nearing the beginning. Insert the latch tool into the stitch in the correct row, then ravel the last two or three rows with the latch tool in the stitch. Latch this column of stitches as purl, and rehang the last one on the corresponding empty needle.

The 1x1 cables, which hand knitters also call "left twist", and the 2x2 cables are worked the same way. There is a general rule for cables, that says as cables get wider (more stitches), there should be more rows between the crossing or twist rows. Also, a very general rule is that there should be at least as many rows between twists as there are stitches in the cable. So a 2 stitch cable must have at least 2 rows between twists, a 4 stitch cable at least 4 rows, and a six stitch cable at least 6 rows between twists.

Actually, most designs include even more rows for large cables. They tend to look "squished" when the twists are too close together. Notice in the photo that the center, four stitch cable resembles a rope; there are four rows between the twists. More rows makes it look more "cable-like" although the one shown is very attractive. The six stitch cable on the right has eight rows between twists; this one often has ten rows between them. This basic lesson should get you started. Experiment with all of these to see which you prefer. Some really interesting designs can be created by placing the twists closer together and by mixing various cables in the same garment.

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This tutorial was copyrighted and uploaded to the original Clearwater Knits website in 1997. It was updated to add this page July 26, 2016.