Cabling Without a Cable Needle

Last week, while working on my completely ridiculous super-bulky cabled earflap hat of doom, I took the occasion to take some pictures of cabling without a cable needle to show you guys.

As he leaned over my shoulder to take pictures of my fingers, Jared mentioned that I might want to deal with the real issue behind why people don’t try cabling without a cable needle – the abject fear of dropping stitches.

It’s true – in order to cable without a cable needle, you necessarily have to let a stitch or two dangle out in space for a few seconds, completely without a needle in them. So here is a basic truth: Unless something pulls on them, stitches will stay put. In other words, nothing bad will happen if you drop a couple of stitches off your needle, as long as you don’t pull on them. There are times to be extra careful, like when your knitting is really loose, or your yarn is slippery (like silk or bamboo), but even so you can brace your stitches with a finger and they won’t go anywhere. The key is to relax, don’t freak out, and for heaven’s sake, don’t pull. If you want to try this, try just slipping 2 stitches off a needle, leaving them for a few seconds, and putting them back on. When you can do this without hyperventilating, you’re ready to try the real thing.

What I’m about to do is a 2-by-2 right cross. In other words, the four stitches above are going to cross over each other in such a way that the crossover slants to the right.

You can think of the stitches in a cable as being of two parties – the stitches that cross in front of the others, and the stitches that cross behind the others. The first step is to stick your left needle into the leftmost of these two parties, so you have to know – are those leftmost stitches going to cross in front of the others or behind them? Here’s the mnemonic we came up with in our knit along last Saturday: “Right in front, left behind.” In other words, if it’s a right-leaning cable, those stitches cross in front; if it’s a left-leaning cable, those stitches cross in back. So in this case, since I’m doing a 2×2 right cross, the first thing I do is bring my right needle in front of the first two stitches and stick it into the two leftmost stitches in the cable.

Now comes the buttocks-clenching part. Now that the two leftmost stitches are secure on the right needle, I drop all of the stitches in the cable off the left needle. The two rightmost stitches are hanging out in space. Notice how the index finger of my left hand is behind those lonely stitches? That keeps them from moving around too much, and it also keeps me from pulling on my work. Just don’t move around too much, and the stitches won’t go anywhere. I promise!

Next, I pick up those hanging-in-space stitches with the left needle. Now all of the stitches are secure again, so you can stop freaking out.

Next, I take the stitches on the right needle and slip them onto the left needle. They are pretty squished, but don’t worry about it, as you’re about to work them anyway. I usually don’t even try to push the cable stitches all the way onto the needle; I let them sit squished together on the pointy part. You can probably see now that I have basically made those four stitches switch order, which is all that a cable really is!

Once the four stitches are in place, I work them as they appear. In this case they are all knits; if it were a traveling stitch (crossing knits over purls) I would knit the knits and purl the purls.

Not so bad. I figured this out because I was too cheap to buy a cable needle, and if I owned one I would be too lazy to get up and find it when it was time to cable. But once you get the hang of it, it is much faster than any other way of cabling, and it helps make you secure in your stitches. If you like to cable and have never tried this, give it a whirl and see if you like it.

2 thoughts on “Cabling Without a Cable Needle

  1. This made me laugh out loud when I read it, because I’m one of those who freak out a little when sts. are left in space. Now I did once try cabeling w/o a needle and found that if the yarn is pretty stiff, it’s not too bad….I didn’t even bother to put stitches 1 and 2 back on needles. I just left them in space while I knit sts. 3 and 4. But this doesn’t work on more slippery yarn, and dang it, it actually did NOT occur to me to put them back on the needle….reversing them and then knitting them. Or maybe I thought of it and it didn’t think it would work. I wasn’t willing to “think outside the box” enough. Good for you for doing it, and explaining it. I’ll never use a cable needle again! The mnemonic is great too; I used to be confused by that….not any more!


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