The best (knitting) thing I ever did.... {The Continental Knitting post}

My journey to becoming a 'Continental knitter' has already been documented (here and here) but I feel it's time for an entire post. Like the majority of UK knitters, I was brought up with English Knitting, also known as "throwing" as the working yarn is thrown over the needle with the right hand. It's not a very efficient method and requires a lot of hand movement per stitch.

What is Continental Knitting? The Wikipedia definition says:
Knitting with the yarn in one's left hand is commonly referred to as Continental knittingGerman knittingEuropean knitting, or left-hand knitting. Unlike English knitting, the yarn is held in the left hand; the motion of bringing the yarn forward with a needle held in the other hand is thus sometimes known as picking. Continental knitting is preferred by professional hand-knitters, as it is the more efficient method, requiring the shortest number of specific hand-motions per stitch.Continental-style knitting, being associated with Germany, fell out of favour in English-speaking countries during World War II; its reintroduction in the United States is often credited to Elizabeth Zimmerman.
I was first inspired to learn a new method when I saw a knitting video by Designer Emma Fassio
When I first saw Emma's knitting I knew I had to learn to knit Continental - with 2 demanding children  I have a limited time to knit each day, and it made perfect sense that I should use the most efficient method to maximise my results. I set about learning. 

How to learn to knit Continental:
The Tunic
If you don't have an able and willing knitter to teach you, never fear as there are LOTS of video tutorials to watch for technique. They are free and easy to find. Here are a few that I used: 
If you don't crochet, then this "Knit with Judy" video on holding the yarn in the left hand may also be useful. If you crochet, you will probably be used to holding and tensioning the yarn in the left hand.

After watching some videos, I found the most effective way to learn was to get on with it, so over Christmas I started the "Learn to knit Continental tunic" for Little Miss. The tension was all over the place (a forgiving yarn helped to disguise that... a bit!) but by the time I cast off, it was second nature to pick the yarn up with the left hand for knit stitches. 

Purling has taken a little longer - mainly because I knit in the round wherever possible and so I haven't made anything using lots of purl stitches in the last few months. For the odd long row of purl, I'm probably faster using my natural English technique, but I'm working on it. 
Extremes - from 3mm to 10mm needles! 
The benefits? 
Yesterday, I was knitting two different projects and both made me appreciate taking the time to learn this. 

Firstly the  Bunty Mitts which require 2 colours at a time. They were an absolute doddle, using one hand for each colour then knitting one colour English style and one Continental at any time. It makes the rows with fairly even colour distribution easier and so much faster than switching over from one yarn to the other with the right hand. For the rows that require the yarn to be carried across a number of stitches, I'm switching the working yarn from one hand to the other as a way of naturally wrapping it over the second yarn. (That makes more sense in my head than in words.)

Last night I cast on the Bella Wrap from Ruth & Belinda (you may remember I met them at Unravel). The border uses Moss Stitch/Seed Stitch and despite using unfamiliar massive (10mm) needles it was so much easier to knit this stitch continental. I hated ribbing or Moss stitch before, but it was great!

There seem to be some other unexpected benefits to learning to use my left hand. I'm suddenly much more capable with that hand in everyday life. It was really only ever used to display my wedding ring and stop my watch from falling off until I learned to crochet, but now I can thread tiny needles with it, knot with it, and often find things like saucepan handles and the kettle the "wrong" way around, because I'm doing more with my left hand. 

The point of this post is really to encourage anyone who is curious about this method to give it a go. It feels a little strange at first if you've always used your right hand, but it is definitely worth the effort.  If you give it a try, let me know how you get on!

*Edit Jan 2016: And another new Craftsy class! (Affiliate)

23 comments

  1. I whole heartedly agree, my most recent knitting project had large areas of seed stitch so I decided to have a go at continental, and in my mind it does seem far more efficient, I do crochet though so the whole concept of changing made a lot of sense. I learnt from a knitting site and at the same time learnt a new way to cast on and also a few other techniques....I kept showing my husband and saying look....but to be honest he really didn't get it!

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    1. That's so great, Faith. I agree that crocheting first makes it a much easier and more logical change to make. I also know exactly what you mean about the husband! *sigh*

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  2. Oh I really need to try again. Don't I ?

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  3. You have inspired me to try again. I learned how to knit and purl last March. The instructor told me I held the yarn funny, I held it the same as a crocheter. I didn't know that was continental or I would have stuck with it. She had me switch to English and it is so slow. I really gave up after a few months. This video is how I was doing it, much slower of course. Now I am going to pick up my sticks again and re-teach myself something I have always wanted to know. Thank you.

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    1. That is so great to hear and means this post was worthwhile :)

      Good luck with it - sounds like you'll be a natural!

      x

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  4. Thank you for this post, I have been trying it for a bit...but I didn't go through with it. I really want to learn, but I don't want to mess up any projects either. So I'm planning to make a scrap yarn patchwork blanket, so that I can work little squares to practice different stitches. Thank you for reminding me that this is really something worth the effort! I like that you are ahead of me in this "knitting journey", I find it comforting that you often have a similar taste in knitting/crochet projects so I can always ask for advice! Thank you Sarah for being around blogland! Really love reading your blog.

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    1. Thanks so much Suzanne, what a lovely thing to write. I am a big fan of both your knitting and your blog and we do share a lot of the same tastes :)

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  5. By the way, I'm trying to knit a doll!!! Not pixie, but an Easter bunny doll. It is so exiting.

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  6. The really mind blowing thing about continental knitting for me was when I learned that you can learn to to work with two colors by holding BOTH strands in your left hand. Albeit a bit awkward at first once you get a hang of it it is so AWESOME. You just have to remember to which one is on top and bottom and keep picking from the right direction as to not knot the colors in the back.

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  7. Naturally Continental Knitting - I has it!! *smug*

    :D
    Mue x

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  8. Oh thats interesting! I've been knitting for probably getting on for 40 years and had no idea there was a different way to do it! I do a lot of crochet and do knit but find I get a lot of cramps in my right hand - maybe this would be a better method! Thanks for the inspiration :-)

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  9. Thank you, you've inspired me to try after 20 (!!!!) years of knitting. Its great! Ribbing is just a breeze now! I think it's good to mix it up a bit too, it's helped to ease the knitting related cramps in my hands that I sometimes get after a long evening knitting. Xx

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    1. Yay! I find ribbing so much easier now too! So glad to have helped :)

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  10. I keep meaning to learn to knit continental, I can do it when I'm knitting fair isle and have one colour in each hand, but it feels awkward. I know if I just sit down and get on with doing it properly, I'll get used to it, I just need to take the time!

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    1. It is worth it, IMO as I've noticed a massive difference in productivity.

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  11. I was talking with a friend the other day about continental knitting. I can do the knit stitch but after a while my tension starts to go wonky so I end up going back to throwing. Not really practiced the purl stitch yet. Ironically the continental style would probably be easier for me as I'm left handed. I think I should follow your example at some point and make a project using just continental knitting

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    1. I really would recommend doing that - if you pick a project with a forgiving yarn and which isn't vital to be "perfect" then it's the best way to get the tension sorted.

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    2. I know this might be a weird question but what would you consider a 'forgiving yarn' to try this with? Im so frustrated with taking several months to knit the smallest thing because my hands and arms get so tired. I want to try to learn this way to see if it helps.

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    3. For me, the perfect yarn to learn this technique would be something which (a) doesn't split easily and (b) is not uniform in colour/thickness, the yarn I used was 'think & thin' and variegated so the inconsistencies in tension don't really show up and it's still a useable item despite my knitting getting much better - and quite different in terms of tension - towards the end of the project.

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