Continental, or American/English

So, I originally learned to knit from videos of American knitters as well as from English publications. I've been knitting in English style for quite some time now, and am comfortable with it, and it is effective for my purposes.

I do, however, live in Germany, where seemingly everyone knits in Continental style. Regardless of how comfortable I feel with English style, I always have the impression that those knitting in Continental style are simply faster. I also get the impression that it's easier to maintain the amount of tension per stitch in this fashion. I've tried to learn Continental style, but to no avail. I'm a pretty coordinated guy, but somehow just can't get this method up to a workable speed.

The main reason i've been thinking about this, is because i'm about to start a vintage windcheater and I would like to be able to knit faster, so i'd like to tackle Continental style (or else, I have the feeling this sweater is going to take forever).

I suppose the point of this blog is simply to hear opinions from all of you as per which style you prefer, and to hear if any of you have had similar issues in the learning process.

Thanks :)


rjcb3's picture

The best thing to do is to learn both and be confident with using both; even if you are more comfortable with one method over the other.


bekendbrt's picture

Believe me, i've made a respectable effort to learn. I just can't internalize the motions though. Can you do both? Do you think one is more effective than the other?

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

purlyman's picture

I've finally learned to do both and I'm really comfortable knitting continental but still don't have the purling down that well. It's extremely helpful when working with two colors. I'm probably biased since I've been knitting English/American since I started seven years ago, but I do feel like I have more control over tension and what's happening in general when I'm doing English/American. Elizabeth Zimmerman preferred continental but she also preferred to always knit in the round and avoid purling at all costs and I think it might be that she also found continental purling somewhat troublesome. Good luck!!


You haven't been knitting all that long, and I would like to assure you that you will knit faster in English style the more knitting you do. It's all a matter of practice and improvement. By the way, I am an English English style knitter and when I see ladies knitting here in Spain they, too, are knitting English style.

steve kadel's picture

i lived in hamburg, bochum and vienna. where are you

i picked a terrible day to give up sniffing glue

we put birds on things

bekendbrt's picture


I currently live in Köln, and have been here for a few years.

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

I think that either method works great, at least if you're right-handed. I originally learned English method at 7 from the girl across the street, and was forced to do continental by a dogmatic Flemish teacher when I was 11 in Holland. Since then, I prefer continental, and hold the yarn as in this video:

There's even a third method. You might decide that you prefer the Portuguese / Greek (? + other Mediterranean) method. All of them are illustrated online.

Have fun; don't let it frustrate you.

DeceptiveCookie's picture

I just picked up learning continental (after knitting English for over 7 years now), and I do admit it feels faster now that I've learned the motions. Best way to do it is force yourself... I still find myself doing a couple of stitches in English when I first pick up the project I decided to learn on (it's the only project I'm currently working on, and I'm trying to do it all in continental.... an 80 stitch wide 1x1 ribbed colorblock wrap using about 5 balls of yarn at 215 yards each... just knit and purl until you run out, and change color.)

It takes time... my stitches are still pretty wonky, learning it involves muscle memory and practice. YouTube is your friend, and I suggest trying all the different ways to hold yarn to find one that is most comfortable- it took about 2 balls of yarn to figure out the hold I was most comfortable with.

Keep working at it, you'll get it eventually!

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

I have to agree with everyone's comments. I am equally skilled with both styles but find myself doing more Continental as it is easier on my wrists, especially with the fine yarns and needles for my sockwork. I can switch back and forth within the same project and maintain even tension but that only happened because of lots of practice. As to purling, I learned from a book written by a Swiss woman so I have very little extra motion to do it. There are links on the internet to "Norwegian Style Purl" that show it - my version is the one where you do not put the needle point behind the needle to go into the next stitch and work the purl. Some German knitting books also show the same method I use, where you swoop upwards and snag the yarn before pulling it back through the stitch. Lots of luck. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

bekendbrt's picture

Thanks for your comment!

The main thing that drew me to Continental was the fact that it seemed, watching old (and young, but mostly old ^^ ) German women do it, that the wrist movements seemed much finer, and therefore, efficient.

I just checked out a few videos on Norwegian Purl, and it seems to fit a lot better when switching between Continental knit, in that you don't have to stop to move the yarn to the front.

The only thing I'm wondering is how you do a yarn over in Norwegian purl. I couldn't find any videos on that.

