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...
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 really interesting post- showing how to recreating a cable that you've seen but don't have a pattern for.
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!