On the subject of things that are challenging



In the mean time, I’ve been spending a bit of thought and energy going back to the whole technique of cabling without a cable needle. It’s a favourite technique of mine, knitting-wise, and one that I use and encourage a great deal through my designs. (Hint: I am probably not 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 cable.

I don’t think everyone needs to know how to do this, in the same way that I don’t think that any kind of technique is required knowledge for knitting. We are all capable people and we do things as we please, and there is rarely only one single way of accomplishing something in knitting world. But I do think that being able to do this greatly increases your chances of working cables efficiently and quickly, if you don’t have to reach for the cable needle every single time, especially if you are working a pattern that asks you to work several cable twists over a row, every other row. (Um, not that I would know anything about that. Heh. ::coughcough::) And this is one way of working cables that I like a lot.

There are a few basic steps to this that have to do with what cables are and how they are constructed, that may help you to wrap your head around this technique in case you are still struggling with it.

1. All cables or cable twists involve 2 things:
a) the addition of a twist or directional turn in the knitting, that moves one or more stitches in one direction, in the foreground of the work, over top of one or more stitches that move in the opposite direction, in the background of the work.

b) working the stitches in some combination of knitted and purl stitches. In the cases where all stitches are knitted, this is usually referred to as a cable, i.e. C4L is a cable twist leaning to the left over 4 sts, where all sts are knitted. T4L is a cable twist leaning to the left, involving knitted stitches leaning to the left over a background of purl sts.

Some examples of cable notations that all lean to the right might be like so:

Left Cables and Twists

And similarly, all of the following lean to the left:

Right Cables and Twists

In other words, the action of making the twist to the left or to the right is always the same, regardless of how many total sts are being worked. What may differ, however, is whether or not all the sts are worked as knits, or some as knits and some as purls. So…

2. This also means that, although I am working all of these in English style and not Continental (i.e. ‘throwing’ the yarn with the right hand instead of ‘picking’ with the left), you can work the twist like this regardless of whether you are an English or Continental knitter. Just do the twist in the required direction, then work the sts.

3. When you’re working this technique without a cable needle, the only thing that really matters is that you are working these steps in 1a and 1b in sequence: First you make the twist, then you work the sts according to the pattern.

So, all you need to ask yourself when working a cable is: Is this leaning to the left or to the right? And then; Which ones do I knit (or knit through the back loop – ktbl – as the case may be, as here), and which do I purl?

I decided to add to this whole cabling tutorial experience with a video demonstration, because as helpful as photos are, it’s easier for some people to simply see this live in 3D action. So I’ve taken the liberty of doing just that, and as it turns out I like to blather about this so much that I had to divide it up into 3 segments. Part 1 (above) involves some general explanation of the cables and twists (as I do some of here in this post), and also demonstrates a right-leaning cable.

Part 2 (below) adds to the demo by showing several right-leaning and left-leaning cables and twists. All of these are over 2 sts, but the technique would be the same for cables over 4 or 6 sts. After about 8 sts I jump back to the cable needle, it’s just easier that way. (Spoiler alert, in this clip you also see me fixing a couple of boo-boos as I go, re-knitting an unknitted stitch and so forth, from the RH needle. Knitting in front of a camera is tricky, yo.) I also refer to the need for a bit of relaxation while working this technique, to avoid a death grip and hand/arm strain.

And then, in Part 3 (below), I put this all together and just plain work a full needle’s worth of stitches including several cable twists to the left and to the right.

All of this asks you to be comfortable with having some sts that are temporarily live (off a needle). This can sometimes be a bit terrifying if you’re new to it, but it also happens pretty quickly. The worst that could happen is that you drop a stitch in the process, and heck, if you do that, all you have to do is go and remember your Knitting 101 and remember how to pick it up again. (See that? See how I calmly breezed past that? Lalalala you can too.)

Finally, because I know people might ask – I’m demonstrating all of this on a pair of Staked socks, and the pattern will be available from Indigodragonfly Yarns as a kit in mid-April, and as a wide release pattern from me in June. (I’ll be sure to let you know when that all happens.) Also, the knitting back in the background is one of Jennie Gee’s, happily snatched from the Knitty City booth at the Vogue Knitting Live event in NYC. I love her stuff.

Anyhoozle, there you have it. More endorsement for cabling without a cable needle. (And, um, probably not my last). Stay tuned until next time, when I may actually have more cabled knitting progress to report. Those sleeves on the Dusseldorf Aran aren’t going to knit themselves.

