English versus Continental Knitting

So, what’s the deal with English versus Continental knitting? It’s all to do with which hand you hold the working yarn in – left or right. There are infinite personal flavors of knitting style, but these are the two categories. One or the other knitting style tends to be predominant based on your geographical location. Most of us living in the United States are English-style knitters. Supposedly, (disclaimer: I learned this on the internet) Continental knitting fell out of favor in the United States during World War II due to its association with Germany.

English knitting is most common in North America and Western Europe. English knitters are often called “throwers” because they hold the working yarn in their right hand and “throw” it around the right needle in order to make a new stitch. Throwing requires a whole-hand movement, and typically involves letting go of the right needle for a brief second in order to throw the yarn.

These terms all mean the same thing:

  • English Knitting
  • American Knitting
  • Throwing

Left: Kim knitting English-style at Maine’s Fastest Knitter Race. Right: Andi knitting Continental-style at Maine’s Fastest Knitter Race.

Continental knitting is most common in Eastern Europe, Northern Europe and South America. Continental knitters are often called “pickers” because they hold the working yarn in their left hand, and “pick” it with their right needle in order to make a new stitch. It requires more finger motion and less hand motion. Among masters of this technique, Continental knitting is often considered faster than English knitting because it requires smaller, more efficient hand movements. (It makes a certain logical sense, but the video below begs to differ.) Continental knitting also may be easier to learn for new knitters with crocheting experience because the motion is more similar to crochet. 

These terms all mean the same thing:

  • Continental Knitting
  • German Knitting
  • Picking

Knowing both styles can be beneficial for several reasons:

  • If you ever suffer from hand and wrist fatigue, switching back and forth periodically will relieve the stress caused by the alternate technique.
  • If you’re doing stranded color work, you can use both techniques at one time by holding one color in each hand.
  • The two techniques will usually result in different levels of tension. You can use this to your advantage if you’re trying to achieve a specific stitch gauge!
  • Personal enlightenment – the more things you know, the better, right?

Now, let me clear up a few misconceptions about English and Continental knitting.

First, neither style is particularly better for left-handed knitters. Nor is there any reason for lefties to favor knitting backwards, as in moving stitches from the right needle to the left as they’re worked. If you like to knit that way, then I salute you – expect confusion over pattern comprehension and inter-knitter communication, but never feel constrained! Both English and Continental knitting styles and the usual left-to-right direction work just as well for people of either dominant hand persuasion. I promise. I’m a lefty and I’ve met and taught a lot of fellow lefties.

Second, some people believe that English or Continental knitting is the best way, the correct way, the fastest way, or otherwise objectively better than the other way, but of course there’s no wrong way when all paths lead to knitting satisfaction!

Third, whether you choose English or Continental style has no impact on the actual structure of the knitted fabric. You can not tell which technique was used by looking at the work. However, there is a whole other blog post that Mim already wrote about stitch mount and yarn wrap direction, which do impact the structure of the fabric! If you’ve ever heard of “Eastern Knitting”, that refers to a knitted fabric in which all of the stitches are twisted.

I’m sure you will enjoy this video – in 2008 Hazel Tindall, an English-style knitter, was declared the world’s fastest knitter by the Guinness Book of World Records!

If you want to learn whichever technique you don’t know yet, we’ve got a class coming up this Sunday! Mim is planning on teaching the English knitters how to knit Continental and the Continental knitters how to knit English. Just like when you were a brand new knitter, trying out the other method may feel completely awkward at first. Having a teacher to show you exactly what to do with your hands will probably help!

 

Written by Lauren Chesis

Lauren Chesis

One Comment on “English versus Continental Knitting

  1. I love watching Hazel Tindall knit! As an English dominant knitter (meaning I am fluent in both but my default method is throwing), I feel vindicated when the Continental folks start to feel superior about their speed. I’m no wise as fast as Hazel, but I’m pretty speedy with my throwing method. I can’t wait to teach you all how to expend your knitting tool box by picking up the method you don’t have yet, be it English or continental xo

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