Cabling without a cable needle

This weekend was quite a knitterly time at the Kitchener Waterloo (or “K-W”) Knitter’s Fair, with much yarn and knitter interaction to be had. I know I didn’t see everything there was to see, but what I did see was darned nice. I was once again followed home by a few skeins of sock yarn from Van Der Rock yarns and Indigodragonfly, a skein of Viola laceweight, and inexplicably, some Twinkle soft chunky that was on sale at the Purple Purl booth so that I can knit myself up a super warm scarf and hat set in about three seconds when I feel like it.

And now that it’s September and decisively moving in the cooler direction (oh thank you dear sweet heavens, the humidity was starting to break me down), it’s easy to turn to the yarns. Add in the fact that I just finished a couple of projects and well, you’ve got yourself a nice vulnerable time for start-itis. I want to knit everything, excepting of course the sweater I’ve already started for Rhinebeck and put down a month ago to work on other things.

But today i’m here to talk about cables, and cabling without a cable needle. I’ve been wanting to do up a photo tutorial for this for lo these many months, and I finally used my talk at the K-W fair as the necessary excuse, including these photos as part of the talk. Because I think if you’re going to take steps to knit fearlessly, getting a good comfortable grasp of cables is one of those key steps. And for many knitters (thought not all, I recognize), it’s easier to get there speedily if you can get the hang of cabling without a cable needle. So, I’m going to share with you my method of doing it.

[ETA]: The yarn, if you’re wondering, is a skein of Tanis Fiber Arts Aran weight in the Garnet colourway, that I have kicking around extra and love using in a pinch for playing with.

I’ve got photos here demonstrating cables over 4 stitches, to the left and right – C4L or C4R is probably how you would see them noted in patterns. I use this exact same technique for cables over 2 stitches as well, which comes in super handy for all my little twisted-stitch cable patterns like Royale or Nouveau or even Viper Pilots.

(I will preface this by saying that there are a few other ways of cabling without a cable needle. A quick Google search will reveal some of them. This is the way that I’ve fallen into, and it works really well for me.)

Ready? Okay.

For a Cable twisting to the Left (where the first 2 sts of the 4 will twist over top of the second 2 sts, in a left-wards direction):

Step 1: Insert RH needle into the sts which will end up moving to the back:


So far so good.

Step 2: Slip all sts off of LH needle. The first half of sts in the cable (which would normally go onto the cable needle) are now “live,” and not on a needle at all.
At this point it helps to secure the sts by holding your right thumb and forefinger close. (You’ll probably do this on reflex anyhow). DO NOT PANIC. These sts will not be live for very long…


Because, on Step 3: You will, quick like a bunny, slip the LH needle to the front of work, through the live sts:


And then on Step 4: Transfer the sts now on the RH needle onto the LH needle…


…then knit all the sts as normal:


So, all you have done, in essence, is form the twist first, then worked the stitches (knit-wise), second. If this was a twist involving some purl sts as well, the twist would still be the same, you would just work the sts as knits or purls as necessary in that final step.

Here is the whole process for a Right-leaning Cable (Where the first 2 of the 4 sts twist to the back, and the second 2 sts twist forward, in a right-wards direction):

First, transfer your sts from the LH needle…

…to the RH needle. (On a Left-leaning cable, star with the sts on the Left needle. On a Right-leaning cable, start with the sts on the Right needle.)


Next, slip the LH needle in back of work to the first half of the sts in the cable – the sts which will lean to the back:


Step 3: Then, slip all stitches off the RH needle. The second half of the stitches in the cable (the ones which would normally go onto the cable needle) are now “live”:


But then, in Step 4, you very quickly slip the RH needle in front of work through the live sts on the LH needle:


Then, Step 5, transfer the sts from the RH needle back onto the LH needle…


…and then work all the stitches as normal (knitwise, in this case):



Some things to keep in mind, as you do this:

1. This works best on cables that are worked over 8 sts or less. If i have to do a really fat cable of 10 sts or more, I do use a cable needle then.

2. This also works best with yarn that is not going to slip and disappear on you. When you’re working with live stitches you want to minimize the chance that they will unravel on you, so super slick yarn like 100% silk, say, would be risky. (But if you’re knitting with 100%, um, I’d say you’re probably enjoying that anyway even if you’re having to use cable needles.)

3. There is a strong inclination (and helpfully so) to sort of pinch the work with your thumb and forefinger in that moment when you have the live stitches. Try not to do this in a death-grip fashion. The more stress you put on your hands as you knit, the more you are increasing the risk of knitting injury.

