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An Introduction to Cable Knitting

An Introduction to Cable Knitting

Cable knitting looks amazing and creates wonderful textures, but is it as difficult as it looks? Once you get your head around the abbreviations I find that it’s actually quite straight forward.

This blog goes through what cable knitting is, what a cable needle is, how to cable knit, a brief history of cable knitting, and finally a couple of patterns for those new to cable knitting.

So what is cable knitting? It is a knitting technique that creates a texture by crossing layers, achieved by knitting stitches out of order. In order to knit cable patterns, you don’t need any fancy extras, although you can buy cable needles if you want to. In the past, I have used stitch holders and double-pointed needles when I haven’t had a cable needle to hand. 

It is generally recommended that you use the same size cable needle as the needles you are knitting on. If you don’t have a cable needle of the same diameter, opt for a slightly smaller size to prevent stretching stitches. If you are knitting with particularly slippery yarn it can be helpful to use a larger cable needle in order to prevent your stitches from slipping off your cable needle.

If you choose to buy a cable needle you will find that they come in a variety of shapes. Many will have a dip or square section where your stitches will sit, these dips help prevent your stitches slipping off. Others are U shaped and are double pointed, whilst others will be straight with notches in that your stitches can sit in. Personally I prefer those with dips/square sections as seen below.

Cable Needles

Cable Needles

The history of cable knitting is truly fascinating, and whilst it is generally thought that it originated in the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland, hence the term Aran Sweater, it is actually believed that it started 400 miles south on Guernsey. The Guernsey garment is known as the Gansa Sweater. Whilst the exact origin of cabled sweaters can’t be agreed upon, what is agreed, is that it was originally designed to be worn by fishermen and was knitted by the women of the fishing community to be thick and warm to help combat the cold and tough conditions faced at sea whilst allowing free movement. With the migratory nature of fishing communities and fishermen, the patterns quickly changed and evolved and were likely co-developed in knitting circles all over the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, leading to a variety of cables and patterns. Whilst regional styles prevail, in terms of colours, wool, complexity and stitches used, the overlapping patterns make it difficult to say with confidence that a pattern is from a place specifically.  In the 1950s the Aran sweater was made commercially popular by Vogue, patterns used thicker yarns, and sweaters were knitted flat and seams sewn together.

If you want to read a little more about the history of cable knitting I found these two articles from The Sweater Shop and Kelbourne Woolens really interesting and informative.

Patterns for beginners 

If this blog has made you want to try your hand at cable knitting then here are a couple of suggestions as to where you could start. All patterns listed are available for free on Ravelry.

When I wanted to try my hand at cable knitting I started with cup cosies and as they are really quick to knit up, and if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter and you can also use whatever yarn you have lying around. Here are a couple that you may like; Cable Cup Cosy by Jessica Joy, Pumpkin Spice by Evan Middleton, Button Up Your Cup by Julie Tarsha, Tea Totaler’s Companion by ATW Designs.

Tea Totaler's Companion - by Emilly

Tea Totaler's Companion - by Emilly

October Hat by Kelbourne Woolens uses modern cable design to create this gorgeous winter hat. 

I’m a big fan of headbands as I do a lot of cycling as they keep my ears lovely and warm when out and about. This Woven Cable Headband by Prescillia Uloho is a lovely alternative to a hat.

If you have already done a cable project or two or just fancy jumping in at the deeper end, why not try making this stunning Cozy Cable Cowl from Purl Soho.

Top tip

I have found that our steel tips are the easiest to knit cable designs with, I think it's because they are a little slippier which helps when stitches get a little tight. I also slip the stitches from the cable needle back onto my left hand needle as I find this easier.

If you decide to give cable knitting a go, don’t forget to grab yourself a set of our lovely cable needles and tag us on Instagram and Facebook in your creations so we can see your amazing work.

Happy knitting and until next week!

Emilly x