The secret to cables is simple: Reverse the order in which you knit your stitches. This causes certain stitches to leapfrog other stitches, creating intricate and engaging three-dimensional patterns in your knitted fabric.
While the fundamental concept of cables is simple, we knitters like to complicate things. Which is why a world of extraordinarily elaborate, complex, and beautiful cable patterns exists. And that, in turn, is why so many new knitters are afraid to try cables.
A Book to Help
The truthfully titled The Very Easy Guide to Cable Knitting is, indeed, a very easy, welcoming, helpful introduction to the world of cables. In fact, Lynne Watterson assumes you don't even know how to knit, and spends the first few pages teaching you how to cast on, knit, purl, bind off, and get gauge.
She also includes an all-too-brief introduction to reading charts. I'd still recommend you keep a backup reference on knitting basics, but this preliminary information will help in a pinch.
Lessons by Technique
Next, Watterson walks you through a series of lessons, each intended to help you understand a different cable technique. She begins with the easy mock cables, then simple cable panels, and finally more complex cable patterns.
At each step, you'll find large, well-photographed swatches of different stitches in progress, which is a great help in understanding how each stitch gets manipulated.
Following those lessons you'll find a varied and helpful selection of patterns for you to try, each of which is also shown in large, clear swatches. The patterns aren't just a total rehash of Barbara Walker, either. They have classic but slightly unique elements that give them a fresh look.
I especially appreciate that Watterson shows the cables knit up in different kinds and colors of yarns since a tweed yarn gives very different cables than, say, a brushed mohair or smooth worsted-spun yarn. It's a helpful touch.
Each cable pattern is explained in written row-by-row instructions as well as in chart form. Here I have only a minor peeve: All the chart symbols are explained in the very back of the book, rather than up front where you first start to see them. Experienced knitters will know to seek chart keys in the back of a book, but new knitters—toward whom I'm guessing this book is aimed—may not.
Likewise, the row-by-row instructions often use abbreviations (C8F, Cr6, Br2, Tw3L, etc.) that you must also hunt up in the back of the book. Some sort of simple key would have been helpful.
Playing with Patterns
Hard-to-find chart keys aside, you could (and I did) spend hours swatching the different cable patterns in this book. If you need more than swatching, Watterson has translated different kinds of cable techniques into 13 simple learning projects that are also actually quite cute. You'll find mug cozies, placemats, several different kinds of pillows and bags, a baby blanket, throw, and even a hot water bottle cozy.
A Promise Well-Kept
This is a refreshingly clean, inviting, accessible, well-written introduction to a technique that can, if you enjoy it, lead you on all sorts of more elaborate adventures. It doesn't dumb-down cables, nor does it claim to offer the ultimate encyclopedia of every cable stitch ever created. In short, this book is exactly what its title promises: a very easy guide to cable knitting.