Ask Patty: Getting Left-cross Cables Right

Like most knitters, I used to think that whenever something looked wonky, I must be doing something wrong. In this month’s mailbag two knitters ask, “Is it me?” (Spoiler alert—of COURSE not!)

Hi Patty,

When I do left leaning cables, the left-most stitch ends up getting stretched out. I tried doing “The Patty” and figuring out what was going on. It seems like that stitch is next to the first stitch in the back part of the cable, but even when I try to tighten up that stitch after, the left-most stitch still looks wonky. Do you have any advice to fix this issue?



Dear Patty,

My left  2 x 2  cross without a cable needle looks so much better than my left 3 x 3 cross with a cable needle (which has a big, stretched-out stitch). Thanks to you and MDK, I’ve become of a fan of wanting to know the why. So, is my 2 x 2 neater because it only has two stitches in the cable or is it because I didn’t use a cable needle? And why do right cross cables look good no matter how I make the cable?

Baffled in Buffalo,


Dear Miriam and Mary-Jo,

It used to drive me batty: No matter how tightly I knit, no matter how careful I tried to be, the left cross just never looked as neat as my right cross.

When we knit, our working yarn is pulled through each stitch, so the running thread connects stitch one to two, two to three, and so on.

But when we cable, we are reversing the position of the stitches, so the stitches on the cable needle will be knit after the stitches on the knitting needle. This means we break the connection between the last stitch put on the cable needle and the first stitch knit off the knitting needle. In a 3 x 3 cable, the connection between stitches three and four is broken. This can cause the last stitch knit from the cable needle to get stretched out.

In the right cross, the cable needle is held to the back, so the stitches knit from the cable needle end up in the back.

So that means that old stretched out stitch is covered up by the stitches you knit from your knitting needle. You don’t have to worry about it, because who will ever see it? Kind of like not wearing pants on a zoom call —nobody’s the wiser!

However, in the left cross, the cable needle is held to the front.

So once all the stitches are knit from the cable needle, it leaves that last stretched-out stitch sitting at the front of the fabric in all its annoying glory for everyone to see. 

If you’ve already knit it, you can move the slack from that big ugly stitch to the tiny stitch at the start of the cross. Here’s a bit of a recording from a live class that I teach showing that sloppy cross and how to redistribute that slack:


But Mary-Jo and Miriam want to know: Can we avoid the slack to begin with? Yes! There are two simple ways to shrink that giant stitch.

Ditch the cable needle.

As Mary-Jo noticed when working a smaller cable, cabling without a cable needle helps a lot. This is because you’re reversing the order of the stitches first, then knitting them.

To make a 3 x 3 left cross without a cable needle:

Step 1 Move your right-hand needle to the back of the work and insert it into stitches 4–6.

Step 2 Push all six stitches off the left-hand needle. Stitches 4–6 are safely on your right-hand needle and stitches 1–3 will pop to the front.

Step 3 Now just insert the left-hand needle into stitches 1–3.

Step 4 Move the stitches from the right-hand needle back to the left-hand needle, completing the cross.

And you’ll get a much neater left cross.

A little TNT

But sometimes you’re working a wider cable, or you just don’t feel comfortable working without a net. When you prefer to keep your held stitches on a cable needle, that’s when it’s time to pull out the TNT—the tug an’ transfer.

The real secret is to stretch out the first stitches on the cable needle to take up the slack of that final stitch. So rather than knitting the stitches off the cable needle, you’re going to put them back on your left knitting needle.

As you transfer the stitches off the cable needle, use your knitting needle to give a tug to each. This will move the slack out of the larger first stitch into the smaller stitches. You’re making the greedy big stitches share with the stingy tiny stitches. 

Now all three stitches are back on your left-hand needle ready to knit, and they are all the same size. Just knit across, and by the time you get to the last stitch of the cable, it’s neat and small.

Ta da! That sloppy last stitch doesn’t stand a chance! 

So … it’s not us, it’s them. It’s the stitches’ fault. But that doesn’t mean we can wrestle them into submission. You’re only a few smooth moves to neat left cable crosses.

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