Guest Author - Marjorie Colletta
I'd like to explain the different tools used in making cables. Knitting a cable pattern uses whatever needles you have to use to get the correct gauge. When slipping the stitches onto a cable needle you can use either a hooked cable needle, a cable needle with a bump in the middle, a double pointed needle, a circular needle, or no needle at all. In a pinch anything roughly the size of your needle will work.
The object of all the needles listed above is to hold the live stitches in place until you are ready to knit (or purl) them without the fear that the yarn will run or drop down. If you experiment with all types of needles to find out which is most comfortable for you, it will lead to success. You want a needle that will hold your stitches without getting in the way or being too fussy. I find circular needles too fussy, they are too long and floppy for me to be effective, but other people swear by them. After much experimentation I like short wooden double pointed needles, but use whatever is most comfortable for you.
The object is to have a needle you can stitch directly off of without having to move the stitches from the cable needle back to the left hand needle when you are ready to knit those stitches. If you are only making a cable very infrequently, moving the stitches back and forth might be easier to work with, but usually you are knitting a series of cables and knitting directly off of the cable needle will be a time saver.
Once you have mastered or at least feel comfortable with cables you might want to eliminate the use of a cable needle completely. This requires the right yarn and the right cable. Smooth or slippery yarn is not suitable generally, since you are taking the stitches you would normally put on the cable needle from the left needle and instead just sliding them off of the left needle, leaving them hanging loose in front or in back of the work depending on the pattern. Cables that are really wide are hard also, since they are more likely to run also.
I found that when knitting a 2 st. by 2 st. cable, with wool sock yarn on a sock was a great time to not use an extra cable needle. I was already working with four needles and manipulating the fifth (cable) needle was more trouble than it was worth.
Try cables on a swatch to see if you like working them, don't give up if you don't get it right away, using that extra cable needle may make you feel like you have never knit anything in your life.