The Cable Needle

design from Alice Starmore in Aran Knitting 1997-2010
Aranmor by Alice Starmore (Aran Knitting – New and Expanded Edition 1997-2010)

Cables are one of the most fascinating textural stitches in knitting. Traditional Aran and Fisherman sweaters rely on combining cable patterns for their beautiful embossed appearance. The technique for making cable stitch patterns requires a short needle with points at both ends – the cable needle.

Cable Patterns

All cable stitch patterns are formed by exchanging the positions of two groups of stitches; crossing one group over the other group of stitches, and knitting them out of order. Hence, cables are also referred to as crosses in some resources. The majority of cable patterns are composed of knit stitches on a purl-stitch ground, and most are formed by crossing 4, 6, 8 or 10 stitches.

Cable Needles

Cable needles are short, double-pointed needles that serve one simple purpose, to hold a group of stitches while you work a cable. These needles come in two main styles, straight and ones that are shaped with a bend in the middle or a U-shape, with one arm shorter than the other. The shaped styles prevent the held stitches from falling off the needle while making a cable. Some straight wood styles are made with ridges in the center, preventing the stitches from sliding off. In a pinch, a short double-pointed needle works well. Like regular needles, cable needles come in a variety of materials and sizes.

Making a Cable

Usually, one half of the total number of stitches that make up the cable pattern are held on the cable needle in the front or back of your work. The other half of stitches are worked off the left needle, followed by knitting the stitches from the cable needle. Stitches that are held in the back of your work form a cable that slants to the right, and those stitches held in the front form left slanting cable patterns. It’s a good idea to use a cable needle that is a size or two smaller than the knitting needles, which prevents stretching the stitches too much while working the cable. 

The following is a tip for better looking cables; ones that look even and consistent throughout the piece of knitting. Most resources tell you to knit the held stitches off of the cable needle. Rather than knitting these stitches directly from the cable needle, place the stitches from the cable needle back onto the left needle, prior to working them. Slide these stitches one at a time onto the left needle without twisting or dropping them. I find this technique less awkward than knitting the stitches off of a short, dangling cable needle. Another tip for knitting a nicely finished cable, and to prevent a large hole where the stitches cross, is to pull the yarn tighter when knitting the first stitch from the ones held on the cable needle. The following image series show this procedure for a 6-stitch right slanting cable.

Some of the most interesting patterns in knitting are formed with a cable needle. Try not to shy away from trying even the most simplest of cables, even if it feels a little awkward at first. With practice you’ll master the technique in no time at all. Do try my tip for knitting a better looking cable; I think you’ll be pleased with the results.