Autumn brings about some of the most gorgeous knitting patterns, with cable patterns dominating the sweater circuit, and timeless Aran patterns ebbing and flowing in popularity. Cables look much more frightening to knit than their difficulty level; just like anything else in knitting, if you can knit and purl, you can do it. The photos in this tutorial are from a panel on Deborah Newton's Asymmetrical Tunic, found in Vogue Knitting's 30th Anniversary Issue.
The two most common types of cables in knitting are standard rope cables, and traveling cables. The method of knitting them is the same, with only the type and location of the cable changing. Most cable patterns have a cable stitch (often stockinette stitch) and a background stitch (often reverse stockinette stitch or seed stitch). The cable stitches get crossed by using a cable needle, holding a few stitches either in front or in back of the work depending on the twist of the cable, knitting the next few stitches, and then knitting the stitches from the cable needle. It is that simple; no dropping stitches, no excessive counting if you are following a pattern, and the best part is that cables tend to only happen on every other row in a pattern, at the most. The standard rope cable patterns often only involve swapping stitches with a cable needle every four, six, or eight rows.
To practice a standard rope cable, cast on twelve stitches.
- P4, K4, P4
- (and all even rows) K4, P4, K4
- P4, C4L (slide two stitches onto a cable needle, hold the needle in the front of the work, knit the next two stitches on the LH needle, and then knit the two stitches in order from the cable needle), P4
- Repeat row 2
- Repeat row 1
- Repeat row 2
Repeat the above rows three times to get a good idea of what cabling feels like and how it looks as you knit. You should see cables that look as if they are twisting to the left. By holding the cable needles stitches behind the work, the cable will twist to the right. Click here to see Eunny Jang of Knitting Daily demonstrate how to knit a cable.
Aran cable patterns, born from the Aran Isles region in Ireland, gained worldwide popularity over the last hundred years despite being a way for clans to represent their individuality for centuries before that. A particular type of yarn called Bainin was traditionally used, making the garment both warm and weatherproof, but its popularity has had designers use all types of wool and other fibers as well when they incorporate Arans in their designs. What sets Arans apart from their standard rope counterparts is their ability to travel. Traveling cables are still made by swapping stitches with a cable needle, but the first or last stitch tends to be knitted in the background stitch, and in the following alternate row, the cable will shift one set of stitches either to the right or left, depending on the slant of the cable.
Beware one potentially confusing aspect of knitting many cables on one panel, be it the front of a sweater or an entire scarf. Many designers will use several different cable patterns in combination with each other, and they will have different numbers of row repeats, so stitch markers and several Post-Its to mark your rows all at once will come in handy. Some ambitious knitters actually chart out their patterns next to each other, so they can just follow one giant row at once. This combination of cables is what contributes to their individuality and beauty.
Cables may be intimidating, but they are worth practicing and incorporating into a knitter's repertoire. Because they use more yarn and knit at a tighter gauge, cable patterns tend to be warmer to wear in addition to the beautiful patterns they create. Do not let your fear get the best of you; cables are deceivingly easy and autumn is the best time to try them. More advanced knitters even make cables with no needle, so it can be done.
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