how I knit

I’m always fascinated by the thousands of different ways there are to knit. People learn from books, from teachers, from grandmothers, from mothers. We all make it comfortable for us, in our own ways.

My mom taught me to knit when I was about 8 years old. She knits English, so that’s how I knit. But even then we knit differently—back then, we only had straight needles (long ones!), and mom tucks the needle into the crook of her elbow, something I find impossibly awkward. I’ve since moved exclusively to circular needles, and after taking a class (in double knitting, natch!) at Stitches East, in which I sat next to a woman who knit Continental, I’ve switched to knitting with my left hand. (So I’m a completely self-taught Continental knitter—I saw it in action out of the corner of my eye, and I just unvented it for myself when I was back home.)

I’ve mentioned before, but I’ll say it again: Making the switch to Continental was really rather difficult. Getting an even gauge and even feeling comfortable with the motion (heck, remembering to knit Continental, and not just go back to the old way) took a lot of time. The payoff is so so worth it, though—I’d been a quick knitter before, but I’m lightning-fast now. And since I’m a product knitter, I like speed. (I’m also just an impatient person, so speed works for my personality.)

Here’s a video of me knitting. I don’t try to show you how to form a stitch, I don’t explain how I wrap the yarn: I am just working on my project. Note: This isn’t only knitting—I’m doing a k10, p1. Because purling looks so wacked out, and because I didn’t want people to be confused and think I was actually knitting the entire time, I say “purl” when I get to the purl. (So those of you who haven’t purchased the Tapestry Cowl or who don’t know me in person will get to hear my voice! If I sound stuffy, it’s fall allergy season.)

It’s funny to watch it and dissect the actions. Damn, I move the tips of my index fingers a LOT! Much more than I thought I did. In all the various times I’ve taught someone to knit, I’ve noticed more and more quirks to my style—how I hold the stitch I just knit with the tip of my right index finger. But there are some things I’d never realized until today—I feed myself more yarn by lightly pressing the middle finger of my left hand against the yarn.

I just filmed three short videos showing my technique in slower-motion—more of a tutorial on my version of Continental—with the aim to share that with you, too, but I’m having trouble getting them up onto the web. (And putting all 4 in one post might have been too much for the blog, anyway!) I hope I’ll be able to share them soon.

Knitting is so visual, and yet we rarely take the time to really look at how we do it. I’m loving making these little videos, and I hope to include video with all my future patterns so that the patterns are as clear as possible. But I maybe need some actual video editing software—as it is, I’m uploading straight out of the camera! Does anyone have a suggestion for something easy and, preferably, free?

45 Responses to how I knit

  1. ccr in MA says:

    I too find it interesting to watch my hands while I’m knitting, to see what “they” are doing. I certainly don’t consciously think of all those movements!

    You knit really fast! I was taught Continental (by my Norwegian grandmother), and I’m not that fast, I’m sure. Whew!

  2. Tana says:

    Boy, you knit fast! I taught myself English originally, then Continental, and then Combined. Combination knitting, I think, is the most efficient of the three, though there are people who do the other styles who are much faster than me. And yes, teaching yourself a different style of knitting like that does take time, patience and determination.

  3. Hazy says:

    I knit english because that was the way I was taught but I’ve tried many time to knit continental. I worry about getting sore hands the way you have to hold your left hand (I get cramp easy) but the fact that it is faster may sway me. Though I don’t think I should try to make the switch in the middle of my tapestry cowl, which I am absolutely loving!

  4. Fallon says:

    I can’t wait to see your other videos. I like viddler.com for uploading videos because it has a feature that allows you to post directly to your blog.

  5. Jenn says:

    Thanks for pointing out how hard it is to switch from English to Continental. I have tried to make the jump a few times, but it has never worked out. Seems like all I hear is how Continental is so much more efficient and speedy, but most people neglect to mention that changing is a difficult mental trick.

  6. bex says:

    Wow, I thought I was a pretty fast knitter, but you definitely have me beat. :) Maybe I’ll scrutinize your method for ways to improve my speed .

  7. nikki says:

    Wow! You are so fast! I’m a continental knitter, and my movements are quite similar to yours, except yours appear much more fluid. I’m going to have to study your movements to make some improvements to mine. I have limited knitting time these day, and if I could accomplish more in that time I’d be thrilled. Thanks for sharing. xo

  8. Punkin says:

    We are almost twin knitters. The yarn comes off my index finger closer to the tip of my finger. The tip of my finger does the same motion. Someone once told me that I am a flicker instead of a picker.

  9. Stephanie says:

    That is almost exactly how I knit…although you do your purl stitches more fluidly than I do. I am a self taught knitter as well and I actually grab the yarn with my thumb and pointer finger and pull it down in front to get the loop on for the purl stitch. It was the ONLY way I could figure out how to do it since the books didn’t say how the heck your hand was suppose to loop that loop and I couldn’t figure it out without wrapping the stitch the wrong way. I like your little flick instead though. I might have to try it. I can get going pretty fast when it’s just knitting but the purls definitely slow me down.

