“What’s That You’re Doing?”

knitting continentalAs I learned to knit from my Norwegian mother and grandmother, I knit (and purl) in the Continental style (Wikipedia pic source).

Many times knitting quietly in a public place (e.g., park or coffee shop), in the U.S., someone comes up to me and asks what I’m doing.  When I tell them I’m knitting, the response I frequently get is:  “No,  I’ve seen knitting and that’s not it.” 🙂

Of course I see it as my duty to educate the person on different styles of knitting, historical shifts, and so on – undoubtedly giving far more information than the person ever thought s/he would receive!

I know how to knit in the English style but use that only when knitting with more than three colors in any one row.  (I can knit three different yarns off my left hand; any more than that and I have to use my right.)  I think the Continental style is faster, though I’ve heard a skilled English style knitter can be equally swift.  Perhaps.  I do think, however, that the Continental style uses less hand motion and as such is probably better physically than the style adopted by most English style knitters.  Everyone I’ve taught to knit I’ve taught the Continental style.  When I am helping someone who has already learned to knit in the English style, I have to rethink how I teach so as not to confuse her or him!

Undoubtedly you hear my bias.  🙂

So, what knitting style do you prefer?!



About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Knitting, Miscellany, Norwegian Knitting. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to “What’s That You’re Doing?”

  1. I had the same experience knitting in the US where most knitters seem to default to the UK method. That said, the more experienced knitters – at least the ones with a coterie of international friends – don’t find it weird. They just wonder why I don’t switch style! When you knit with multiple yarns, do you carry any yarns in your right hand? I will but only if I’m carrying more than three yarns.


  2. Sonja says:

    That’s always an interesting conversation! I am from Germany originally and now live in the UK. Whilst my mum never tought me (as I wasn’t interested when I was younger) I could always picture her knitting so when I first picked up a knitting book in the UK I was really confused and it just didn’t make sense to me – until I found out that I think I was effectively trying to merge the two. In the end the continental way just seemed more “normal” to me and more efficient. At my local knitting group I am the only continental knitter and the ladies are always fascinated just watching me knit saying things like “Does it come out the same way though…?” and thoroughly check my knitting for any obvious differences… Some have even tried their hand at it but I guess after doing it another way for years makes it very difficult.


  3. I agree about the nature of the English style appears cumbersome – for me undoubtedly because I learned the Continental method from my Norwegian mother. Sitting around with female relatives knitting (in Norway), we all knit the exact same way. The first time I saw an American knit, I was surprised. Re being stared at while knitting, that used to happen to me a lot in the U.S., but either because knitting in public has gotten more public in the U.S. or because I’m now a grandmother with lots of white hair, I no longer get strange looks. Unless it’s an American who’s never seen a Norwegian knit and wonders what I’m doing! 🙂


  4. I grinned at your description of “cat’s cradle.” As long as your gauge is even and you can play with your needles to get the “correct” gauge, I don’t think it matters if you hold the yarn loosely. I have problems with my hands too and, as I’ve gotten older, my gauge has gotten loose. 🙂


  5. That’s good to know (about the square needles). Given your experience, I’m going to buy a pair and give them a whirl. As I also knit Continental style, I’m hoping I’ll also notice reduce hand fatigue. Thanks!


  6. Continental-style purling has stymied many an English-style knitter! When I try to look at that objectively, I think I see why. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good – that’s important. No reason to change what works for you!


  8. I once taught a left-handed friend how to knit … but first I had to teach myself how to knit left handed. No small feat!


  9. I had a friend who proudly showed me her first scarf … and I wondered about the stitch until I realized she was twisting all her stitches in an odd manner. At least she was consistent; the pattern was balanced!


  10. I learned the English way only so I could knit with more than three colors (the max I can hold in my left hand). I can add two more colors in a row if I knit them off my right hand the English way! It’s cumbersome for me though!


  11. Hmmm, I’ve never seen what you’re describing … but as long as your stitches are untwisted and your gauge even, as long as it works! 🙂


  12. No matter the knit fashion, I think the important issues are even stitch gauge and untwisted stitches! Of course, serious knitters also need to take into consideration the problem of repetitive motion strain … I think some ways of knitting are more/less stressful on hands, fingers, wrists and arms than others.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ah, well, this e-communication we have allows us to educate each other! I’ve heard that English knitters can be just as speedy as Continental knitters!


  14. mynestofyarnandbuttons says:

    Hi there, I love your blog! I’m an English knitter but would love to knit Continental…I do think your way is faster! I need to practice your way but then always go back to the old way. Something about you can’t teach an old dog a new trick! hahahaha Thanks for sharing, xoRobin


  15. Blue Merino says:

    Most people don’t understand how fast I can knit; I “drop” the yarn between stitches, I don’t loop it over my fingers. Occasionally if I m feeling brave when I’m faced with a row of just knit stitches I’ll put it over my left finger and do continental, but otherwise, my mama didn’t teach me the finger trick, so I don’t do it!


