I learnt this technique last year after reading an article in Yarn Forward magazine. It was a great article and I can't remember the issue number, but once I grasped the logic of cabling without a needle I haven't had to refer back to it once. If you have ever made knit a cable you will understand making one without a needle in next to no time.
When I knitted a replacement Handyman's Hat for my Dad recently, I made a little photo tutorial to explain the procedure of cabling without a needle. The picture below shows the finished hat, so you can see what the completed cables, that I'm going explain, look like.
The cables I will demonstrate in this tutorial are specifically the cables in my Handyman's Pattern, as I felt this would be an ideal pattern to use while learning and practicing this new technique. It is a project of a size that will set the new technique in your head, but won't drive you insane with boredom either. The Handyman's Hat, can be downloaded by clicking on the relevant link on the right hand side of the page, or from the tab marked Downloads. If you are on Ravelry you can look at the pattern, other knitters' version of this project and download the pattern from this page.
Principles of Cabling
To understand how to cable without a needle you first need to understand what a cable or twist is. A cable, in knitting terms, is created when stitches are twisted round each other so they are knit or purled out of their original order. This hopefully creates an attractive twisted pattern. The cable needle helps hold the stitches as they are moved around each other, to ensure they aren't dropped in the process.
If you are careful while moving the stitches around, a cable needle isn't always necessary. If you are dealing with a large amount of stitches though, you probably still want to use a needle. I have moved 6 stitches around, very easily, without using a cable needle. I'm sure I could do even more, depending on the twist pattern in question. With the Handyman's Hat pattern you don't have to worry about moving more than four stitches around each other, which is another reason why this is a good starting pattern for this technique.
Right Twisting Cable
The main cable in this pattern is a good first example for showing how to cable without a needle. This cable is made up of four stitches, with the two left hand stitches moving over the front of the two right hand stitches. This picture below shows how the cable looks before you perform the twist.
The instructions for the above cable reads as follows:
Place 2 Stitches on Cable Needle and Hold to Rear, Knit 2, then Knit 2 from Cable NeedleInstead of using the cable needle to hold the right hand stitches, slide the the two left hand cable stitches on to right hand needle, as in the image below.
Once the left hand cable stitches are firmly on the right hand needle, use your right hand to grasp the right hand cable stitches. Making sure you are holding the right hand cable stitches firmly at the base, slide all four cable stitches off the left hand needle, leaving the left hand cable stitches on the right hand needle as you go. It should look like the image below.
I know that it feels really scary performing this maneuver, but trust me, everything will be fine.
Using the left hand needle, scoop up those two loose stitches. Phew, they are no longer in danger of being dropped! Everything is safely controlled, the stitches were only loose for a split second. You have the right hand cable stitches on the left hand needle and the left hand cable stitches on the right hand needle, as shown below.
You can now perform your cable twist by sliding the stitches on the right hand needle, on to the left hand needle. The stitches are now in the right order to create the right twisting cable, as shown below. Then you just knit the stitches as they appear on the left hand needle. The stitches are probably a little tighter than normal, but they loosen as they are knit.
Hopefully you know understand the principles of cabling without a needle. You use your knitting needles to move the stitches into the new order on to the left hand needle and then knit or purl them in the order the chart or pattern instructs you.
Left Leaning Twist
This next "cable" is more of a change of direction for a rib, than a full cable, and is often referred to as a twist. Two knit stitches move in front of one purled stitch. This twist helps form part of the diamond at the base of the hat. The instructions, using a cable needle would read as follows:
Place 2 Stitches on Cable Needle and Hold in Front, P1, then Knit 2 from Cable NeedleThe stitches that you start with, before performing the twist, are shown in the image below.
With this movement of stitches, the left hand stitch needs to move behind the two right hand stitches. In order to perform this maneuver, insert the right hand needle in the back of the left hand stitch. This is shown below.
While you hold the two right hand stitches firmly, at the base of each stitch, and slide the three stitches off the left hand needle. The left hand stitch remains on the right hand needle. This is shown (a little fuzzily) in the image below.
Quickly slide the two free stitches back on to the left hand needle, leaving the left hand stitch on the right hand needle, so the twist looks like the image below.
Next, slide the stitch on the right hand needle back on to the left hand needle. This once again puts the stitches in the correct order for performing the twist. The image below shows what this looks like. To complete the twist, purl the first stitch, then knit the second two.
Right Leaning Twist
This next movement of stitches, is the mirror image of the Left Hand Twist, as described above. It is also seen on the diamond at the base of the hat and the instruction is written as:
Place 1 Stitch on Cable Needle and Hold to Rear, Knit 2, then Purl 1 from Cable NeedleThis twist again uses three stitches and moves the two left hand stitches in front of the right hand stitch. The three stitches used, are shown in the image below.
As with the Right Twisting Cable described above, insert the right hand needle into the front of the two left hand stitches, as show below.
While holding the right hand stitch firmly at the base, slide the three stitches off the left hand needle. Ensure the left hand stitches remain on the right hand needle, as show below:
Slide the free right hand stitch onto the left hand needle and you are ready to move your stitches about. It should look like the next image.
Moving the stitches held on the right hand needle, in front of the stitch on the left hand needle, and placing them on the left hand needle, performs the twist. The stitches are now in the correct order as shown in the image below.
To complete the twist, knit the next two stitches, followed by one purl stitch. The twist is now complete.
In summary to make a cable or twist without a cable needle;
left hand stitches moving behind the right hand stitches = right hand needle enters left hand cable stitches from the back.
left hand stitches moving in front of the right hand stitches = right hand needle enter left hand cable stitches from the front.
Remember these two points and you will understand how to approach all cables and twists without a needle.
I hope that this tutorial is a clear explanation of how to make the Handyman's Hat, without using a cable needle. I also hope that you understand how to approach performing other twists and cables free of additional needles. I know that learning this technique sped up my cabling significantly, and I hope this explanation encourages you to give the technique a try.
If you have any questions about the tutorial, please let me know so that I can amend the tutorial and make it clearer for others. This post will be hooked up to the Tutorials page, for future reference.