Knitting Blog

The Battle of English vs. Continental Knitting

Whether you’ve realized it or not, knitters do not all knit in the same way. I’m not just talking about how you hold your needles. Think about which hand you hold the yarn in, the tension you use when knitting, and where your yarn is coming from. Do your knitting friends knit in this same way? Probably not!

All these little things — from how you wrap your yarn around the needle to which hand the yarn is in — help determine  your knitting style. You can read more about all the knitting styles and methods on the Craftsy Knitting Blog. But let’s focus solely on English vs. Continental knitting styles for a second.

Continental Knitting Technique
Taking care of knitting business — Continental style.

Some knitters are fiercely believe in one style over the other, but there’s no need to choose one style over the other for the rest of your knitting life. In fact, learning to use both of these styles interchangeably can actually be very beneficial to you!

Why should you care about knitting style?

The main difference in English vs. Continental knitting is the way the yarn is wrapped around the right needle before it’s pull through to knit a stitch. In English-style knitting the action is throwing the yarn, while in Continental-style knitting the action is picking the yarn.

The differences do not seem like a big deal at first, but here are a few reasons you should become familiar with both styles:

Relieving pain

Why might you want to know the difference in English vs. Continental knitting? First and most importantly, changing up your knitting style can relieve your wrists. Have you ever spent long hours knitting, only to have pain in your fingers and wrists? Switching up your style halfway through that long knitting session can ease that pain. English style, sometimes referred to as throwing, requires a different hand-and-wrist action than Continental, which is the style that picks the yarn. Repetition of either of these for long periods of time will cause pain, so switch your style and see if you notice the difference.

Changing tension to get gauge

I’m usually a Continental knitter, but I decided to change it up and try English style to see what it feels like. I made a couple of discoveries, but the most obvious thing I noticed is that my tension is a little different when knitting English style — and I’m thinking that this could save me next time I’m having issues getting gauge.

Have I convinced you to change up your knitting style yet? Here’s a little list about each knitting style that will help you determine when to use each one:

English-style knitting

  • Holds yarn in the right hand
  • Throws the yarn when wrapping
  • Easier with chunky-weight yarns

Continental-style knitting

  • Holds yarn in the left hand
  • Picks the yarn when wrapping
  • Faster when you are knitting the knit stitch, but the purl stitch can slow you down a bit
  • Alternating between knits and purls is easier with this style; great for seed stitch and ribbing that alternate between the two
  • Easier for crocheters to learn

If you’re as intrigued about Continental knitting, be sure to enroll in Knit Faster With Continental Knitting with Lorilee Beltman. Lorilee demonstrates the picking style and how it can make your knitting easier, faster and all-around less painful — perfect if you’re an avid knitter who’s experiencing some arm or wrist pain.

Do you knit Continental or English style? Have you ever tried to alternate between the two styles?

Knit Continental — knit more efficiently!

Learn Continental Knitting on Craftsy

Learn to increase speed, bolster efficiency and ditch hand strain as you conquer Continental knitting in our most popular online knitting class.Enroll Now »

19 Comments

Jenn

I had no idea I was doing the English style! (I didn’t know there *were* styles.) I learned to knit from my great grandmother, who was from Newfoundland. I don’t know if I *could* use the Continental style. It just looks so weird to me.

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Courtney

I started knitting about a year ago and I was having a heck of a time disgusting it out. I took a break (had a baby) so now that she’s 7months I decided to knit again. I found myself naturally knitting continental and I finally felt as if I had knitting figured out. Only when I needed a YouTube video to figure out how to pick up a dropped stictch did I meant I was knitting continental. Everyone seems to knit English and my hands just have extra trouble that way! Thanks for the blog that explains the differences so clearly for a newbie like me!

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Katie

I taught myself to knit when I was about 9, and the book I used was English style. I tried to “retrain” myself to do Continental when I was 15 because it’s supposed to be quicker, but it never stuck, and I had trouble with my tension always being way too tight.

