If you're intimidated by the idea of working with cable needles (which is not that hard, by the way), one way to get the look of cables without actually making cables is to work a mock cable.
Mock cables can be made int different ways, either by working the stitches in a particular way that produces a twist or by working a slip stitch (coupled with a yarn over so as not to decrease stitches) and passing the slipped stitch over to create the look of a cable stitch.
Mock Cable Stitch
This is the preferred method for working a mock cable, which acts like a decrease but doesn't decrease any stitches. It is a quick and easy way to make a mock cable, and I think it looks great.
As pictured, the mock cable stitch works on multiples of 8 stitches.
- Row 1: *K3, p2, k3. Repeat from * across.
- Row 2: *P3, k2, p3. Repeat from * across.
- Row 3: Repeat row 1.
- Row 4: *P3, (Knit two together, leaving the stitches on the left-hand needle. Knit into the first stitch again and slide both off the needle.), p3. Repeat from * across.
- Repeat these four rows for pattern.
You often see this stitch worked much more like ribbing, where you might have 3 stitches involved in the cable and 3 purl stitches on either side.
You can easily vary the number of stitches between the cables, just make sure each cable section has three stitches in which to make the cable turn.
Watch Now: How to Knit Two Together
There are lots of different ways to make mock cables and use them in projects. KNITFreedom has a video showing how to knit mock cables of two and three stitches so you can see what a difference it makes to change the number of stitches involved in the "cable."
To make the mock cable using a slip stitch, work whatever variation of ribbing you like where the cable "turn" will be worked over three stitches, as above. This time when you get to the fourth row, instead of the k2tog move described above, slip the first stitch of the three and knit the second.
Work a yarn over, knit the third stitch, then pass the slipped stitch over the two knit stitches and the yarn over to give the look of a cable turn.
You can use mock cables in a washcloth pattern and as the leg pattern on a child's sock.
The mock cable is a very popular stitch pattern for socks (I guess because using a cable needle around all those DPNs just seems like one needle too many); for example check out the baby socks knit by Janet Gallagher, the top-down Mock Cable Rib Socks by Donna Seex and the Single Mock Cable Socks from Sara Lozzi, to name only a couple.