Cable patterns for first-timers

Great cable knitting patterns for new beginners

This might sound kinda funny on the heels of yesterday’s post about my little cable flub,* but continuing with the posts for beginning knitters, I want to talk about good cable patterns for beginners. I said about brioche stitch recently that I thought it was a lot of “extra knitting fuss” for not a lot of payoff. The exact opposite is true of cables! They are astonishingly simple to do and everyone around you will think you’re a complete genius.

At their most basic, cables are just ribbing — alternating columns of knits and purls, right? — wherein every once in awhile the knit stitches are knitted out of order, causing them to cross over each other, and creating the illusion of a twist. So they’re a natural next step once you’ve learned to knit ribbing. Imagine you’re working 4×2 ribbing — i.e., “knit 4, purl 2; repeat” — and you’ve done that for however many rows. Now think about those 4 knit stitches. Mentally (or literally if you’ve got yarn handy!) slip the first two onto a “cable needle” or a double-pointed needle, setting them aside for just a second. Knit the next two stitches, then knit the two stitches from the cable needle. Voilà, you made a cable! After your cable row, go back to ribbing for a few more rows, then work another cable row, and so on. That’s all it is! (Here’s a video demo.)

If you let the cable needle hang behind the work, your cable will twist to the right. If you hang it in front, your cable will twist to the left. A pattern will always tell you which one to do. Cables can be worked on any number of stitches, but it’s typically eight or less (so you’re setting aside, at most, four stitches at a time) because otherwise it gets too tight to work. When you see fancy horseshoe cables or braids, that’s just strategically positioned left- and right-leaning cables bumping up against each other. You can worry about all that once you’ve got the hang of basic cabling, which you can do with simple patterns like these:

Cable Scarf from Lion Brand Yarns (free pattern)
If you can knit and purl but haven’t worked ribbing or tried knitting in the round yet, this simple scarf will make you feel extremely fancy: a garter-stitch border around a field of reverse stockinette with a single pronounced cable running up the center. You don’t really even need to know what any of that means — just knit when the pattern says knit, purl when it says purl, and cable when it says cable.

Fetching fingerless mitts by Cheryl Niamath (free pattern)
This was my first foray into cables and I loved it so much I made several pairs. I followed Jared Flood’s advice and knit an extra cable repeat at the knuckles, for a total of 5 cable rounds per mitt — ample training but not overwhelming. The cables all twist the same direction, then the second mitt twists the opposite direction, so you get to do both, but only one kind at a time. If you haven’t done a peasant thumb before, this is also a good pattern to learn on, and it comes during a stretch of plain ribbing, so you don’t have to think about the thumb and the cables at the same time. However, I wouldn’t advise learning cabling and double-pointed needles at the same time, so if you aren’t already fairly comfortable with DPN’s, learn that first.

Chunky Cable Hat from The Purl Bee (free pattern)
This hat has its cables nested right up against each other, with no purl stitches in between. And the chunky yarn means it’s a relatively quick knit. If you haven’t worked crown decreases before, this is also a dandy introduction to that.

See also: Best advice for new knitters

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*To be clear, my missing cable has nothing to do with difficulty and everything to do with attention deficit disorder!

18 thoughts on “Cable patterns for first-timers

    • I’m glad you mentioned that, Fiona. I started to do a side note about that pattern but it was getting too long.

      When my friend Sarah was ready to cable, we settled on that pattern, and it’s a good one. But it requires that you have either a little more practice reading patterns or someone to help you through it — just because you need to keep track of the thumb and cable rows and how they line up.

      It’s a great one in the sense that it’s a very impressive looking final product and yet you only have to work 3 twists per mitt! Which means it’s also not a whole lot of practice, I guess. But they’re gorgeous mitts and a very rewarding finished project. So I’m totally in favor of it, just with the caveat about having some pattern help if you’re really new to interpreting patterns.

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  1. I recently made my first cable garment, the Aidez cardigan (on Ravelry) – it was fantastic! Once you get the hang of the pattern it just flew off the needles, and it looks so impressive that I’m always getting compliments. Now I find myself integrating simple cables into other patterns, such as putting a crossover cable on the back of an otherwise plain toddler cardigan. :)

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  2. I have made my first cable pattern (easy cabled slouch beret on Ravelry) probably a dozen times. It was like a gateway drug;)
    Thanks for sharing the bevy of knowledge, I’ve been cabling for years but low maintenance cabling is something I am always itching for!

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    • I’m using the rest of my Acer cardigan to get the hang of cabling without a cable needle. Because then I want to knit some really crazy complicated cables! I’m always too much at the minimalist end of the spectrum.

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  3. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that cabled patterns are great for beginners! It was years before I had the courage to try cables, only to discover how easy they were – then I felt silly for not trying them sooner!

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    • It’s lucky for me that cable sweaters are the thing I was most eager to knit, so I was asking people about cables from the minute I learned to knit, and everyone swore up and down there was nothing to it, so I gave it a go very early on.

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