November 18, 2012

Guides for Self-Taught Knitters: All the Different Ways to Knit and Where to Learn Them

There are many books and webpages out there that let one teach themselves to knit.  If your book or website sucked, it would have just showed you how to knit.  That is, the author showed you one way to knit because that's how you do it, right?

Wrong.  There are multiple styles of knitting, and all are valid ways of producing knit and purl stitches.  A good self-teaching book will cover this, as all that matters is using the style that's most comfortable to you, and it's better to learn that style up front.  However, every self-taught knitter...hell, every knitter...should at least be familiar with the different styles of knitting.

Why, you may ask? Because knowing the different styles lets you:
  • Find the best method for you.  This may be the one you learned from the book you bought or your grandmother.  But you may find that you're more conformable or faster with a style you had no clue about before.
  • Use the best method for the situation.  For example, stranded color knitting is easier if you can knit using both of the most popular styles.
  • Understand some pattern assumptions that arise based on the knitter's own way of knitting.
  • Help or, ever better, demonstrate any method to a newbie (because your preferred way may not be someone else's).
  • Impress your knitting friends with your knowledge.  They may even think you're a better knitter than you are! (this is a double edged sword, so tread lightly).
So, lets get down to it.  One disclaimer, there may be other ways that I don't know about, so don't be offended if I don't mention some of the more obscure styles.  However, do let me know about them!

Oh, and this is an overview, not a teaching guide.  Use the links located in the 'So You Want to Learn It?' sub-section of each style to find good written and video instructions.

English Style
Also known as American style, this is the style you most likely learned from your crappy book you bought or that random website you found.  Very common in the Western world and in learn-to-knit guides for some reason.

What It Is
Either letting the yarn hang down or holding it in the right hand, the knitter produces stitches by using the right hand to wrap the yarn around the right needle.

The Positives
  • It's one of the styles you need to know for easy stranded knitting.
  • If you're a righty non-yarn-crafter, you may find this style easier to learn (as most of the action is done by your right hand).
  • It's pretty straightforward, and there's lots of instructions on it if it isn't.
The Negatives
  • It's easy to twist your stitches.  Just forget which way the yarn wraps around the needle.
  • It takes more movement to produce your stitches, so not the fastest method out there.
So You Want to Learn It? has series of videos on their site (second listed, page is for knit stitch but purl is in the menu).  They also have the purl video on YouTube. And now they even have the styles named right (when I first found the site, they had English and Continental swapped).

I like TECHKnitter for not only good instructions, but also explanations on why it works.  Link goes to knit stitch, see top for purl.

For Dummies isn't a bad series, and they have their knitting guides online (link also to knit stitch).

Searching YouTube always helps (so you can figure out how exactly you like to hold the yarn and so forth).

Continental Style
Also known as German style or Left Handed Knitting (not to be confused with backwards knitting), this is the other common method in the Western world.

What It Is
Holding the yarn in your left hand, you use your right needle to 'pick', or grab the working yarn through the stitch on the left hand needle.

The Positives
  • It's the other style you need for stranded knitting.
  • It's also straightforward and common enough to find good instructions.
  • Once you get use to it, it's fast.  There's less movement involved in this style.
  • If you're a right-handed crocheter, this style will most likely be the easiest to learn (as you hold the yarn in the same hand, keep tension in a similar manner, and move the right needle similar to a crochet hook). 
  • May be easier for left-handed people, as you control tension using the left hand.
The Negatives
  • If you've already been taught English style, it may be hard to learn.
  • There's a bigger difference between the knit and purl stitch, and purling is trickier in this method.
  • If you're an extreme righty, holding tension in your left hand may be tricky. 
So You Want to Learn it?

The For Dummies guide, TECHKnitter, and's YouTube video series also have guides for this style.  KnittingHelp also has all their videos on their site (first listed). All links go to the knit stitch like before.

Personally, I purl using my thumb to pull down the yarn, though I can't find where I learned to do that (and I don't think it's the best way, just the way that I fell into).  I find that the continental style of purling has the most variation, so you may need to do some hunting to find the best way for you.

Another awesome way to purl when you use this style is called Norwegian Purling.  Very helpful for ribbing, as you don't need to switch your yarn from the back to the front.

Also, most these guides will tell you to wrap the yarn around your pinky for tension. This video shows an alternate way of holding the yarn (start at time stamp 0:50). While I also don't have the link from where I learned this, this is how I hold the yarn:

I find that searching for 'speed knitting continental' on YouTube may net you some good videos if you're learning this way to knit faster.

Combination Style
Eastern styles meets western styles to produce a more uncommon but interesting way to knit.

What It Is
The knitter deliberately twists their stitches so that the live loops face the opposite way, allowing the knitter to insert the needle in the front for both the knit and purl stitches (Doing this un-twists the stitch, therefore still ending up with the correct knit and purl stitch in the fabric).

The Positives
  • Knit and purl stitches can come out more even.
  • Style can be merged with either English or Continental (that is, you can hold the yarn in either hand).  This is because both of those styles are Western styles, and this is a merger between western and eastern.
The Negatives
  • Some pattern re-interpretation is needed, as decreases slant the opposite way when done in this style.
  • Nowhere near as common as English and Continental style, so getting help may be a challenge.
So You Want to Learn it?

A slightly better description can be found on this style's Wikipedia page

One of the best known people who use this technique is Annie Modesitt.  That link goes to her comprehensive online guides on this style.

I first found out about this style when reading Grumperina's blog.  That link goes to her set of how-to videos on this style.

KnittingHelp also has a video on YouTube for the knit stitch in this method and its also on their site (third listed).

Backwards (Mirror) Knitting
This isn't really a style, but instead a method of knitting by swapping the actions for each hand in one of the above styles.  To really confuse you, this is also sometimes called Left-Handed Knitting.

What It Is
Backwards knitting is where you use your preferred style to work left to right instead of right to left. In all the styles above, no matter what hand you hold the yarn in, you use your right needle to pull the yarn through a loop on your left needle, which produces the new live stitch on the right needle.  When you mirror knit, you instead use the left needle to pull the yarn through a stitch on the right needle, producing the new stitch on the left needle.

The Positives
  • May be the easiest way to knit for someone who's left-handed (hence why it's sometimes called left-handed knitting).
  • You can avoid purling when flat knitting by knitting the purl rows this way. Also helpful when knitting a pattern that involves constantly going back and forth for short distances (for example, entrelac).
The Negatives
  • If you mirror knit exclusively, you will have to re-interpret any pattern you use, as almost all patterns assume right to left knitting. This can be very confusing and a source of errors.  This is also why it's recommended that those who are left-handed try to learn one of the styles above first (that, and knitting  really does utilize both hands in manipulating the stitches, so non-mirrored knitting isn't strongly 'right-handed' in the first place. However, you are still using your right hand to wrap/pick the yarn, which may trouble some left-handed people.  All I can say is choose your negative).
So You Want to Learn It?

KnittingHelp suggests to hold a mirror up to their video to learn how to do it backwards (see last section), though I'm including this to more laugh at it (Really? How are you going to hold up a mirror and knit with the video?).

This video on YouTube shows how to do this English style.

This video, on the other hand, shows it in Continental style.

The styles above are all the ones I know about as of now.  I'll add to this post if I find other styles in my knitting travels.  And yes, I know I'm missing Eastern knitting styles...but as I'm in the western world,  I still need to learn about those myself.

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