Flying Without a Net…i.e. Cabling Without a Cable Needle

Cabling without a cable needle can sound really scary. And I’ll be perfectly honest; the first few times I did it, I had some serious heart palpitations. But I promise you, it’s easy once you get the hang of it and will really increase your knitting productivity.

It’s very helpful to understand a cable before learning this technique. Most people will tell you that a cable is a twist in your knitting. And while that cables appear that way, the truth is actually a little simpler than that. A cable is a change of the order of your stitches – you work stitches three and four and then stitches one and two.

If you are looking to learn to cable without a cable needle a good place to start would be with a 2 stitch cable, also referred to sometimes as a ‘twist.’ A great example of this is the waist detail on the Sartell pullovers designed by Cathy Payson knit in Soft Linen from our Classic Fall collection.


I love this little detail on an otherwise simple pattern. The zig zag mirrors the lines of the raglan shaping, both of which are very flattering.  And to top it off there is a diamond on the sleeve of the long sleeved version.


When working a cable without a cable needle, you will want to use needles with sharp points. This is one of those “It’s personal and everyone is a little different” things, but having a longer and/or sharper point will help you ‘dig’ out the stiches (you’ll see what I mean in a few pictures). I personally happen to love the Addi Rockets…but again, it’s a personal decision each knitter has to make for him or herself.

You want to start by working up to the point in your pattern to where the first twist occurs. For the Left Purl Twist (which happens to be the first stitch we come to in the chart), you will want to put your right hand needle into the BACK of the SECOND stitch.


Here comes the leap of faith. Ready?

You are going to grasp the two stitches with the thumb of your left hand (which helps keep those two stitches from dropping down) and slip them off the needle.


Don’t panic! We are going to put them back on the needle! And quickly!

You’ll notice that the stitches are now in reverse order from their original position. This is a good thing. Slip them back onto the left hand needle in the new order.


You then want to purl the first stitch and knit the second one.

You might notice at this point that everything I am telling you to do is backwards from the written directions in the Sartell pattern. That’s because it is. I know this is another leap of faith, but trust me…it all works out in the end.

Phew. I’ll bet that feels good…and maybe a little awkward. But think back to the very first time you held a pair of knitting needles…that was a strange as well, right? You got the hang of it eventually. And the same is true for this technique. You’ll be flying through these cables in no time.

The next cable we come to is a Right Purl Twist. This is very similar to the cable we did above, but in the opposite direction.

You’ll start by putting your right hand needle into the FRONT of the second stitch.


Again you’ll slip both stitches off the needle, pinching them with your thumb to make sure they don’t drop down, and slipping them onto the left hand needle in the new order.

On this cable you want to knit the first stitch and purl the second.


Now you have finished the first repeat of your chart and get to celebrate by doing it again! And again…until you reach the end of your row.

Do you feel like a genius yet? You should! You have defied centuries of knitters that came before you, found a quicker and more efficient way to cable…all while making something pretty!

The Left Twist and Right Twist stitches are extremely similar…except they are a little easier. The only difference is no purling.

The most important tip I can give you about cabling without a cable needle is to remember that everything is BACKWARDS from the written directions. If the directions say to hold my cable needle in front, I ‘pick’ my stitches from the back side. When the directions tell me to hold my cable needle in back, I grab the stitches from the front side of my work. The directions say I need to purl first and then knit? I knit first and purl second.

Now that you have the basic of a two stitch cable, you can apply the same technique to a three, four or six stitch cable. The most I personally have ever tried it with is a twelve stitch cable. That was a little challenging…but doable. And there are times where it’s just plain easier to do it the old fashioned way. But it’s good to have the option.

In addition to being a leap of faith, this is one of those things that also makes more sense once you actually DO it and not just read about it. I encourage you to pick up your needles and try it for yourself.


Knit on!

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