What is a Cable Knit Sweater?

Marie Biondolillo

A cable knit sweater is a sweater that is knitted in a cable pattern. The patterns typically resemble twisted or braided ropes, and range in style from quite simple to the complicated. Originating in Ireland where they traditionally were created by hand, the sweaters are now mostly made by knitting machines.

A cable knit sweater.
A cable knit sweater.

The sweater as first made in the Aran Islands of Ireland. Aran sweaters are a subtype of cable knit sweaters, and they are also known as fisherman's sweaters. The Aran sweaters were originally made from unwashed wool, which gave them a waterproof quality due to the lanolin oils present in the wool. Although most of these types of sweaters are not made from unwashed wool, those made from wool are still quite water resistant and help the wearer to remain warm even when wet. The majority of the sweaters still are made from wool, but they may also be made from cotton and other fabrics, as well.

Knitting needles and yarn.
Knitting needles and yarn.

A cable knit sweater is considered to be a classic item of apparel. The sweaters may be worn by men, women, and children alike. They come in a variety of styles, from crew necks to cardigans. Although the classic cable knit is cream colored, they are now produced in a huge range of hues, from fuchsia to black.

To create a cable knit sweater, several knitting techniques are utilized. In knitting, a wale is a series of stitches that are each suspended from the next. To make a cable knit, several wales are made to cross over each other. Cables then may be made into braids and other patterns, with some patterns utilizing up to seven braids.

A six cable braid is known as a Saxon braid, while a five cable braid is known as a Celtic Princess braid. Cable knit sweater patterns may also incorporate knots, double helixes, and lattices. Another popular pattern is the honeycomb. The cable knit is not just used to create sweaters. Other cable knit items include socks, scarves, and hats.

Generally, a certain amount of myth surrounds cable knit sweaters. Some people believe that different clans in Ireland each have their own cable knit sweater patterns. This is not the case; however, some cable knit patterns do have regional or local affiliations.

Most modern cable knit sweaters are no longer made by hand; instead, they are machine knit. While some knitters do still produce cable knits by hand, the sweaters are quite expensive due to the length of production time. Since it is difficult for machines to weave the more intricate cable knit patterns, most machine-made cable knits tend to be simpler in design than handmade ones.

Cable knitting requires mastering basic knitting stitches.
Cable knitting requires mastering basic knitting stitches.

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