The knitting world is divided into two camps. Those who hold the yarn in their right hand, and those who hold it in the left. Those who throw their yarn and those who pick it. I’m talking about the great divide between English and continental knitters.
What’s in a name
Holding the yarn in one’s right hand is considered ‘English’ knitting, holding it in the left hand is called ‘continental.
Funily enough, I am continental, but I learned to knit the English way. My mother knit that way too, as did my grandmother and most other people I know. My mother, in fact, finds the idea of knitting holding the yarn in the left hand somewhat ludricous.
It’s a strange thing, how things get named. I suspect these things can be very local. The Dutch way of knitting required long needles and tucking the right needle under your arm to keep it steady. In the past, some knitters used special knitting belts to serve the same purpose, although I’ve perosnally never seen one used.
Which one, English or continental, is best, has been the stuff of long time debate and controversy. Sometimes preferences were indeed politically motivated. Continental knitting was seen as the German way in mid-twentienth century England. There was no way children were going to be taught that.
More often, knitters prefer one way over the other, simply because of the way they were taught. Many of us learn to knit while we’re still very young, and it’s difficult to change what has become the habit of almost literally a lifetime.
Head to Head
Continental or yarn-in-left hand knitting is generally considered to be the fasted method of knitting, as you don’t need to frop part of your knitting to throw the yarn over. Whether this is true very much depends on the knitter. Some English style knitters are very fast indeed. It really comes with practice.
Some also claim that this method is easier on the hands, but again, I suspect that depends on the knitter.
Continental knitting is undisputedly handy when you’re doing ribbing or otherwise changing over between knits and purls a lot. The way the yarn is held makes this very convenient indeed.
On the face of it, I’m actually struggling to think of any argument people make in favour of English style knitting. Certainly, different styles suite different knitters, and some just prefer to hold the yarn in the right hand. Most people seem to think that continental is better.
And that’s why, after resisting change for years and years, I finally thought I’d teach myself to knit continental.
Making the change
Thing is, if you want to excel at a craft, it always pays to expand your collection of skills. Knowing how to knit in more than one way can only be a good thing, and I figured that if continental really is quicker and easier on the hands, I might have to gain something.
Although I don’t really do colourwork, knowing how to hold the yarn in either hand also comes in really handy with stranded work.
Starting out knitting with the yarn in my left hand was really, really difficult. I felt clumsy, kept dropping stitches and getting the yarn tangled up. It was all so unnatural and awkard, like I had to learn to knit from scratch again. It did become a lot more comfortable surprisingly quickly though.
I’ve just finished my first (large lace shawl) project continental style, after always having knitted English, and I’m certainly not as fast as I am with the yarn in my left hand. My speed increased greatly though, over the course of the project, and I suspect that with time and practice this method will indeed be quicker for me than English is.
It took me ages to get my head around it, but I was surprised to see that purling (and there’s a lot of purling in the shawl I knit) is easier and quicker than it was in English.
I do find my hands and wrists getting fatigued more quickly though. This could be due to the fact that my muscles and joints need to get used to the different way of moving.
Things can still be a bit awkard. I found that if I’m tinking back or correcting mistakes by dropping back a few stitches a row or so below, I really need to go back to English.
My tension also isn’t as even. Overall though, I appear to be knitting much more loosely. That also means that I can’t as some people suggest, use both styles in the same project.
As of yet, I’m undecided as to what style I prefer, but I’m certainly glad I decided to add continental knitting to my set of skills.