I don’t do a lot of cables in my knitting and designs, I’m not sure why—because I love doing them. Whenever I do work cables I ask this, but they don’t seem to appear all that often; there is the difficulty of designing sweaters with proper shaping when working cables, so I guess that probably holds me back. I did a beautiful sweater for Knitter’s Magazine in 1999 called Pewter Rain or Shine which is cabled on every RS row. I remember it was 330 stitches across the entire body. Obviously, that made an impact that I can remember that! I think I own the rights to the pattern so it isn’t up on Ravelry, but it is in Vol. 56.
When I made that cardigan I still used a cable needle. I kept it tucked in my wedding band so I had ready access to it. More than once I found myself somewhere out in the real world with the cable needle still there (I always used those wooden ones). Back in those days–before the turn of the century–cables were generally referenced as being BC (back cross) or FC (front cross) and there was a lot of instruction that told you the number of stitches held at the back or front and the number of stitches worked off the needles. I found the whole thing confusing in the explanation, although not hard to execute.
Somewhere in the intervening 10 years the knitting world decided that cables should be notated as being Right Cross (RC) or Left Cross (LC) and that the number of stitches crossed should be presented as well. So a RC cable was the equivalent of a Back Cross and and a LC the equivalent of a Front Cross. Having the stitch numbers involved in the notation was massivley helpful. So if a cable said 2/2 LC then the cable needle went to the front with 2 stitches on it, 2 stitches were worked from the needle, then 2 stitches from the cable needle.
Logistics of Cable Crossing Without a Cable Needle
This new notation system effectively took away the cable confusion for me. I knew which way the cable was going to cross, and the number of stitches involved. So I decided to eliminate the last bit of confusion which was putting stitches onto a cable needle and moving them to the front or back. I could see that the 2 stitches I needed to work first to get a RC cable were the second pair of stitches. I would need to reorder the stitches so they were properly ordered on my left needle, bringing those second 2 stitches across the front (to the right). Likewise, to cross left I needed to bring the second pair to the beginning, but bringing them from the behind.
All that remained was figuring out how to do that rearranging! Below sets this out for a 2/2 cable, but just change the stitch numbers and it will work with any cable.
Left Cross (LC): Put the tip of your right needle (going in as to purl) through the back leg of the second pair of stitches on your left needle. Gently slide those two stitches onto your right needle, and let the first pair of stitches slide completely off the left needle, falling toward the front. If you are nervous, pinch the bottom of the first pair of stitches as it comes off the needle. Once the second pair of stitches are on the right needle, slip the left needle back into the first pair; then slip the second pair back to the left needle. Now knit those 4 stitches. You have just created a 2/2 LC. Without a cable needle.
Right Cross (RC): Put the tip of your right needle (going in as to purl) through the front leg of the second pair of stitches on your left needle. Gently slide those two stitches onto your right needle, and let the first pair of stitches slide completely off the left needle, falling toward the back. If you are nervous, pinch the bottom of the first pair of stitches as it comes off the needle. Once the second pair of stitches are on the right needle, slip the left needle back into the first pair; then slip the second pair back to the left needle. Now knit those 4 stitches. You have just created a 2/2 RC. Without a cable needle.
Except for the whole letting the stitches fall into nothingness, this is super easy. I knit fairly loosely, so I rarely worry about stitches running away from me. If you are a tight knitter this may be a little trickier, but it is really just a matter of practice, just like every other knitting thing you have mastered! If you hate cabling without a needle, feel free to use the cable needle. All you have to remember is that the Right and Left refer to the front stitches.
Cable Crossing Notations
The only thing left for me after learning how to cable without a cable needle, was how to notate cables where purls were involved. I want to know what I’m going to do just by looking at the pattern notation or the symbol on a chart, so I “improved” the notation system like this:
- 2/2 pRC or pLC means that the first two stitches worked after the reorganization (or while working with the cable needle) are going to be purl stitches.
- 2/2 RCp or LCp means that the second two stitches will be purl stitches.
- 2/2 RCpk or LCpk means that the third stitch will be a purl and the fourth a knit.