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  • Writer's pictureBecca Norman

English vs Continental Knitting Styles

Updated: Feb 20

Right Hand or Left

There are many different ways that knitters hold their yarn while they're knitting. The two most common being Continental and English style. (sometimes referred to as picking or throwing) I'm going to show you today how they both work, and why continental ended up working a lot better for me.

English Style

When I first learned how to knit, I held the yarn in my right hand, which is called 'throwing' or 'English style.' I recently heard someone call this American style, which was new for me.

I want to say: I've seen plenty of Knitters knit very gracefully with English style, but I personally was never able to get the hang of the fancy stranding without having to let go of the right needle. That honestly was the biggest problem for me; in letting go of the needle every time I wrapped the yarn around to make a new stitch, either the needle would fall out, or I had to have it propped up on my legs or a pillow or something and it was just really really awkward.

An image of hands holding knitting needes and throwing the working yarn with the right hand
An example of English style knitting

I made English style work for me and I knitted plenty of really cool things, but the more I knitted, and the faster I got, and then when I started using circular needles more often, I wasn't able to use my leg to hold up those needles and I got a lot less graceful. So finally, I decided to slow down a little bit and learn how to knit with the yarn in my left hand.

Crossing Over

I switched over in the middle of a project -- I don't know why. I was pregnant; who knows. At first it made my stitches super tight, then looser, and then they finally evened out, but my gauge was all over the place during this pattern. It looked terrible when it got done, so I do not recommend switching from one to the other mid-project. Finish one thing and then just do a couple of swatches like you did when you were first knitting, and practice that way.

It was awkward at first, just like everything when you're learning, but once I finally got the hang of it, I was hooked!

(I flubbed at the very beginning of the video and said English style is called “picking.” I meant to say throwing but didn’t even catch my mistake until it was too late to change it. I also messed up the graphics that pop up at the beginning of each section. Oh my, so embarrassing!

How I Hold the Yarn

This is how I situate the yarn around my fingers for Continental knitting,

I played around with a lot of different ways to hold the yarn and wrap it around various fingers before I finally landed on the right method for me.

I put my hand over the yarn and then I scoop my pinky under it and wind it around; once if it's a roughish yarn and twice if it's really slippery. Then I flip my hand back over palm down, get my index finger under it, and just grasp the needle.

Knitting Continental

When I do a stitch, rather than throwing the yarn around like I was doing before, I just pick it. That's why this is called picking.

It's a much smaller motion of the hands, which will cause less fatigue and strain, which is always a good thing.

Insert into the stitch - I do kind of bring the left index finger around, but it's a really slight motion. Then the right needle is actually grabbing the yarn.

I use my thumbs a lot to hold the stitches in place while I'm knitting, to keep them all from sliding off. Then whenever I need a little more slack in the yarn, I just stretch out my left pinky, and that helps me to keep a more even tension on the yarn, which in turn creates neater looking stitches.

I'm dying to know how you were taught! Leave me a comment and let me know if you were taught English or Continental, or something else; there are a lot of other interesting ways to hold the yarn too.

Taking Good Care of Those Wrists and Hands

When I was in cosmetology school, they ground into us from the very beginning not to work with your hands balled up and your wrists turned under. So, say you're cutting someone's hair and your hands are turned under all day, that's not very kind to your wrists; you're gonna set yourself up for carpal tunnel syndrome and then you won't be able to work anymore.

Well, it's the same risk for knitting. If you're knitting and you're holding your needles under, and your wrists are collapsed the carpal tunnel area is going to get crowded and possibly inflamed, and then if you start getting pain and tingling in your arm, that's no good!

The Importance of Posture

In my early 20s, when I was still doing hair full time and knitting every night, like any wild 20 year old, I started having those symptoms. So I had to really slow down and not worry about knitting so fast.

Relax your wrists and lean back; you want to make sure your shoulders are back and your chest is open. A lot of the time I'll find myself hunching over, just because, I don't know. I'm a huncher. So shoulders back, chest open so you can breathe, cross your legs if you need to, whatever. You want your whole upper half of your arms to be relaxed.

I could knit much longer this way before my hands wore out than I could when I was throwing.

You'll notice I didn't cover purling continental style, but I've got a whole other blog on that right here.

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23 mars
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I learned to knit as a child[ 5 yrs. old] Mom was from Norway and needle work was important to know. I learned English then continental. Do both

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