How to knit the cable cast on

A step-by-step tutorial on the cable cast on knitting method and some important tips for neater edges and corners

Are you looking for a pretty cast-on method that creates a sturdy and clean edge? Then look no further because in this tutorial I will show you the wonderful cable cast-on knitting method, a lot of important tips, and even a couple of alternative ways to knit it.

the cable cast on shown on a knitted swatch in stockinette stitch

I’ll be showing you how to do the cable cast-on the continental way but this technique is so simple and easy that even a beginner should be able to adapt these instructions to their knitting style.

So, let’s dive right into it!

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Instructions: How to knit the cable cast-on

someone showing the cable cast on directly on the knitting needles

The cable cast-on works for every project and knitting stitch pattern but as it's not as stretchy, it's best used for patterns where you need a sturdy edge. It requires one simple setup stitch.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Instructions

  1. Start with a simple slip knot and place it on the tip of your left knitting needle.

    starting the cable cast on with a slip knot
  2. Pick up the second needle with your right hand and insert it into the loop you created with your slip knot from left to right.

    inserting the knitting needle into the slipknot purlwise
  3. Wrap the yarn around the right needle counter-clockwise.

    wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle counter-clockwise
  4. Pull the yarn all the way through but don't drop the slip knot off the left needle.

    pulling the knit all the way through to the front
  5. Slip the resulting stitch/loop back to the left needle. From here, you can start with the actual cable cast-on repeat.

    slipping the knit stitch back to the left needle point to point
  6. Insert your right knitting needle into the gap between the two stitches on your left needle coming in from the front. Make sure that you don't accidentally split the yarn.

    inserting the right knitting needle into the gap between the two stitches
  7. Wrap the working yarn around your right knitting needle counter-clockwise.

    wrapping the yarn around the knitting needle counter-clockwise
  8. Pull the yarn through carefully.

    pulling the yarn through
  9. Slip the resulting loop back to the left needle point-to-point.

    slipping the create stitch back to the left needle point to point
  10. Repeat steps 6-9 until you cast on the desired number of stitches.

    repeating the steps to do the cable cast on

Notes

It helps if you knit the first two (and all following) stitches a bit more loosely and you scrape the tip of the needle across the body of the left needle. Especially for tight continental knitters, the cable cast-on can be quite the challenge otherwise.

Why use the cable cast on?

close-up of the cable cast on knitting method
A close-up of the edge created by the cable cast-on

The cable cast-on creates a clean and rather sturdy edge. It is less stretchy than the longtail cast-on or the knitted cast-on and thus can be used for edges where you need a little bit of extra stability. It can also be great for edges where you need to pick up stitches from.

On top of that, the cable cast-on does not require any tail. So, you will never run out of yarn and don’t need complicated calculations to find out how much yarn you need.

The cable cast on in the middle of a Project

a knitting needle with the cable cast on in the middle of the row

One of the big advantages of the cable cast-on is the fact that you can also use it in the middle of a project or even in the middle of a row. While I personally prefer the knitted cast-on in these cases, it still can be a very viable alternative.

So when you are at the end of a row on the right side, instead of starting to knit across, you insert your knitting needle into the gap between the first and second stitch and do the cable cast-on the way I showed you before.

The result will be a slightly more solid edge with a corner stitch that is a bit more noticeable.

Neater last stitch / square corner

comparing two different ways to start the cable cast-on - rounded and square edge
Top: Square corner through knitting the last two stitches together | Bottom: Regular cable cast-on

Now, there’s one tiny little problem that will occur when using the cable cast-on for a flat project. You will typically end up with a rather rounded right corner. That’s because the last stitch lacks a solid base.

If you think about it, all the previous stitches are getting altered because you go into the gap one more time. But not for the last one – so it lacks the typical “cable” at its base. Here’s how you can fix this.

Step 1: Cast on one additional stitch.

Step 2: When you start the first row, knit the first two stitches together. Work very close to the tips so you don’t accidentally stretch things out too much.

knitting last two stitches together for a neater cable cast on to avoid a round corner

Step 3: Continue knitting as normal.

If you are careful, the result will be a nice corner that will look much better for a scarf and will also make it easier to seam things together later on (for example with a mattress stitch).

Twisting stitches when doing the cable cast-on

comparing the regular cable cast on with the twisted version - the latter is a bit more condensed

Another way to alter the look and feel of the cable cast-on is twisting the stitches as you slip them back to the needle. Normally, you simply slip the stitches you cast on back the needle point-to-point.