  16. Kristan says:

    I knit continental/combination style.
    I learned with the english style, but not quite right… I was twisting all my stitches (this was discovered mid-sweater of course). Figured out how to untwist the stitches by changing how I purled.
    I learned continental knitting online. I still wrap my purls the other way, but I find it to be a much more comfortable way to knit 🙂


  17. Aoife says:

    I knit English. I learned to crochet first and I’m left handed, so I was already used to holding the yarn in my right hand. I’ve tried continental a few times but I just can’t get my hands used to it.


  18. djdfr says:

    I have the yarn held with my right hand and as I insert the needle, I continue on with that movement. It does not feel like I am making any big effort. 🙂


  19. I knit english style as that’s how I was taught but I have a friend who is left handed and continental works for her. I can knit continental style only if I’m knitting not purling.


  20. I’m in the US, and I knit continental style as my family originated in Sweden. It is fast compared to the speed of other knitters in my knitting group. I can purl almost as quickly. I’ve started using square needles, and I have to say they really reduce hand fatigue so that I can knit longer.


  21. knotrune says:

    I’m in England and I was shown first English style, but as I crocheted first, I prefer to hold the yarn in my left hand, so I quickly taught myself alternatives, also because I heard it’s useful for using more than one colour. Which I did find, except I was also fine with holding both colours in the left hand. I’m fairly slow still, so having more than one colour didn’t slow me down much.

    What differs most about how I both knit and crochet is how I hold the yarn. I cannot get on with having it all wrapped around my hand. I have arthritic hands and that just felt so unpleasant. I found out for crochet that how I hold yarn, loosely, is called Russian style. And so I hold my yarn that way for knitting too, no idea if it’s called that for knitting. I like to work loosely and can’t do tight work because of my hands, but my tension is pretty even, so I don’t really see much benefit to tying your hand up in some kind of cat’s cradle 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Suzan says:

    I’m from Munich in Germany and everyone knits continental style here. Though knitting in general is considered old-fashioned, not cool and people stare at you when you knit on train while commuting (but they don’t ask, they just stare), I’ve never even heard about US knitting style before I “dared” to join Ravelry two years ago. “Dared” because I was afraid of English patterns – continental patterns always have a chart and fully written text and not only abbreviations. But I *wanted* that Line Break shawl (pattern by Veera Välimäki) and so I got a Paypal account and learned to decipher the instructions. And it took me three months to knit it (http://www.ravelry.com/projects/Sunnyi/line-break), but that’s mostly I think because I just can knit in my evenings and occasionally on weekends.

    I recently had the chance to join a brioche workshop with Nancy Marchant at my local LYS (https://suzanoakhill.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/brioche-knitting-workshop-with-nancy-marchant/), and I remember she was so surprised that everyone of us knit continental style and not a single person in US style. And as I said above, it’s really like there’s no other style existing here – very much as what you mentioned when people tell you “No, I’ve seen knitting and that’s not it.” 😀

    I think it’s great that there are many styles and everyone should choose the one they like best, but for me personally, I couldn’t imagine knitting a large project in US style. Throwing the yarn over the right needle seems so.. cumbersome. 🙂


  23. I am a continental knitter living in the UK. I teach knitting in a local community centre (very diverse community) and have learned one thing very quickly. There are at least as many ways of knitting as there are countries. (Turkish looks very interesting, they let the yarn go around their neck and wrap it around the thumb)
    Funnily enough not even all countries on “the continent” knit continentally. And mine is slightly different from yours. I once took pictures how I hold the yarn in the left hand (before starting to knit): atelieroursonne.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/contintental-knitting-posture-of-the-left-hand
    I insist that people new to knitting have to learn my way first (later they can choose) as I also think it is faster and more economic. Since I refer to the right hand needle as a little digger that grabs the yarn with an up-down movement and pulls it through, even people who had been knitting English as a child are actually convinced.
    Obviously, if their hands are used to English than they can go back to English after having tried the continental one. I would also not want to change my habit but I had to learn the basics before I started teaching.
    You see, I am also rather passionate about it, can’t even keep my reply short 🙂 I guess that happens when we knit continentally in an English knitting country.


  24. Vix says:

    I’m an English knitter but I’m fast when working a simple pattern. Once I’ve perfected socks, I’d like to try Continental to help with colour work (I can’t fair isle!)
    I love it when non crafter’s think they know better, don’t you? Good for you for educating the masses


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