What is a Cable Stitch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cable stitch is a type of knitting stitch which results in a twisted design which can resemble a knot, braid, or rope. Cable knitting does not require immense skill, but the knitter must be patient while he or she works. Most knitters start out with very simple cables, working up to more complex designs. The cable stitch is closely associated with Irish sweaters, which integrate the cable stitch into their knotted designs.

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

Using a cable stitch creates a more dense, less flexible design. It also requires much more wool, since the cable stitches pull tightly together in the finished product. For these reasons, cable knitters usually integrate areas of uncabled space in a sweater, to make it less heavy and inflexible to wear. Depending on the design, these areas may be knitted in plain stockinette stitch, or they may integrate a lacy or other ornamental design. The cable stitch adds variation to the finished product.

To make a cable stitch, the knitter uses a special cable needle to hold the stitches while other stitches are worked. Holding the cable needle in the back of the work creates a cable with a right hand twist, while holding the stitches in the front yields a left twisting cable. As a general rule, cables are only worked on the right side of the garment.

To make a very basic cable, in this case a six stitch cable, the knitter slips three stitches to the cable needle when he or she reaches the point in the pattern where a cable is desired. Then, the knitter knits the next three stitches on the left hand needle (the right hand needle, if the knitter is left handed). After these three stitches are knitted, the knitter knits the three stitches on the cable needle, creating a “turning row” which has switched the order of the six stitches in the knitted garment. Several rows are knit in a straight stitch before another turning row is knit, wrapping the stitches back around each other.

While a cable stitch sounds complicated when explained in print, it is not that difficult on a pair of knitting needles. The main issue which knitters have trouble with is remembering that cable stitches are very dense. If a knitter is transitioning from an area of plain stitches to cables, for example, stitches will need to be added to prevent the garment from being pulled inwards, unless this is a desired effect. Likewise, stitches will need to be reduced after a cable has been completed to retain the line of a garment, or it will flare out above the cabling. When a knitter first begins to learn the cable stitch, using a pattern is an excellent idea.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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