Chatting to new knitters, and indeed those who have been knitting for a while, the fear of cables comes up quite regularly. They'll say something along the lines of loving a particular cable pattern but that they wouldn't know where to start. It's a pity because really if you do stocking stitch neatly there is nothing to be afraid off.
So here is my humble attempt to demystify the cable needle.
Cables are twists, braids or other raised textures created by changing the order stitches are worked. They are typically worked in stocking stitch panels surrounded by reverse stocking stitch (purl on right side, knit on wrong side, so that the "bumps" are on the right side).
The basic cable pattern I'm using here is worked in DK yarn using 4.5mm needles and a cable needle (CN) which is a short double pointed needle which allows you to pick up stitches with one end and knit them on the other - don't worry that will make sense in a moment.
Cast on 31.
Row 1: P7, K6, P5, K6, P7
Row 2: K7, P6, K5, P6, K7
Repeat these rows twice more.
At this point you have a series of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch and are ready to make your first cable twists.
Row 7: P7, C6F, P5, C6B, P7.
"C6F" is the first cable instruction. The C tells you it is a cable, the 6 that it is worked over six stitches and the F tells you what to do with your cable.
In this case the instruction note for C6F reads: Place the next 3 stitches on the CN and hold to the front of your work (F means front).
The instruction continues: K3 from the left needle, ...
... then K3 from the CN.
This produces a left leaning twist.
The second cable instruction C6B means Place the next 3 stitches on the CN and hold to the back of your work; K3 from the left needle, then K3 from the CN.
This produces a right leaning twist.
Row 8: As row 2.
These 8 rows form the pattern.
The final pattern line means you now repeat the 8 rows for the the length of your piece to create regular cable pattern.
Cables may also be presented on a chart using symbols - a chart for this cable could look csomething like this where the empty squares represent knit stitches on the right side and purls on the wrong side, dots are purls on the right side and the crossing symbols indicate the cables. Charts always come with a key to explain them and while they may seem daunting at first, they are useful in showing what your knitting will look like.
This is a basic cable pattern but any type will be explained in the same way, with information on the number of stitches and how many go on the CN either at the front or back.
Once you have mastered this basic tachnique, all types of cable follow the same principles, so the cable world is your oyster. Trust the pattern and enjoy.