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

I'm afraid I can't comment on yarnovers in Norwegian knitting. With the way I learned Continental, all I do to work knits and purls is move my finger slightly forward or back to position the yarn. [A seed stitch project is a great way to learn that technique.] And for a yarnover, I only need to snag the yarn before knitting the next stitch. Once you get the hang of it, it can be done as quickly as thinking about fact I often have to frog back and take out a yarnover that isn't part of the pattern because I say to myself, "Don't forget the YO." LOL -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Update: I just found a video through knittingguide 101. com on Continental purling that is very similar to my style...I don't steady the purl with my fingertip but the actions are almost identical. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

2manyhobbies's picture

In addition to choosing between English (throwing the yarn) and Continental (picking the yarn) knitting styles, you can also choose between Eastern and Western. The difference between the two is whether the stitches are oriented with the right side post or the left side to the front.

For Western style, you knit through the front of the loop where the loop is oriented on the right needle with the right side towards the front, and you perl as you normally would. For Eastern style, instead you knit through the back of the loop, but this leaves all your stitches crossed.

But, there is a third way called Combined knitting, where you knit through the back of loop, but you perl by wrapping the yarn in the opposite direction. This is my "natural" knitting sytle (the one I accidentally stumbled into teaching myself to knit with Mary Thomas' book).

There are those who claim that Combined knitting is faster than both English and Continental style, and I've also heard claims that knit/perl tension is more even in stockinette stitch. Your milage may vary.

If you want to try Combined knitting, you do need to modify how you do left-leaning and right-leaning decrements, as it's sort of opposite how you do them western style (you reverse ssk and k2tog). Also, you cannot do combined knitting in the round (since there aren't any perl stitches to compensate for knitting through the back of the stitch, you end up with eastern knitting and crossed stitches).

bekendbrt's picture

This sounds utterly confusing :) Have you had a hard time sort of re-interpreting patterns for yourself?

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

2manyhobbies's picture

The only re-interpreting really for combined knitting is for left- versus right-leaning decrements (where you're substituting ssk for k2tog and vice versa). Other than that, for flat-knitting, everything else works the same in combined knitting.

Like everything with knitting, the "doing it" and the "talking about it" are entirely different experiences. Knitting through the back part of the loop instead of the front is pretty easy to pick up - it's the same as what you do in western knitting if you want to twist a stitch (a "k1b").

Combined perling is the more difficult part to convert to I think. Just pay attention to the direction you normally wrap the yarn around the needle when you do a "regular" (western-style) perl, and instead wrap it the other way. Then, look at your stitch from the public-side. If it's not crossed, you've perled the right direction.

This website has excellent animations showing you how :

For me, combined knitting is "just knitting", and everything else seemed very confusing for a long time. It wasn't until I went to a combined knitting workshop at the recent men's knitting retreat that I realized what I was doing differently from most everyone else.

Tom Hart's picture

Three words: Por. Chu. Geez. It's the yarn around the neck method. Ridiculously easy. And unbeatable for color work. But if it doesn't appeal to you check out the Irish cottage method. It's a variation on the English style and from the videos I've seen on YouTube it is hella fast. I can do Continental as well as the Norwegian purl. It just didn't grab me but I wasn't really looking for speed.

bekendbrt's picture

I actuall just checked out a video on Portuguese, and it seems pretty easy! Can you give me any pros/cons? Some people say that with Portuguese, the knit stitches wind up being too tight. Has this been your experience?

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

"Art is the triumph over chaos." -John Cheever

Tom Hart's picture

OK, the advantages of this method would be:
1) the effortlessness, i.e., you don’t hold, throw, wrap or pick the yarn, you simply flip the yarn coming down from your neck over the tip of the needle with your thumb and complete the stitch as you would with any other method, and there’s no tensioning of the yarn: if you run it under your collar like a neck tie, your collar provides the necessary drag for tensioning the yarn and
2) for color work there’s no possibility of tangling the colors of yarn because one color feeds in from the right and the other color feeds in from the left.

The disadvantage of this method is that you’re kind of “tied up” while you’re knitting. You’ve got one ball of yarn on the floor on your right side and another on the floor on your left side. Both yarns are running up on either side of you from the floor, under your collar, around your neck and down to the work in your hands. If you want to get up for any go to the bathroom, answer the door, get something to drink, turn off the stove,’s a bit of a process. With English or continental you can just put the work down; with the Portuguese method you have to get out from under it.