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colette

Thanks to Ashley Little for mentioning pain in this article.Like Katie, I taught myself to knit at about the same age using an book English style. I’ve been knitting off & on for many years but in recent times have been knitting almost obsessively & had severe pain in my right shoulder at times from “throwing” the yarn English style. At a local yarn store, an expert knitter did some recovery on a knit lace cowl for me & I noticed she was knitting “differently,” yarn in the left hand which I realized at some point later is Continental knitting. I put the yarn in my left hand & picked up the knit stitch right away; it took a few sittings but I purl Continental (increasing & decreasing also) now just as fast as the knitting. Love the Continental style! No shoulder pain! Yay!? Now the severe pain is in my left thumb. I experienced the same pain in my right thumb and right wrist when I binge-crocheted a couple of years ago & also pain in my left thumb (way less than Continental knitting though). I had carpal tunnel & thumb surgery that following spring on my right hand–diagnosed years before–due to repetitive stress injury caused by the type of work I do for a living (almost 40 years) & exacerbated by the crocheting. My right hand is good now, however I now have severe pain in my left thumb & wrist due to my recent discovery of the Continental style & binge-knitting; it is now time to consider when I’ll have surgery on my left hand. An individual’s unique anatomy plays a big role I was told by the surgeon, aging/arthritis (unfortunately!), in addition to repetitive motion of the joints. My advice is to protect your joints, go to bed or sit on your hands before the pain comes–too bad for me that I can’t seem to follow my own advice! Some of you reading this may think I’m nuts & need to get a new hobby (or a life!) but many more will understand my love of knitting, yarns (a glorious palette!) & creating. P.S. I’ve tried switching styles in mid-project but I can see a small difference in the end result of each style in my knitting.

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Mari Farnarier

I am an English style knitter. However, every now and then I try to knit continental. My gauge changes significantly. I knit much tighter in continental style.

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labix

Even after publishing this article, Craftsy’s Explorations in Brioche class almost ignores the Continental knitter. Nowhere in the course description does she mention that instruction focuses on those who throw and almost disregards Continental knitters. Online polls show that somewhere between 30%-49% of knitters use Continental style, and this article states “I’m not just talking about how you hold your needles. Think about which hand you hold the yarn in, the tension you use when knitting, and where your yarn is coming from.”

Despite this, the Explorations in Brioche Craftsy class gives barely a mention to Continental. In fact, the instructor gave about 30 seconds of demo on Continental then actually said in exasperation “I have to put this in my right hand.”

Brioche is difficult enough, and now I have to add extra youtube videos to figure this out. I am VERY DISAPPOINTED because any knitting class that doesn’t give equal time to English and Continental styles should, at the very least, let knitters know what will NOT not be there.

Is this true for all knitting classes? What’s up with this? It doesn’t seem extremely difficult to add sufficient demos for both styles…even if you had to get an adjunct instructor to do the video supplements.

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Blair Cole

Nice Post.. Excellent Info.. Really amazing.. This was a fantastic article… really superb….

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Barb Simon

At a young age,I learned how to knit (‘pick”, Continental style) from my mother who learned from her German aunts. As a teen, when I taught myself how to crochet, it was easy to pick up since I already held the yarn in my left hand. Years later I found out from my sister, who is left handed, that she learned how to do the knit stitch from a friend and was sent home after the first lesson to practice. She didn’t know about purling and wanted the stockinette effect so she just knit back “throwing”, English style. I used this “Continental/English” method when I knit a stockinette sweater (not in the round). The way I did it was to knit (pick) over and knit (throw) back without dropping the yarn or changing the needles. The tension was slightly different but not enough to show and I can “throw” back faster than (1) turning the work around, (2) switching needles, and (3) purling back.

How to knit stockinette Continental/English style : after finishing a knit row, instead of turning the work around to purl back, I keep the yarn in my left hand, place the point of my left needle in the first stitch (the last one I knit) on the right needle (left to the right), drop the left needle, wind the yarn around the right needle counter clock wise (not dropping the yarn), pull the loop through onto the left needle, then drop the stitch on the right needle…repeat. You get exactly the same stitch you would if you were purling. You can get into quite a nice rhythm.

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Lisa

I knit Continental and I purl just as fast as I knit. (I’m not sure how you do it so that it slows you down. ) I am searching for resources on teaching a knitting class, and trying to figure out which was to demonstrate to the students!