    I also hold that first stitch with my right hand and I am constantly pushing in the tip of the left needle with my right finger as well to push everything down.

  10. Veronique says:

    Great video! I’m an English knitter, and all my attempts at knitting in the Continental way have been awkward and frustrating… However, the only reason that I wanted to learn the Continental method was to be able to knit faster, and I think I knit at the same speed as you! :) Phew, now I feel like I don’t “have” to switch, ha ha!

  11. Ana says:

    Wow, you knit fast! How do you keep count? :)

    Thanks for the video. It´s great to see in such detail how other people knit.

    I knit with the yarn around my neck (“portuguese way”? I discovered yesterday people knit the same way there – that´s definitely no coincidence but I didn´t know it) and purling is the easiest thing to do that way. It is actually the first thing we are taught, knitting comes after you master purling.

    I can now knit continental (though I still prefer the portuguese way) but when there´s purling involved I prefer to have the yarn around my neck.

    People in Argentina use almost exclusively straight needles (the use of round ones is starting to spread now, with the internet) and the hold one of them between the arm and the body and wrap the yarn in a similar way to English. I cannot imagine a less ineffective way to knit but I guess it´s just me, because I´m not used to it.

  12. jane says:

    Wow, you’re fast! I don’t know continental usually, but when I do, I do it pretty much exactly like you, including holding the stitch I just knit with my index finger. I don’t think I do my purls like yours, though – but you were so fast, it’s a bit hard to tell! Yours really seemed to flow from knit to purl very easily. I’m encouraged to persevere with Continental style, though – I’m glad it’s not just me who finds it slow and frustrating at the beginning. Right now, I keep giving up and going back to English style, but I might find myself a fairly simple project and give Continental a proper whirl. I knew there must be a good reason for casting on for something else :)
    Thanks for the great video!

  13. tiennie says:

    Wow you are lightning fast! I’m an english knitter but I can knit continental too. I just can’t do it in the dark so I stick with the english. :) Maybe I should just practice more?

  14. brenda in toronto says:

    i love this! i have no idea how it looks when i knit – i’m going to film myself tonight :)

    do you have the iLife suite on your mac? if so, iMovie is great. it’s what i use for my videos…

  15. Heather says:

    Wow–lightening fast indeed! Now you are motivating me to want to relearn continental. I was surprised when I went to Belgium to see everyone holding the long needles in the crook of their arms. They were just as perplexed by my circulars:)

  16. rebecca says:

    I love knitting continental, but I struggle *SO MUCH* with my gauge. I blame it all on that darned purl stitch, but I see that you purl pretty much the way that I do…. Hm.

  17. Wanett says:

    I knit the same way, my purls are slightly different though. I realized, while trying to teach my little cousin to knit, that I have tons of weird habits that do not translate well.

  18. Julie says:

    I learned English in my knitting class, but taught myself Continental before starting a ribbed project because I’d heard it was so much quicker and simpler to switch in Continental. I’m glad I switched. But, I’m still no where near as fast as you! Wow!

  19. sixoneseven says:

    ohhh, this looks so tempting. i’ve tried to switch so many times, but i always revert back–the purl is really the dealbreaker. maybe i just need to start out with a giant stockinette rectangle to get myself used to it.

  20. Anu says:

    Okay, I’m going to try the Continental thing again! You’ve inspired me. You’re so fast, and I’m definitely looking to get faster. And I’m definitely “results” over “process” in the knitting department, so I’ll have to devote a bit of time to learn in order to be faster in the long run. Anyway, love the blog! Thanks for the video.

  21. Daphne says:

    Hey there — I knit almost exactly like this as well. Maybe it’s the self-taught continental thing. I did my purls backwards for a really long time, too, but that’s just my own personal Special-ness.

    Also — I just added you as a friend on Ravelry. I am getting the feeling some people are more finicky about Rav friends than I am. I’m not a collector, but add folks who are knitting interesting pieces that I want to keep track of. So now I’m self-conscious about it and am letting you know.

  22. Mandy says:

    Holy cow – as someone just teaching herself Continental “style”, you give me hope! It feels so slow right now, but it’s definitely faster than when I first started. I’d say that I knit both English and Continental about the same speed right now, but I keep plugging away. I can’t wait to see a slower speed version – thanks for sharing!!

  23. Nonnahs says:

    This is a great post! Makes me wonder how my hands really look while I’m knitting. I learned English first, but then I taught myself Continental and never looked back. (Although for colorwork I do both.) I can’t knit nearly as FAST as you though – I’ll need to work on it! ;)

  24. Laura says:

    amazing! i always enjoy watching how other people knit. i have tried to knit (just knit, not purl) continental style and it feels so awkward and strange. and my gauge is a mess. one of these days i will sit down with a new, simple project and power through the weird feeling; your incredible speed is inspiring!

  25. Jennifer says:

    I recall seeing you knit in person (I think I sat behind you at a Kaffe Fassett lecture). I didn’t realize who you where, but all I could think was “damn, she knits fast!” You think you move your fingers a lot, but I see a real conservation of movement. I feel like all my limbs are moving in different directions when I knit!