But in the end, the more styles you can do, the better. Frexample, if you wanted to use four colors in the same row, you could do two Portuguese, one continental and one English. Not that I can see myself ever actually doing that...

As far as the knit versus purl goes, I suppose purling would be the easier of the two with the Portuguese method. If I were going to do garter stitch I'd definitely purl it all instead of knitting it but I'm double knitting something right now and with double knitting it's knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, purl... And it's going along OK enough. I'm not having any problems or issues with the knits.

I should probably also add that I've only been knitting for one year. So I'm very much a beginner at this game but I'm also really, really liking it a lot. It's like nothing I've ever done before. Not even close.

PieintheSky88's picture

I've never done anything besides Continental (except a strange, twisted version of combination knitting... it's complicated, and still painful to discuss...), but the few times I've tried English, I will say that Continental proved easier in terms of tension and speed. I found, also, that as a right-handed knitter English was sometimes difficult because I couldn't grasp the idea of my mostly-steady hand being my left. When I work in Continental, I know the left hand is in charge of tension and the loops, etc., but it allows me to use my right hand for everything that requires larger movement. I don't know if this helps at all, but I hope it does =)

Best wishes from a fellow singer! I'd love to hear about your musical endeavors in Germany- I have a friend from my music school who just spent a semester in Austria, he had an amazing trip.


*All an actor has is their blind faith that they are who they say they are today in any scene.*
~Meryl Streep

*All an actor has is their blind faith that they are who they say they are today in any scene.*
~Meryl Streep

Gregory Patrick's picture

I agree with Robert. Be a ninja and learn all methods, and there are soooo many methods out there. Like knitting without turning, all kinds of weird ways to achieve the same end. I learned continental only because I alredy knew how to crochet, and holding the yarn and picking it up was terribly similar. What is a "windcheater(?)" dying to know.

rjr585's picture

Learning a new style can be very ffrustrating at first. My recommendation is to try to knit about 15 minutes with the new style each day. I first learned continental because my mother taught me to crochet first and contintental was the most natural transition. At some point, you are going to want to be comfortable with all styles for various projects i.e. color work, intarsia etc. I often use many styles in the same project. Learning English was a cahllenge for me, I felt like I was all thumbs and had trouble keeping stich tension even. Keep trying, don't give up the rewards with be worth it!

waterback74's picture

I forced myself to learn continental because I desperately wanted to increase my knitting speed and reduce hand movement. I'm also a nut for analyzing and eliminating split-second delays like the ones I got when reorienting the working yarn to switch from knit to purl. One of my favorite fabrics is seed stitch and I hated making it using the English method. It was suggested to me to knit a scarf using only continental method and garter stitch and not practice on a garment that I wished to turn out perfectly. In the beginning it was so frustrating that I wanted to cry and hit someone. At the 1/3rd mark, I felt like I had a handle on tension and finger movement; at the 2/3rds mark I felt really good about it and was pleased with how natural the movement felt at the end. After the garter scarf and making friends with the continental knit stitch, I made a scarf of seed stitch. The progression of feeling comfortable doing a purl was the same as with knit and the sense of accomplishment was tremendous. In addition to increased speed and reduction of movement, it is also nice to be able to use both methods at the same time for certain kinks of 2-color work.

TheKnittingMill's picture

I've always knitted English since I'm so right-hand dominate, but learning to knit Continental has been very beneficial for stranding and fair isle carrying a different color in each hand. I swear the first couple of times I gave it an ernest attempt, I ended up at the bottom of my closet rocking back and forth! I stuck with it and slowly, but surely, it eventually felt natural. I've recently learned to adopt the "flicking" method of English knitting and it's very fast! Like others have stated, I often use more than one method in the same project.

scottly's picture

I think with knitting as with most things the more ways you learn to skin the cat the better off you are. I didn't know Continental exisited for the first twenty years I knit. I wasn't really a serious knitter either. Then I quit smoking and decided to really learn how to knit just to keep my hands and mind busy. I got a hold of a copy of Stitch 'N Bitch and discoverd that Continental was good for lefties like me and the movements were very simalar to crochet which my mother taught me when I was six or seven. For me it is faster, easier, quieter, I can knit in tight places and I have much better control over tension. I haven't knitted English since I started knitting Continental. But that's me - we all take to things differently. Learn it and see how you like it I'll bet you never go back.