I hope that this has been helpful!
Happy Tuesday, and happy knitting.


  1. Next to magic loop, cabling with out a cable needle is my favorite knitting technique. I hated and refused to do any cabling before I learned it. Nice tutorial!

  2. I just finished knitting Miss BB from Chic Knits, and I reckon that cabling without a cable needle saved me about 6 hours overall. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I love cabling without a cable needle; it means one fewer tool to lose! I have a video tute on my blog, for those who need to see movement.

    Your pictures are so very clear! Tripod or human helper? Excellent focus.

  4. Thanks Michelle! And how awesome to have a vid tutorial, I would have loved to have done that too ๐Ÿ˜‰

    No human helper, just tripod, self-timer, and macro setting! It’s amazing what you can do with a few funky camera settings.


  5. Swe-eet! ๐Ÿ˜€

    That makes so freakin’ much sense! How the heck do I mark this so that *when* I get to cables, I have it handy? Maybe I should just print out the post…. Glenna, I think you need to publish a leaflet of handy tips and techniques. (Including that gentle reminder to be good to your hands/wrists.)

    Thank you, Goddess of Logical Knitting!

  6. Thanks so much, Laurie! I do love doing the photo tutorials, they are so satisfying. Hmm, maybe that is how I can one day make my millions… ๐Ÿ˜‰


  7. DebbieinWpg · ·

    Excellent post. Great photos. I have never been brave enough to try this but now I think I can. (I think I can. I think I can!)
    Keeping this one in my favourites!

  8. Excellent information. Great photos. Stunning yarn — is it possible for you to share what yarn it is? Please and thank you!

  9. barefootrooster · ·

    thanks for this, glenna. i haven’t mastered this yet, and cabling without a cable needle is the only way i am ever going to knit a koolhaas hat. (on the list.)

  10. I’m working to fingerless mitts w/ cables right now, and just jumped on the computer to see if I could see how others do cable w/o the cable needle, soooo….big thank you!!! (And great instructions and pics)

  11. Wow, wow, wow! Great post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Yay ! I had seen this, or similar, decades ago… and I have stopped kicking myself today ! It feels so good to stop !
    Many thanks, hugs, and stray mittens for your tree !

  13. Thank you so much for this! I am a newer knitter and I have yet to tackle cable knitting. Its the only thing that has caused me distress. This makes it look so easy and simple. I hope you enjoy Rhinebeck! Its a beautiful area! I’m originally from about an hour from there and as I cant make it there this year, I hope to next year!

  14. Thanks Glenna – as always you are an excellent teacher!! Great pics.

  15. I just started doing cables & I think once I am comfortable with them I will def. try your cabling w/o a cable needle. Thank your for sharing.

  16. Huh. That looks way more straightforward than whatever I’d been imagining every time you talked about cabling without a cable needle. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m working on a cable project now, and I might just have to try this out.

  17. Perfect… and I’ve lost all my cable needles!

  18. Very clear tutorial. Thank you!

  19. HOLY CANNOLI. Cable without a cable needle/stitch holder thingy. That just blows my mind. And you make it look so easy!

  20. […] this whole "cabling without a cable needle" thing. I rounded up a couple of tutorials for myself (one from Glenna, one from Grumperina), and we'll see if I can't improve my record a little bit […]

  21. Just used your tutorial on my current project (cabled pillow cover my sister requested for Christmas). Well done and thank you! Very helpful to have the link in the box on your site so I didn’t have to scroll through posts to find it. If you want to do a tutorial about sewing zippers into knitted pieces, I’ll be needing it in about 2 weeks! Ha, only kidding….

  22. Thanks for this tutorial, so helpful!
    And your blogroll is very cool too.
    What an excellent blog you have here!

  23. […] ways to cable without using a cable needle.ย  WendyKnits has an excellent tutorial, as does Glenna C – basically the same technique, with some differences.ย  The problem is not to PANIC during […]

  24. […] we were all chatting about our club packs. And lo, several smarty-pants knitters pointed me to GlennaC’s Tutorial for Cabling Without a Cable Needle. It brought a sea change to my knitting world, for reals. No more stopping to fiddle with the cable […]

  25. […] stopping with the cables in the designs, any time soon.) And I directly point out how this works in this blog post from the fall, with a step-by-step set of photos demonstrating a left-leaning and right-leaning […]

  26. […] Glenna of Knitting to Stay Sane has a great post with step by step instructions – Cabling without a cable needle […]

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