Stepping up your Cables

If you can knit basic cables there’s nothing to stop you from stepping your cables up to the next level. The basic cable building blocks are either cables that cross knit with knit stitches and cables that cross knit with purl stitches. You can find tutorials for all of these here.

With those basics you can knit any type of cable now! There are however a few things that can trip you up with new cables. The first thing to watch out for is how many stitches cross over in each direction. Shown here are 2 cables that use 6 stitches. However the cables are not identical.

This cable shows 3 knit stitches crossing over 3 knit stitches.


This cable shows 2 knit stitches crossing over 4 knit stitches.


By learning how to read cable charts you can make yourself a fluent cable chart reader. If you are able to get all of your information from the chart it means that you can really speed up your cable knitting as you don’t have to keep referring back to the written directions.

By mastering cable charts you can really start to understand them. Complex cable patterns are almost always going to be shown in chart format as it much more visually accessible and a more compact way of giving information. For simple or intermediate patterns you can also have written directions but as they get more complex written directions can become very unmanageable. As a designer it’s much more difficult to check written directions for accuracy.

So how do you read charts?

  1. Look at the stitches under the cable.4
  • Are they knit or purl?
  • How many stitches are there?

2. Look at the cable stitches.23

  • How many stitches that are shown for each side of the cable?
  • Are they knit or purl?
  • Which way does the cable cross?

3. Look at the stitches after the cable.actual-4

  • Are they knit or purl? Did any change from knit to purl or the other way around?
  • Did any decrease?

If you can answer these questions then you can knit any cable without a key for the chart! All of the information you need is directly there on the chart, if a stitch changes from knit to purl it has to happen in the chart (or else it’s a mistake!). If there are less stitches after the cable it means that a stitch was decreased behind the cable. This is why I love charts – what you see is what you get, there is no hiding, the stitches have to make sense!


Sometimes knitters have difficulty reading charts due to the symbols used or the size of the chart. Make it as easy as possible for yourself; highlight the symbols to make it easier, blow the chart up to a larger size. If necessary you can even redraw the chart!

Track your chart by using Knit Companion electronically or use a magnetic board if you’re doing it on paper. Mark off each row as you work so you can’t lose your place.

Do you want to try out your new found cable skills? I’ve put a cable bundle together on ravlery with 25% off for until the end of the day (Irish time) on the 20th by using the code CABLES for any pattern in the bundle. Have fun with your cables!

Any other tips?  Just add them here!





3 thoughts on “Stepping up your Cables

  1. When I was learning cables, my mother taught me:

    I will be RIGHT BACK, I LEFT the FRONT door open.

    This little ditty works for many other applications.

  2. Great tutorial Carol. I’ve knit a lot of cables over more years than I care to remember, but I have always used the written instructions as the charts looked so confusing to me. I can use lace/pattern charts but somehow cable charts looked so difficult. Now, I feel I will try to use the charts and see how I get on. Colouring them in is a great help.
    I’m trying to find an Aran weight cabled (not too many) vest pattern for my husband for Christmas, and if I find one that appeals to me, I’ll definitely try the charts. I notice you don’t have a man’s cabled vest pattern?? Any chance of you publishing one some time?

    Thanks for wonderful tutorial.

  3. Hi Carol, my way is dealing with more complex cables is rather old school: I use highlighters to trace the pathway of stitches through the chart of the entire pattern. So, in your example above I would use pink to highlight the two stitches all the way through the pattern while they are being manipulated. I would use green to highlight the set of four stitches all the way through. This allows me to see the entire cable field at a glance. I immediately know which stitches cross in front, and which behind. It is a little tedious to color them all in this way, and it would be faster to simply glance at the chart, but I find my mind can play such tricks on me that I need this crutch to follow the pattern. Also, once it’s done, the actually knitting goes quickly! Thank you for all your lovely patterns, such a hot to knit!

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