“Are you a picker or a thrower?” Try posing this question as an icebreaker at your next knitting-related gathering. You may get a few puzzled looks or an answer pertaining to baseball but the majority of knitters know that there is a great divide when it comes to technique. Although there is virtually no difference to the finished work, there is a huge distinction in the appearance and actual method of achieving that end result and a great deal of controversy over which method is the fastest.
Picking is the term which refers to Continental knitting, and involves the use of the opposite hand (usually the left) to hold the yarn. The tip of the working needle grabs or ‘picks’ the yarn while the left index finger acts as a lever to regulate tension by holding the yarn slightly up to tighten and down to slacken the stitch. The wrist is constantly in motion flicking forwards for purl position and backwards for knit. Hands are situated over the needles and there is a strong resemblance to crochet which makes it easier for dual crafters to adopt this style. Originating in Germany, Continental knitting made its way to surrounding countries in the early nineteenth century and eventually to North America where Elizabeth Zimmermann was instrumental in its introduction.
Throwing refers to the method of English knitting which consists of the yarn being held in the dominant hand (usually the right). The yarn runs from the ball around the baby finger and is wrapped over the index finger for tension control. An overhand position on the needles is generally more favorable although some knitters prefer an underhand hold for support. To create a stitch, the right hand moves upward reaching to ‘throw’ the yarn over the tip of the needle. This can be achieved by quickly releasing the right hand from its hold on the needle or with a bit of practice by sliding the hand along the shaft of the needle.
The Switch: There is always a fair bit of wiggle room for improving your knitting technique, and the payoff for learning both the Continental and the English method comes when you are working in fairisle. With practice and patience, holding one strand in the right and one strand in the left hand will vastly improve speed, plus the notorious tangled mess will be eliminated. If its just overall speed that you are hoping to achieve, then this instructional video on Continental knitting is a great place to start as well as signing up for a hands-on workshop at your local yarn shop.
Tip: To learn the Continental method try working on a sample in the round first, practicing just the knit stitch for a few days and then attempt the purl stitch on its own for a few days.