Building Better Cables

The Exeter cardigan is a stunning example of cables!

The Exeter cardigan is a stunning example of cables!

Whether they’re found stalking the runways, adorning an actress, or climbing along the edge of a sock, cables seem to be everywhere season after season. Cable knitting, one of the most instantly recognizable and visually impressive techniques for knitters to learn, is much easier than it seems. If you’re able to follow a chart, count, and have a fairly good grip on your needles, you can do it. Especially armed with a few facts, tips, and tricks for easy cable execution.

Before we start talking about how to make cables, let’s talk about the why and how of these intertwined design elements. Believed to have developed somewhere around the 20th century in Ireland, cable knitting was a way to adorn sweaters with notes about the person wearing them. (See this interesting wikipedia entry for more notes on aran sweaters, a fascinating knitting history subject!) Originally, many of these sweaters were made in lanolized wools that would help keep out the cold and wet of the sea while fishing and trading. Now, you’ll see aran and cable patterns adorning garments of all sizes and varieties. That said, yarn choice is important to the overall look of your cable pattern. Here are some examples of how a yarn choice might influence your pattern.


Alpaca and alpaca blends, like the swatch above knit in Shibui Maai, often blur or soften cables with the slightly raised fibers, making complex stitch patterns disappear in their halo. That said, alpaca naturally has a lot of drape, and Maai is a cabled yarn, which lends some definition that standard alpaca would not have and creates a lofty, luxurious fabric. Since cable-adorned fabrics do not easily stretch (due to the crossing-over of stitches used to form them), drapier fibers can rely on cables for structure.

In contrast, the other swatch is knit with Sincere Sheep Equity Fingering, a two-ply Rambouillet merino yarn. The extra ply and simple structure with this yarn, combined with the lack of halo, creates a rustic and bouncy cable that will help complex patterns shine.

Compare these two with the third pattern, knit in Stonehedge Fiber Mill’s Shepherd’s Wool, which shows off the cable in even, clear stitches. Smooth yarns like Shepherd’s Wool are wonderful for a variety of cable patterns, even the more complex ones.

Will your cables be soft and luxurious? Precise and exact? Or somewhere in between? Join us as we move through some notes, tips, and techniques about cables in this short blog series, next time tackling how to cable with — and without — a cable needle.

December 03, 2014 by Hannah Thiessen
Tags: Stitch Lab
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