  26. Chante says:

    Great video, its funny how you move your index finger on your left hand because I do the same thing but on my right hand. I’m actually the total opposite of you. I currently knit with the yarn in my left hand (I can’t remember the diff between continental and the other way) but I’m trying desperately to find a comfortable way to knit with the yarn in my right hand. The reason being that I do have lotsa speed by using the “picking” method but my stitches aren’t very even & neat looking. I’ve tried millions of different ways to adjust the tension but they don’t work. The only way I get nice even stitches is by “throwing” but it takes too long and my hands feel uncomfortable and they cramp up. Oh well, maybe I’ll try and work on it some more.

  27. Preita says:

    I knit continential. I don’t know why. I was taught by my mom when I was 12 & she knits english. I think it’s because she taught me crochet at the same time too?

    I have to say though, I will take my picking over throwing any day. Throwing looks like a lot of work!

  28. whitney says:

    Wow, you’re speedy! I’m not sure what to call the way that I knit…sort of like English, but left-handed, but knitting in the same direction as righties do? If I ever get access to a camera that can do videos again, I’ll try to record it to see what it really looks like!

  29. Amanda says:

    Holy smoke, are you fast! Jeez, I need to work on my skillz! I never knit with anyone else, so I hardly ever get a good sense of how speedy (or not) I am. No wonder you crank out the FOs so quickly!

  30. Cassy says:

    I love continental. My purling is a little different. I’m going to try your way because I hold the yarn differently when I’m doing ribbing and yours seems to go so fast.

  31. penny says:

    i knit continential but from my crochet years i never really learned how to wrap the yarn around my fingers so i could go zoom. i figured it out for purling but haven’t quite gotten knit. thank you for posting this (i’ve been trying /not/ to search through youtube) — i may have found a trick or two. :)

    i agree, mac/imovie is the easiest/cheapest i’ve found for video editing. imovie is intuitive and lets you do lots of things right out of the box; if i figured it out, anyone can (i’m a complete dork with video/images). i’d love to find something free/open a la gimp but i’m not aware of anything …

  32. Lisa says:

    You knit at lightning speed! Now I see how you get so many great projects done so quickly. I knit with the yarn in my left hand as well, but it looks nothing like your technique. I am completely self-taught, using a really cruddy “learn to knit” book I picked up.

    Love your idea of putting up a video with each FO!

  33. earthchick says:

    That is so freakin’ cool – WOW you are fast. I knit Continental, but it pretty much looks nothing like how you do it. In fact, it might be more accurate to call it left-handed English or something, I don’t know. But it’s so cool to see how you knit – AND to finally get a glimpse at how you crank out all those beautiful FOs!

  34. Nell says:

    Watching yourself knit has to be like listening to your own voice. You notice a LOT more than you would otherwise.

    I may have to try to learn Continental. I think it will be tough to change but it might be a fun experiment!

  35. Kate A. says:

    Wow, you’re the first person I’ve ever seen who knits exactly like me! Interestingly, I knit that way for pretty much the same reasons you do: I originally learned English as a little kid, then was re-taught to knit Continental, and that combined with traces of my hazy early English habits into exactly the knitting you show here! Complete with all the excess movement of index fingers! I’m fast, too. Glad to know it’s not just me!

  36. Judi P in Cleveland says:

    I’m in the process of switching from English to Continental for basically the same reasons with the additional point that, for my daughter at least, Continental ultimately results in a noticeably more even fabric.

    Unfortunately, I’m not having that experience yet. I’m getting rowing-out and every once in a while a random, very-enlarged stitch for no apparent reason. I’m not givng up, though, and I believe that, like with most knitting challenges, stubbornness will out!

    Anyhow, I really appreciate your description of how difficult the switch is, and even more your conclusion that it’s worth it.

    By the way, I recently took a class from Annie Modisett in her “combined” knitting technique, and I’m adopting her Eastern-style purl (at the same time I switch to Continental, because that wasn’t stressful enough ;-)because I find it a lot easier to execute than the “correct” Continental-style purl. Unfortunately, I think it’s the Eastern-style purl that’s causing my rowing out. Annie explained that both the English and Continental-style purls require a longer path for the yarn to be wrapped around the needle than the corresponding knit stitch, and for many knitters, this causes rowing out in either style. With the Eastern-style purl, the opposite is the case, and the knit rows are actually looser than the purl rows until you get enough practice so that you automatically compensate (which must be what I was doing with my old all-English-all-the-time style, because I’ve never had rowing out before!).

    Anyhow, I’m knitting a dozen small squares for a finishing class I’m taking on Sunday sponsored by the local guild, and that’s given me lots of practice. And I’m doing about 10 times more swatching for my next project than I ordinarily would. And it’s getting better! And I’m not giving up!!

  37. nakia says:

    Do you have to concentrate on relaxing your wrists for that speed? I knit the same way but I tense up when picking up that kind of speed. Very impressive.

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