Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tips and Resources for Knitting and Fixing Cables

In principle knitting cables isn't hard... but the reality can prove a bit difficult. The best explanation I've heard that described the action of cabling is this:

Imagine that your two knitting needles are a train track, your "main track".

And the stitches on your needle are train cars.

The stitches (or "train cars") start out on your left needle and move to the right. Occasionally some of the cars get side tracked for a while- that is cabling. To do that you need a third needle (called a cabling needle, inventive huh!) this acts like a "parallel track"

Just a note- this is actually a DPN not a cable needle (CN). I thought it illustrated the train track idea a bit better.

To cable all you do is switch the order of your train cars. Move a few stitches from your lefthand needle onto your cabling needle (the "parallel track")

Then knit stitches from your lefthand "main track" to the righthand "main track".

I've circled the cable needle just waiting with those stitches that are set aside while I knit from my main needles.

Finally you knit the stitches from the "parallel track" back onto your righthand "main track"

thus changing the order of the stitches.

There are a few more details, like whether you hold your parallel track in front (between you and your main needles) or in back (behind your main needles) and whether you knit or purl the stitches, but that's the main idea of it.

When I first started knitting I was so exited to try cabling. To me it was the quintessential look for knitwear, so as soon as I had mastered the knit and purl stitch I tried a simple project that featured one cable very small cable on the front.

Successful in that endeavor and confident that I had "mastered the basic principles" I jumped into a much more complicated looking cabled scarf pattern that was labeled "beginner".

It wasn't long before I had made some mistakes that I couldn't easily undo...
  • Because I had switched the order of the stitches, it was almost impossible to rip back and pick up a few rows down.
  • I was also finding out that a mistake in cabling was a lot more noticeable than a mistake might be in a more plainly knit pattern.

Time and time again I would get only so far before I had to rip the entire thing back. More and more frustrated I felt like I was knitting on a tightrope. Knitting s-l-o-w-l-y, trying to make it to the end without anything too disastrous happening. But that never worked out, sooner or later I would make a big mistake. Frustrated, I gave up... and thought maybe I just wasn't "good enough" to knit the beginners pattern after all.

I finally got to a point where I just lived with the mistakes. What was a broken or uneven cable here or there in an entire project anyway, right? But I also knew there was probably a better way...

After much googling I found this blog post from the Yarn Harlot-

It's such useful information that I printed it and keep it my pattern binder for easy reference.

But I really wanted a simpler way of keeping mistakes out of my project completely. Then I found out about using a safety line.

And it was the answer to my tightrope feeling. Here's how to do it.

Right now I'm knitting a 16 row cabled pattern. Once I've completed the 16th row I thread a yarn needle and a line of thinner weight yarn

and put it through the loops on my needle.

This line stays in place until I've completed a mistake free 16 more rows. Then I pull the line out and place it through my latest row.

To demonstrate, I've just pulled it through a few stitches to give you the idea.

But here's the spectacular part- if I make a mistake I can rip my knitting back to this safety line, put it back on my needles, and start again. no guessing about how the stitches have switches or what row I'm on. This might be something a lot of knitters learned about when starting off... I'm not sure, but incase anyone else hasn't been clued into this trick, it's saved hours and hours of frustration for me!

The last thing is something I found recently while searching for an errata for the cable pattern I'm currently knitting.

It's a more experienced technique for sure, something I'm not sure I could successfully attempt but even if you can't pattern your own cable it's still a great tool for understanding the cabling.

I hope this helps someone struggle less with cables than I did!


  1. Great post Meg! I love cables and have learned to make them without a cable needle. My first project - the "Must Have Cardigan" had a cable crossed incorrectly. It was on the back and I left it - as much as that bothers me. I have learned to fix a cable error that is a few rows down, but have not been able to successfully do a major drop down and repair. I usually rip back. I've never done a safety thread, though. That I could try. One of the most difficult things for me to do is figure out what row I am on. I don't have confidence at all in counting. Cables have taught me to examine my knitting carefully as I knit - to catch those mistakes early!

  2. Thanks Jane! I know what you mean about leaving a "wrong way" cable it it bothers me too. Normally with knitting I'm ok to rip back and figure out what row I'm on but just can't seem to manage that with cabling. But the safety thread really helps! I can rip back confidently and know that I won't be able to go past my designated row. Then I can pick back up knowing exactly where I am.

  3. Thanks for the tip on the 'safety line' when knitting cables. I will definitely file that with my knitting info.

  4. Glad you found it useful Linda, thanks for leaving a comment!

  5. Hi Meg,

    I crochet rather than knit but absolutely love the safety line idea. While with crochet there's no need to preserve loops, there's certainly times when counting rows gets particularly tricky.

    And, if all of your knitting tutorials are as simply explained as this one, I might finally give it a go at learning how to knit too.

  6. Hi Michele, thanks so much for the comment. I was actually wondering if this would work for crochet too. Having never been able to get the hang of it, I had no idea if the safety line would be useful for crochet patterns or not.

    This is my first knitting tutorial- I really appreciate your comment, Thank You! And I'm constantly looking for people to lure in... I mean... introduce to knitting. So I'm more than happy to offer any advice or help if you end up giving it a try.

  7. Meg, up until I read this post I had every intention of never, ever trying cable! But look at you and your box cars and track analogies! I am intrigued! Just HAVE to give it a try!

    Thank you for making this. It is already bookmarked!

  8. I'll have to try that safety line! Just this past Christmas I made my mom a cabled neck cowl that had some missing cables! Oops! She's not a knitter, so not sure if she noticed, or was just kind enough not to mention it!

  9. Hi Meg,
    I was wondering if you might consider adding our website, Yarnplaces.com to your list of knitting resources. We offer nationwide maps of yarn shops, fiber farms and all sorts of knitting and crochet events (festivals, markets, expos, retreats, yarn crawls, cruises, workshops, etc.)
    Please let me know if you have any questions about our site.
    Cindy Pilon
    Editor, YarnPlaces.com


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