You can also twist every stitch around as you slip them. So, with every stitch you bring the needle around until you can slip the loop you created back to the left needle entering from left to right.

slipping the stitch back to the left needle twisted
Slipping the loop back to the left needle twisted

This will create a slightly more solid edge that looks, for lack of a better word, a bit more braided. So, whenever you need a sturdy edge, this could be a nice option.

Cable cast-on for the purl side

someone knitting a cable cast on purlwise

The normal cable cast-on creates a nice foundation for knit stitches. But what if you need to start a project on the wrong side or with purl stitches? Well, you can also do the cable cast-on purlwise and it’s almost the exact same technique. The only difference is that you purl into the gap between two stitches.

Step 1: Start with a slipknot.

Step 2: Purl into the slip knot and slip the loop back to the needle.

inserting the right knitting needle purlwise

Step 3: Enter your knitting needle purlwise (so coming from behind) into the gap between the two stitches.

inserting the needle in gap between stitches from behind

Step 4: Purl one stitch.

Step 5: Slip the stitch you created back to the left needle.

slipping the stitch back to the left needle

Step 6: Continue repeating steps 3+5 until you cast on the required number of stitches.

You can avoid a round corner by casting on one additional stitch and starting the first row with a purl two together (p2tog).

cable cast on purlwise shown on a knitted swatch

The great thing about the cable cast-on purlwise is that it creates a very lovely and sturdy edge for the knit side as well. So, if you like the way it looks (and I personally do a lot), then you might want to start your stockinette stitch project on the wrong side and purl across the first row.

You will find my full tutorial on the cable cast-on for the purl side here.

cable cast on purlwise as seen on the knit side
The cable cast-on purlwise as seen on the knit side

Alternating cable cast-on – perfect for ribbings

alternating cable cast on for ribbing shown with a swatch in green yarn

You can even use this technique to cast on stitches in pattern for a 1×1 rib stitch. In this case, you simply have to alternate between casting on one stitch the normal way and then one stitch purlwise.

But be careful, due to the unique mechanics of the cable cast on, the active stitch actually affects the previous stitch. So, when you cast on one stitch purlwise after a stitch knitwise, the “purling” will create a purl stitch for the previous stitch. You can tell as it gets a little purl bump after you finished. This means you have to start like this:

  • Step 1: Start with a slipknot.
  • Step 2: Knit one into the slipknot and slip the yarn back to the left needle.
  • Step 3: Bring the yarn to the front and cast on one stitch purlwise.
  • Step 4: Bring the yarn to the back and cast on one stitch knitwise.
  • Repeat steps 3+4 until you are satisfied and then knit across in a 1×1 rib stitch (*k1, p1*). But pay attention. If you end with one stitch knitwise, you will have 1 knit stitch and one half-formed stitch. So, knit these two stitches together for a nice corner and then start with p1, k1, p1…etc.

The result looks quite lovely for the right kind of pattern. Do keep in mind, though, that the alternating cable cast-on is not the stretchiest method and it might end up constricting your fabric a bit too much. If you want it stretchier, you’d have to go for the tubular cast-on which will look even neater for ribbings.

close-up of the alternating cable cast on for 1x1 ribbing

You can also do the alternating cable cast-on for a 2×2 rib stitch. In this case, you have to follow the exact same steps. BUT when you knit across the first row, you have to switch the positions of the knit and purl stitches so you end up with 2 purl stitches next to each other. You can do this without a cable needle (click on the link for the tutorial).

If you ask me, it’s not really worth it, and looks a bit lopsided if you stretch it out. But a lot of knitters seem to enjoy it so I wouldn’t want to keep it from you!

Anyway, that’s how to do the cable cast-on method in knitting. Comment below in case you still have any questions!

how to knit the cable cast on - a step by step tutorial for beginners

5 thoughts on “How to knit the cable cast on”

  1. Thank you, Noman,

    I like the way you explain the technique.
    I would like to buy you a cup of coffee but, I don’t understand the exchange amount. Could you please tell me the US exchange amount?

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Hey Sheila. you should see that during checkout as far as I can tell. But depending on your mode of transfer, a cup shouldn’t be more than 6USD.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for your very clear explanation of the cable cast-on! I’m planning to start my first double-knitting project, and the cable cast-on is recommended for this, as it does create a sturdier edge.

    My question is, should I alternate knit and purl across, or just do knit stitches during the cast-on? The first row of stitches in the project would be alternate knit (for the front) and purl (so it appears to be knit) for the back of the project, correct?

    Reply
    • I personally wouldn’t do that. But you can start a small swatch and see which version you like better yourself. Just 10 or 14 stitches

      Reply
  3. another great tutorial, thanks again norman.
    and,
    i especially like the version for rib cast on… will definitely use that!
    best regards,
    margaret

    Reply

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