Pick Up the Russian Knitting Technique

Posted by on Apr 25, 2013 in Knitting | Comments


It’s always interesting to me to see the little cultural variations that occur in knitting from one region to the next. And I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Russia, studying all the Russian literature and history I could in school. So it was only a matter of time before I looked into what techniques Russian knitters use.

As a side note, one first interesting detail about Russian knitting is that Russians consider knitting and crocheting to be the same craft, just accomplished a little bit differently.

After learning that little tidbit, I moved on to discovering how Russian knitters hold their needles and yarn. We American knitters know about Continental and English holds, but there are lots of other variations, like the Russian knitting technique.

The Russian knitting technique is a picking technique where instead of “throwing” the yarn around the right-hand needle, you “pick” up the yarn by moving the needle head into it. To accomplish this, you have to hold the working yarn in a specific way. Start with the yarn in your left hand.

Now wrap the yarn around the index finger on that left hand, so it’s coming over the top of your finger and back around underneath it and on top of your middle finger. You’ll wind up with your index finger very close to the back of your left-hand needle.

yarn hold

The yarn hold.

In Russian knitting, it is common to slip the first stitch of every row. Once that’s done, you’re ready to knit your first stitch. Insert your needle as you normally do for a knit stitch, in front of the needle from left to right. The way you’re holding your yarn should leave it right behind the stitch you’re knitting into.

russian knitting

Now put the tip of your right-hand needle over the working yarn and hook it around. See from the photo above how the yarn is held right next to where the needle comes through, so all you have to do is flick the right-hand needle a little to hook the yarn. Then pull the needle back through.

It took me awhile to get the hang of this Russian knitting technique. One difficult spot that I encountered was that as I pulled my new stitch back through, I got the tip of my right-hand needle hooked on the back loop of the stitch on the left-hand needle.

To purl in the Russian knitting technique, hold the yarn the same way. The trick here is that you wind up picking the yarn so it wraps around the right-hand needle clockwise.

yarn hold

Note from this picture of the purl stitch how the yarn comes over the top of the needle from the bottom.

In chatting with knitters who use the Russian knitting technique, I have been assured that this technique, once mastered, results in a faster, easier purl stitch and an exceptionally even stockinette stitch.

Have you ever thought about trying out a new knitting technique? Would you be interested in giving the Russian knitting technique a try? If you’re going to try it, maybe a Mamushka sweater is the perfect project to make.

You might also be interested in learning the Japanese knitting technique, Armenian knitting technique, or domino knitting technique.

Comments

  1. Betty says:

    Join and tendon problems turned knitting into a painful re-education. To ease the challenge, I taught myself to change how I was holding needles and yarn until I could find a stress free alternative. The result is a self designed cross breed that suits my purpose, allowing me to knit fast for hours without discomfort.The purl stitch does end up ‘twisted’ a bit so when picking it up, I have to keep in mind that the stitch is presenting itself differently. It only matters in some aspects of lace knitting. If need be, I can do that purl stitch differently so it presents itself as it normally would. It just is a bit longer to make that way.
    In the end remember that people will look at the finished product, not how you achieved it. So do what suits you best, especially if you have a physical limitation. :)

  2. Alison Arsenault says:

    I found this very interesting to see, after looking at the photos it appears that this is the way that I have been knitting for many years. I taught myself by looking at a book when I was very young. Later I was told by several older people who had watched how I was knitting that I was knitting in the European way. I never thought I knit differently from others until I was asked to correct/help a few people with their patterns & I had to learn to knit the way they did so that I was able to show them what they needed to do to correct their isssues. I always go back to my original way of knitting as I find it much faster.

  3. Diane says:

    This is the way I learned to knit. It is so much faster than the wrap method.

  4. Mary says:

    I learned this technique in Germany years ago. Since I’d already been knitting with the common “throw” or “American” method since age five, I had to make myself focus on learning it. I started a project which I intended to knit *only* using the new technique. When I finished that project (a sweater) I felt that I was proficient enough to do some timed tests comparing the two types of knitting. My findings were that for regular garter or stockinette stitch, the new method was three times faster than the “throw/American” method. This was very exciting, but even more so when I realized the time savings for seed stitch or ribbing. Since there is so much less motion (and time lost) with the new method, as you just flip your index finger back and forth over the left-hand needle to switch from Knit to Purl, the time savings is phenomenal. No longer would I avoid ribbing or seed stitch on my projects! Well worth the effort to learn.

  5. Ann says:

    Years ago (more than 50) my great-grandmother taught me to knit. She had immigrated from a mountain area (Hungary/Yugoslavia) just prior to WW1. While knitting, I’ve always held yarn in the way you’ve described. Sometimes people have asked “why are you knitting that way?” to which I have always replied “it’s the way I knit”. I’ve always been a fast knitter with even stitches. Knitting is one of my true joys. I much appreicate your topic today. I have enjoyed reading it – it has been like a “mini visit” with my great-grandmother. Thanks!

  6. Judy Kelly says:

    I think I have been knitting Russian style. I know that my continental st is different but had no idea why. I have always of myself as a continential picker. Who knew. This is what happens when you teach yourself to knit from books and watching old English movies on 1950′s TV.

