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!

continental style 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

Holding

Continental Knitting method holding

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:

Animated Gif of continental 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:

Animated GIF of purling continental style
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.

Learn more

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.

How were you taught to knit? Which is your favorite style?

22 Comments

Mindy Dahl

Thank you ………I am going to try this again. I tried once and it turned out really tight but I will try try again.. I love to watch people do this knitting..they are so fast……I am a slow knitter so this would be wonderful to master.

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Mindy Dahl

Thank you ………I am going to try this again. I tried once and it turned out really tight but I will try try again.. I love to watch people do this knitting..they are so fast……I am a slow knitter so this would be wonderful to master.

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Jeri Randall

I taught myseft from a book and I don’t think I do it right at all. I have made multiple wearable garments. But I guess I do a combination of both. Sometimes I hold the yarn in my right hand ( but purl differently than you). And sometimes in my left and throw a loop over.

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Ann

I’ve been a crocheted for 20 years and wanted to learn knitting this winter. I was so frustrated with it, it was awkward and cramped my hands. I nearly quit until I came across a YouTube video that started out with the instructor saying, “I’m a crocheter, so I am going to show you how to hold the yarn in your left hand as if you were crocheting.” Now I love to knit and am working on building my personal sock stash!

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Cecilia Murphy

I,m a crocheter and really enjoy it. .But, I’ve been watching knit and crochet now on the create channel
And Daily Knitting on the create channel. I’m very clumsy knitting the tradition way and I have
Difficulty purling, so I decided to take lessons this spring knitting continental. Wish me luck!
Cecilia

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Cara

Hi Liza,
after more than 30 years of knitting I was surprised that I knit different to the rest of “the world” and also different to the rest of Germany! Sure I´m a German and I knit as you show,but purling I do much easier than you show.I do it like knitting fromthe other side.
I put the yarn before the left needle.Depending in which direction your stich looks I go with the right needle behind the right part of the stitch that should knit, go throughlikeyou,but I donot “wind” the yarn around the nbeedle I only pick it like forteh knitting stitch. You onlymust take care: the knitted stitch looks into the other direction then with your method. Taste it and let me know if I could describe good. If not I can do it with some pictures.
Greetings and have a nice rest of weekend.
Cara

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td mckinney

Cara, I purl the similar way you do and it actually feels more comfortable and easier than knitting a row. Place the yarn in front of the needles. With the right needle, go behind the stitch on the left needle – push the right side of the loop forward, loop the feeder yarn over the right needle by dropping your index finger down in front of it (essentially looping the yarn over the needle) and pull the new loop through the stitch. Once you are used to it, it feels like all you are doing is pulling the loop forward and moving your index finger up and down. It goes very very fast.

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Eilonthay

OMG, this is so me! I’ve been waffling on whether or not to try knitting for a while now – mostly because of the needles; I already have so many crochet hooks that I didn’t want all the needles as well – and finally picked it up a couple weeks ago. I had looked into it years ago and could grasp the casting on part, but actually doing a knit stitch from an illustration was something I just didn’t understand. So I gave it up and learned crocheting instead. Now that YouTube and the Internet exists as it does, I’ve figured out the puzzling configuration that is knitting and am currently in the middle of making a towel for my mother. I haven’t decided if I like knitting yet, but it’s early and it takes more practice than crocheting, so I’ll keep at it. I tend to crochet very tight, so keeping my knitting tension looser is a real battle. Purling in Continental is awkward, so I might try it in English style. Love the .gif pictures!

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Gabriele Bailey

Hi, I was curious to find out what you meant by continental knitting. I realize now, that it is the way I have been knitting since childhood (I am German). In Germany the children did, and still do learn how to crochet and knit starting in kindergarten. Nowadays even the boys! It is a great skill to have since it teaches patience, attention to detail and develops creativity. I know that the Waldorf schools teach that, even in the US. If you get confused about the purl stitch, don’t give up , just find a good instructor. It really is quite simple. Have fun!

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Gabriele Bailey

PS: I now looked at the videos above and that is exactly how I was taught and still do knit and purl.

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SonjaKuvikLoyd

I joined on Beginner knit group on Raverly and A nice women posted to try Continental knitting,since I have been a crocheter for years.

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Nicole

I was taught how to knit when I was 7 years old. I learned in France. I knit continental style. It is the only way I know how to knit. I learned how to crochet when I was 16 years old. I think knowing how to knit made it easy for me to learn crochet. The first day I crocheted I made a sweater, it took 2 days. the second thing I crocheted was a doily (it was much more complicated than the sweater) and it took 2 days also. I am sure my knitting ability helped me learn crochet. I love knitting, crocheting and sewing. It’s fun to make things for myself, my kids and my husband. I recently taught my husband how to knit. After he gains more experience with knitting I will teach him to crochet. I taught my daughter knitting and crocheting, she prefers crocheting, but is doing some knitting too, and liking it more. We all make things for ourselves, each other and for gifts.

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Gayle Corona

I have always knit using the Continental method, and that’s how I teach my students who are in the 4th -6th grade.

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Brenda Hampshire

I loved this post because it described me exactly. Her stitching technique os almost exactly the same as mine and it made me feel less weird. I am a knife holding crocheter,and self taught knitter. I treat my kniting needles just like my crochet hooks, and I thought I was the onluy one who did this. I love having the flexibility to choose either knitting or crochet projects.

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Shirley Salo

I also purl in a different manner. I scoop it in front just the opposite of how you knit. I put the yarn below the right hand needle and just scoop it from below without winding. I think that’s what some of the other ladies said they do. I actually can purl faster than I can knit.

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Jenny

I learned how to knit this way after realizing I might not be good at anything but crochet and some weaving. Probably because I AM left handed. Learning how to knit with the yarn in the left hand improved things so much. But have you ever knitted the LEFT handed way, casting onto your right needle and knitting onto the left? The working needle in the left hand, makes a HUGE different as well. Just wanted to point that out.

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Jennifer Garden

I found this thread because I wasn’t sure if there was another way to purl that might be faster. I’ve always knitted continental and wondered if I was purling correctly since it was noticeably slower than knitting. Thanks to Shirley Salo, I’ve found a better way. It’ll take a little getting used to, but I’m sure it will work quite well once I’ve got the routine of it down. It’s already proving to be quicker even with my little fumbles in getting used to it. :)

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Elyse Ross

My Swedish grandmother started me when I was 5 and my mom tutored me all throughout my growing up years but that was English knitting. A friend of mine, Lois Butterfield, told me to try Continental knitting but I couldn’t get my head or hands around it. A year later, I tried again and it clicked! I’ve been knitting Continental ever since. I don’t do my purl the way you do though. It goes on backwards so when I knit the same stitches on the following row, I have to correct them by knitting into the back of the stitch. It suits me just fine.

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Guðrún Margrét

This is how I learned to knit and is taught in icelandic schools. I also purl the same way you show in your video, it´s quite easy once you get the hang of it :)

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Helen

I learned to knit at 4 years old by watching my Gran. That being said, I watched face-to-face, and as a result ended up holding the wool in my left hand, even though I am right-handed. Apparently my four-year-old mind could not process the reversal :) . People watching me knit have remarked that I knit ‘backwards’ ….. well, if it is backwards (which it is not) it has served me well for seventy years ……….

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