Here’s an introduction to a fun knitting technique that’s often considered “too advanced” for hobby knitters: cables.

Subscribe to the CRAFT Podcast in iTunes, or download the m4v video.

Named after the Aran Islands in Ireland, cables are most often found in Aran designs. Made mainly by fishermen’s wives for their husbands, the patterns reflect tropes of the lifestyle both in appearance and name, often taking inspiration from fishermen’s ropes and local flora and fauna.

Cable designs are created by reordering knit stitches in a row, overlapping two or more adjacent columns of stitches. Carrying stitches gradually over the course of several rows can create more complex patterns. This overlap of stitches can add warmth and bulk to a garment without using a different yarn. I think of it as a step beyond ribbing.

To achieve this shuffling of stitches, we use a cable needle. Stitches are temporarily stored on the cable needle while stitches further down the row are knitted, and then the stitches are knit from the cable needle back into the row.

Now you’re ready to go out there and tackle a project that uses cables! It’s really satisfying to see the pattern emerge as you’re working. If you make a cabled project, take a picture and upload it to the CRAFT Flickr pool! We’d love to see them.

The book pictured in the video is The Complete Book of Traditional Knitting by Rae Compton. The cabled toddler slippers I’m making are from a pattern by Rosemary Waits.Thanks to the Flickr users who so graciously licensed their photos under the Creative Commons. This video used photos from acoleman912, florriebassingbourn, DebbieC, Slave2TehTink, Sarah Oh, Marni-, sictransitgloria, litlnemo, and Jane Stockton.

Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Becky Stern ( is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

  • Ashley

    Thank you so much for this! I still have one question though. I have all of these little plastic cable bridges I bought at a garage sale and I still don’t know how to use them/what they’re for. Do you?

  • Becky Stern

    Hmm, nope! Can you link to a picture of what they look like? I don’t know them by name but might know what they’re for by seeing them…