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Paula

Please make a video showing how to purl Continental faster. I switched from English to Continental a while ago, and the knit stitch for me is really fast, but the purl is still awkward. When I have a whole row of purling to do, I usually do it Portuguese-style. I also flick about half the time, and that’s almost as fast for me as Continental knit stitching.

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Deborah Herman

I learned to knit Continental 10 years ago, after a life time of crocheting. It was the easiest transition for me.

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Helen (of troy) 784 /?p=784

neither! I knit (as a self taught knitter) Combo. The two styles (English and continental, are a sub set–at the top of the choices are EASTERN and WESTERN (aka European) Eastern knitting is still common in Asia and points east, and has stitches mounted (on the needle) the opposite of Western knitting. Eastern knitting is also found in South America, Spanish and Portugues sailors and explorers took knitting with them on their voyages. Spanish knitters tended to knit in the Eastern style–A style the moors uses (having learned to knit from the near east–(islamic influenced knitting)

Combo knitting is found many places (about 20% of knitting in US knit this way)–it is also common in many parts of russia (a land that is both European & Asian) and remants exist in scandinavia (the norwegian purl is a reversed Eastern knit!) There are more ways of knitting than English and Continental…

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yarnovermatter

You mentioned the Norwegian purl, which for me is brilliant, and has revolutionized my ability to purl without being all thumbs. I had no idea it was also related to the Eastern or combo styles of knitting. There’s a bit of maneuvering the right needle that takes some getting used to, but my stitches still are mounted in the typical Western fashion, and now I can fly through k1p1 ribbing like nobody’s business!
Having deep roots in crochet, I’m firmly in the Continental camp, but lately I’ve been doing more stranded colorwork using both hands, so my English-style throwing is becoming more proficient as well. Isn’t it nice to know that there are so many different ways to turn a pile of yarn into unique hand-knitted lovelies!

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Suzie larouche

I have knitted for the last 64 years and I am proficient in both English and Continental. I think the pain thing is hogwash: the only difference between the styles is the set of muscles you strain. As for speed, you are fast or you are slow and the hand in which you hold the yarn won’t change it.

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Ellie Naill

I prefer the Continental, it is faster, easier on my hands and arms. The way I purl is faster too, but the next row changes the way I “pick” for knitting, but it does not change the speed. One of the other things I like about it, I can knit without looking most of the time. I taught my self to do this as a child because at one point they thought I was going to go blind and I wanted to be sure I could have something to do. Sometimes I still practice this as an exercise because my eyesight still isn’t so great. Surgery saved my eyesight when I was about 10. As far as English giving a different gauge, changing needle size is easier for me. I often use the wonderful measurement info from the Yarn Council and make my own patterns, so I just knit a swatch from the yarn I want to use and make my patterns up based on the swatch.

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BARBARA FRAZIER

I taught myself to knit English 7 years ago. Just learned Continental last year. The knitting is definitely faster and I haven’t mastered purling Continental yet. During a stockinette project I switch back & forth between the two. My gauge is also more consistent English style.

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Julie Elkins

Turns out I’ve been knitting Continental Style my whole life! It is definitely faster when using the knit stitch; the purl stitch is slower but I don’t t know that using the English style would be any faster. Also, my knitting gauge is always perfect. My gauge is crochet, however, is something else. 🙂

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Leslie

I have noticed that several people have mentioned that their gauge is tighter with Continental.

The trick is not to loop the yarn around your left index finger, rather simply lay it over the top, around the “tops” of your three fingers, and let it pass between your ring finger and pinky. The tension is maintained by your pinky. This way of holding the yarn is similar to when you crochet. If I need a tighter gauge, like for knitting socks, then I wrap the yarn around my index finger twice.

Those who say their gauge is tighter simply need to drape it over the finger rather than wind it around. As a continental knitter, it was just a matter of problem solving.

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Becky

I learned English style, but have been trying to get Continental down since I’m prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m at the point where I can get the knit stitch with it pretty well, as long as I have longer stretches of it, but purling is still extremely awkward and actually bothers my wrists more than just throwing the yarn. So even though it means I knit pretty slow, I tend to just shift between the two depending on what the pattern calls for, leaning more towards English.

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