Happy knitting!


  1. barefootrooster · ·

    thank you. this means i might actually someday want to knit a koolhaas hat. i’ve bookmarked this for future reference. (future, these days, means after my comprehensive exams are over. i cannot wait for summer!)

  2. Ohh, indeed. If you have the hang of this, something like Koolhaas is just a snap and a half. Good luck with your comps! I’m sure you’ll sail through. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. great demonstration… I came across a question earlier this week maybe you could answer it with your knowledge of twists. I have an older stitch book explaining a crossed to the right (cross2r) stitch (knit the 2nd st, then the 1st and take both off the needle), I think it may be called Cr2B(cross 2 back).

  4. Brandi – the way you describe is another way of working a right cross/cable over 2 sts. I’ve done it before as well! It works well. The way I’ve demonstrated here works for cables over 2, 4, 6 sts, so it’s an alternative for cables of different sizes.


  5. Great videos Glenna, thankyou. I am struggling with cable charts, and wonder if the designer (you) decides what the abbreviations mean. I have looked at them and really appreciate the difference between a T and a C now. Nobody has ever explained it before, or I haven’t found it..LOL

    But if you want to take 2 knitted stitches and move them left or right over one purl stitch, what would that be called? T2 and T3 are already used up in the abreviations.

    I haven’t tried these socks from the club yet because of chart issue. I guess they need to move up the line because they really are wonderful and would be good experience for me to learn how to not use a cable needle.

    Thanks for the chart explanation…that really helps.


  6. I’m pretty sure I thanked you when you posted that tutorial before, but in case I didn’t, I just wanted to say thank you! I still don’t love *doing* cables, although they do look very nice sometimes, but it really is soooooo much more bearable to do it this way than with a cable needle.

    I do try and keep a small cable needle or spare dpn handy, in case it becomes clear that I’m not going to be able to pick up the live stitches with my active needle (especially on left-leaning cables โ€“ for some reason, I have way more trouble with those), but mostly, it’s just the two needles I have to worry about, and that’s just so much more pleasant. So thank you again.

  7. Excellent tutorial ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll admit I am and will remain a “traditional” cabler. There’s a good reason, though: my left hand doesn’t work so well. It’s much safer, in my case, to continue using shaped cable needles ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Oh my gosh – I think I love you. I just spent the morning trying to find out how to do C2B and found at least three different descriptions and then looked at the pattern again and saw that the description of how to do it for the pattern was a fourth way (and incidentally the way I was doing it). Anyway, my head is stuck in cabling and thinking that there has to be an easier way to do this and checked the website and voila – there it was. I kept asking my family if any of them ever remembered seeing my Gram (who could knit ANYTHING) use a cable needle and none of us remembered one. Needless to say this blog post made it to my permanent favorites file.

  9. Thanks for this. I ‘get’ cables, but you made them even more clear.

  10. I love cabling without a needle. I discovered it for my self when I first started and was pleased a few years ago to realize that others were doing it too! I draw the line at 8 stitches (and I’ll never forget the never ending reversible cable scarf of February 2011 with three 8 stitch cables… Never so happy as to get rid of the cable needle and cast off!
    I’m heading over to check out your friend’s website. Cancer sucks. I know that first hand. You’re a good friend to pass her story along and stand beside he through it all, in whatever way that means.

  11. I’m knitting Staked now and you only really have to leave those “live” stitches off the needle for one of the twists, the one where you are looking at a knit and a purl, want the knit to travel in front of the purl.

    Everything else you can just knit the second stitch first (from the front if you want the cable to lean to the right, from the back if you want the stitch to lean left), leave the stitch on the needle, knit the first stitch, and then drop both off the needle.

    The problem with the one where you need to purl the second stitch through the back and then knit the first one is that you can’t actually make the yarn travel properly I don’t think.

  12. sue adie · ·

    Thank you for the tutorial.
    And thank you for letting us know about Emily. Donation made, and ground kissed again for reminding me how lucky I am to be canadian.

  13. woohoo! thank you so much. You have made it to the HELP! bookmark folder on my browser

  14. […] including stranded colorwork, lace and cables I have done some cables without a cable needle using Glenna C’s directions which rocks, and she has videos! I had originally learned how to do cabling without a cable needle […]

  15. Sooooooooooooooooo love this!!!!!! Youre a lifesaver….seriously. Is it okay if i put a link to this on a sock project i’ve been working on in Ravelry???

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