  7. M T says:

    This is the way my mother taught me and I always thought I just had a “weird” way of knitting. It was only recently I began to see this method demonstrated or explained on the web. It is much faster but since purling this way leaves the leading leg of the stitch in the back it makes doing decreases “interesting”. This happens because you are “scooping” the yarn under the needle instead of wrapping it over the top of the needle clockwise. But it is this scooping motion that makes purling so much easier on the hands and faster. It took me a while to figure out that when a pattern says k2tog I must ask, and when the pattern calls for ssk then I must k2 together or else the stitches lean in the wrong direction. Oh, and BTW, my mother’s family was German but this is the way they knitted.

  8. Magpie Stitcher says:

    I think this is how I’ve always knitted – I remember seeing a c. 1950 pattern for a dress knit of ribbon, with instructions that talked about “throwing” the yarn, and being quite confused. But my decreases have always looked a little odd.

    1. Magpie Stitcher says:

      P.S. Once when intensively knitting a sweater in fine yarn, I actually wore a “spot” in the tip of my left index finger, knitting this way!

  9. Iryna says:

    Thank you for writing the article. I am from that region and must say that even though it is a common knitting, we all have a slight differences in Russian knitting. I purl in the easier way, this purl we call “grandma’s stitch”, and it is not twisted.
    I think continental knitting is faster and not as strenuous as English.

  10. Teje says:

    Hi!Thank you for opening an interesting chat! I thought this is the ‘only’ way to knit and couldn’t understand how someone on tv knits so that they ‘throw’ the yarn. I haven’t tried the other technic but this is surely very quick and you can knit without watching your hands – watch movie or read a book at the same time! I hope this doesn’t start to have a ‘Russian knit’ label because it’s used in many many countries! I would love to see how to do the other knitting technic.
    Sunny wishes from Finnish woman living in Greece!

  11. Jenny says:

    My mother taught me to knit this way. It’s so much faster than throwing the yarn. It also helps to control tension resulting in more even stitches. I let the yarn feed through my hand, across the top of my palm.

  12. Judy says:

    If any of you are from New York City and know Berta Karpetyan (Sorry! I am sure I didn’t spell her last name correctly) from the School Products Yarn shop, you have seen her knit this way. However, she always teaches the English throw-over method to her beginners. When I started, I told her specifically that I wanted to learn the Continental method, and she showed me this way. But, my stitches have been all over the place with consistency. So I asked her recently what I was doing wrong and showed her how I have been holding my yarn in my left hand wrapped around my index finger and drawn away from the left needle. That was my problem, she said! I need to use my index and middle fingers as the tension controllers like you showed here in this article. Of course, Berta showed me how to do it and I promptly forgot. I’m so glad to see this article and the photos so I can practice the method correctly. I think it will help me increase my speed, too.

  13. cantwait says:

    This the way I knit, I learned at a very young age from my granny, continental, I’ve been wondering. Why the “leg” ends up differently when purling. I’ve only just picked up knitting with my girlfriends and we all knit so differently from one another. I only wish my Gram was still around!

  14. I have been knitting since age 4, and I learned precisely in this way!! till now I find out that I knit the Russian way!!! All I can say is: is very easy and fast to knit this way!!!

  15. Barbara says:

    My grandmother taught me to knit this way. She was born in Denmark in 1897. I’m 61. I’ve always heard it’s the Scandinavian way to knit.

  16. Gayle Corona says:

    Now I’m confused….I had been told by the instructor of a class I took that I knit in the Continental method….but looking at the photos and reading the above directions, it is the Russian method. I’ll have to look up the Continental method and see what the difference is. My grandmother taught my mother to knit – then my mother taught me to knit when I was quite young. Grandma came from Poland. I do know that I can knit while watching tv…I don’t have to look at my work very often.

  17. Lorenza says:

    Why you are calling this Russian I do not know. From the photos it appears to be exactly the same technique I have used for 60 years. And I learned it from my mother who learned it from her grandmother. And great-grandmother learned it at a German boarding school in the 1800s.. So to us it has always been German or Continental knitting.

  18. Susan says:

    I just learned recently that I was a “Russian” knitter – my great-grandmother came from Georgia/Ukraine area, my grandmother was born in Yorkshire, England, and she taught my mother to knit this way. I always thought I was a “Continental” knitter until I saw how knit stitches were made. I love the Russian style for knitting quickly and evenly.

  19. Barbara says:

    I also learned to knit when I was a child from my grandmother who was from Germany.
    Just a few years ago I became part of a knitting group and everyone was knitting
    Completely differently than I do. I soon realized that I use the Continental method
    Which is so much easier on the hands and faster. After seeing the Russian method,
    I now know that is the way my Grandma taught me. Very interesting.

  20. julia says:

    I originally leaned the English throwing method when a typo in my book prevented me from learning the purl stitch.
    Years later I decided to take a crack at it again and learned how to knit and purl Continental. I decided on Continental this time around because I am an impatient person and read that this is a faster method.
    I found that purl was difficult for me to do as it put a lot of tension on my index finger with any method. I learned Norwegian purl which helped this out immensely (ah the joy of short fingers…). I also watched videos of the fastest knitter in the world and emulated her style. She says it’s Continental, but really it looks more Russian know that’s I’ve seen this.
    Now if there was only a way to make Norwegian purl as fast as my Russian knit…