Apologies to subscribers who suffered the unedited and incomplete version from a self proclaimed klutz who pressed the “publish” button instead of the “save draft” button. Once again I prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am not perfect, yet.
When I first knit cables, they were like magic. And like magic, I did not know how it worked but just trusted the instructions and hoped for the best. The charted symbols for cables were absolutely meaningless to me, I found myself color coding the instruction key and the chart with something like “Red for right” and “lavender for left” and the highlighting did help me stay on track. There was still this issue with that extra little stick. I tried so many things–the plastic cable needles shaped like handlebars, a plastic needle shaped liked a short legged “U,” wood needles in different finishes with notches, DPNs, a locking stitch marker–but somehow it was always a fumble to find the darn thing when I needed it. The little stick favored hiding between cushions, falling under furniture, or just disappearing into the ether. I tried weaving it into the earlier stitches (it would fall out and hide), I tried putting it next to me on a side table (it would roll off and hide), and I tried putting in a pocket in my knitting bag (it would climb out and camouflage itself amidst the other detritus and hide at the bottom of the bag). No matter where it was placed when not in use, it never could be found when it was time to perform its duty.
Then I learned to cable without a cable needle. It was like a revelation, taking apart the cable and reordering the stitches got the structure of the cable into my brain. Once understanding the mechanics better, I even found reading the charts easier without having to resort to highlights and color coded memory tweaks. Unfortunately, it also confirmed beyond a doubt something I already knew, sometimes I am really a klutz. When I first started knitting, nothing could elevate my blood pressure and induce panic like dropping a stitch. Before I knew how to pick up stitches, I would watch it drop down several bars and, this is no exaggeration, I would put a removable stitch marker on the stitch to stop it from going further and knit back as many rows as it had dropped in order to put it back into place. So many stitches sacrificed for the one. Now I am pretty comfortable with picking up stitches, but in a cable it can be a bit dodgy. Perhaps because I am a loose knitter, or perhaps because there is more pull from crossed stitches in a cable, the stitches are always at the ready to escape down a couple of rows. Cabling without a needle, in theory, is quick and efficient, but for me I can spend more time picking up rogue stitches than I did hunting for the elusive cable needle.
There are loads of YouTube Videos for how to cable without a cable needle, including Very Pink Knits and and KnitPurlHunter. It is a method that many knitters swear by.
Then I found cable jewelry. A cable necklace is on an adjustable cord that hangs about my neck, with the decorative cable needle always at hand. A cable ring rests on my thumb until needed. But learning about cabling without a needle has been invaluable because, now that I understand the reordering of stitches better, I use cable jewelry to prevent my stitches from escaping but still use the same basic method as cabling without a needle.
Breaking Apart a Cable Stitch
A cable stitch involves a multiple of stitches, a simple and common one is a cable 4 right or left, crossing two stitches to the left or to the right across two other stitches. Although two stitches are being crossed, there are 4 stitches involved in creating the crossed pattern. To cable right, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the back, the next two stitches are knit from the left-hand needle, and the held stitches are knit from the cable needle. To cable left, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the front, the next two knit, and finally the two stitches are knit from the cable needle; the same operation but for the cable right the stitches on the cable needle are held to the back and on the cable left they are held to the front.
There are a few different ways to cable without a needle, but those methods involve dropping live stitches off the needle to reorder the stitches. With a cable necklace or ring, I do essentially the same thing but slip those live stitches temporarily onto the jewelry rather than let them dangle in midair. The cable jewelry can be used exactly as a cable needle, one can knit from it, but I find it really fast to reorder the stitches. I created a little video that compares cabling with a cable needle, without a cable needle, and with cable jewelry.
Note: stitches on the cable necklace are held towards the front for these two examples. I do not knit from the cable necklace, I like knitting from the consistently sized needles, but that is an option.
To cable 4 right I slip the first two stitches purl wise onto the rIgGot-hand needle with yarn in back, slip the next two stitches onto the cable necklace, return the first two stitches from the right to the left hand needle, and put the stitches from the cable necklace on the left hand needle. This swaps the first two stitches and they are now behind the second set of two stitches. The first two are angled to the left \\ behind the second two and will be knit last. The second two are angled to the right // in front of the other two stitches and they will be knit first.
To cable 4 left I slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, slip the second set of two stitches onto the right needle purl wise, put the stitches from the cable needle on the left hand needle, return the stitches from the right hand needle to the left needle. The first two stitches are now in front of the second set of stitches, angled to the left \\ ,and will be knit last. The second set of two stitches are in the back, angled to the right //, and will be knit first. Alternatively, I simply slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, knit the next two, return the first two to the left needle and knit them. This alternate method is more like working with a cable needle than swapping stitches.
There are many other versions of cables, but the idea is basically the same. Sometimes some of the stitches are knit, sometimes pulled, sometimes more stitches are involved, but the concept of reordering stitches remains the same. With 2 or 4 stitches I often just cable without a needle or necklace, but when more stitches are involved or the yarn is difficult to work with, I like to use the safety net of the cable jewelry. I prefer the necklace, probably because it is what I learned to use first, but for smaller work–like socks on tiny needles–the ring is handy.
Cable jewelry is available on Etsy. I found both my necklace and ring on Lesliwind’s shop by accident, I won one of her shawl pins on a KAL and went to explore her shop and was intrigued by the idea. I am glad I tried it. Cables are easier and more fun than ever.