What Is Continental Knitting?
I learned to crochet about a year before I learned knitting. My mom taught me using a granny square and it was fairly easy to pick up with someone there giving me tips and helping me feel less awkward with a hook and a piece of string in my hand.
Unfortunately, she had no idea how to knit, so when I wanted to learn, I turned to a knitting kit I found in a clearance bin. It had a set of plastic needles, some other notions, and a book that promised to teach me to knit. I was so excited to begin!
Well, that excitement died half an hour later. I had learned to cast on beautifully, but after reading and re-reading how to make the knit stitch, I wasn’t any closer to comprehending. How in the world does a pointy needle get one loop through another? Don’t you need a hook for that?! I gave up. A few weeks later, I tried again. Same results!
It wasn’t until I explored knitting videos and various other photo tutorials that I realized something very important: there is more than one way to knit! All this time, I had been trying to knit with the yarn in my right hand. It felt completely foreign and backwards to my regular hold. It literally WAS backwards! This was English knitting and my crochet hands were having none of it.
So, what was this other way to knit I discovered? The game changer? Continental knitting!
What is continental knitting?
This style of knitting is much like crochet in that you hold the yarn in your left hand. It is in the opposite hand of your working needle, but closer to your actual work. One puts the needle through the next stitch, then uses it to pick the yarn through. Because of this motion, continental knitting is sometimes called “picking.” It also is commonly referred to as: German knitting, left-handed knitting, or European knitting.
What are the advantages of learning continental style knitting?
First, it is by far easier for crocheters to learn to knit using the continental method. Don’t you want to convert your crocheting friends? I know I do! One of the easiest ways for them to learn is to begin by holding the yarn in the same hand they have been for who knows how long.
Second, it is faster when you are working the knit stitch. Your work is held in your left hand, so it is logical to have your working yarn in your left hand as well, right behind your work! The working needle just swoops in and picks the yarn through in one swift movement.
Third, if you know how to knit with yarn in both hands, it will make colorwork knitting a much quicker task!
Tension, tension, tension
Maintaining an even tension can be troublesome for those not used to having the yarn in their left hand. Some knitters find it useful to wrap the yarn around their pinky, then over the back of the rest of their fingers, ending in a drape over the index finger. Personally, I drape the yarn over my index finger, then use my pinky to grasp it against my palm. I find this allows the yarn to move freely and I am able to apply more pressure against it if I need to. My thumb and middle finger help aid the movement of the stitches along the left needle toward the tip.
How I knit
This is what my knitting looks like from my point of view. You can see I tension my yarn with just my pinky finger. It works well for me like this. However, when I try the same hold knitting with the English method, I cannot get an accurate tension holding my yarn like this!
The KNIT stitch:
I still tend to move my left hand when I knit! As you can see, I’m not a complete “picker,” and I do tend to rock my index finger with the yarn over the needle. I feel more comfortable doing it this way and it’s very similar to how I crochet.
The PURL stitch:
Continental purling is a little complicated. I use my thumb to hold the yarn over the needle as it is going through the stitch. It took me a long time to get used to purling! It’s just so much slower than knitting. Practice has made it more than tolerable. I will say that I had actual nightmares the first weeks I started knitting of endless purl rows! It was that scary.
If you want to learn new techniques to make knitting more fun and efficient, consider taking this new class from Patty Lyons: Improve Your Knitting: Alternative Methods & Styles. You will get an overview of both English and continental style knitting, as well as an introduction to combination and Portuguese knitting. There is even an instructional video on knitting and purling backwards! You can never have enough information when it comes to knitting.