Continental knitting??

Ok so this weekend I taught myself continental knitting. I came up with a few issues and I'm wondering if these are common and if anyone else has experienced them. First I experimented with different ways of holding the yarn as it was difficult to find one that felt ok, and even though I did eventually find one, I would have to stop every two rows because of the pain in my left hand. Ok, they're long rows of 300 stitches, but still... I'm wondering if the pain will go away as I get more familiar with this style of knitting...

The other issue, my gage and tension was horrible, probably because this method is new to me and I get changing how I was holding the yarn... Still I don't remember it being that bad when I learned to knit the other way...

Has anyone else experienced this, is it normal? Any pointers?

There was one immediate advantage, it goes much faster...


ronhuber's picture

Were you unhappy with your "other way" of knitting? It is an advantage to know both methods when doing colour work (although colour work can be done with only one method), but really, there is no right way to knit. I would say that if you were knitting without pain and with even tension then you were doing it right. For me speed is not important. If you decide to knit a sweater by hand instead of buying one, does it matter whether it took you 42 hours instead of 35 hours? Not that many people knit as a job. I am comfortable with both methods but prefer English for the even tension I can achieve. There are many who are the opposite. You have to find your own manner of producing something you are happy with.

davidjames181's picture

I was happy with the other method, I was just very slow at it. The work was good, and the tension nice but I started making a BIG blanket for my hubby to give as a gift when we move into our new home and I wanted to finish it before me move this summer... The way I was knitting before I would do one row a night, it would have taken years...

bobshome's picture

Well - pain should not be part of the process! I do knit continental. I don't wrap the yarn around my little finger (of the left hand) like most you tube knitters.
The yarn comes up between my little finger and the ummm - wedding ring finger, along the top of my other fingers and then wraps twice around my index finger. I used to wrap it once but I knit loosely so that solved that problem.
Good Luck

davidjames181's picture

Thanks, I'll give that a try, the whole wrapping around the pinky, and the holding it with the index and gripping the needle and currently stitch with the thumb and middle finger.... well it was just too much work for my left hand that doesn't have as much mobility as my right.

I noticed that towards the end of the evening the yarn kind of found its on place in my hand and so did the needles. It looked nothing like the instructions that I had found but the tension wasn't bad... A little tighter that when I knit the other way, but definitely more consistent... I'll definitely give your method a try tonight and see how it feels. Thanks!

YarnGuy716's picture

I knit Continental. I learned to knit in the 80's when it was "the way" to learn how to knit. When I teach it, especially to those who already knit English, I stress that they will be starting all over again. There will be the same clumsiness, lack of speed and tension.

As for pain in your hand... are you doing the "death grip" on your needles? Is the yarn wrapped so tightly around your fingers that circulation is being cut off? You also might want to start with something smaller than 300 st rows to learn and make your mistakes on. Get comfortable with the process a bit, just like you did when you first learned to knit.

For holding the yarn... I go between the pinkie and ring fingers, going in through the back of the hand and out through the palm side. Then under the fingers and over and back on the index finger. If I'm just doing plain stockinette I go over the index finger once, if I'm knitting and purling I wrap it another time. But this is not a harnd and fast rule, more of what "feels right" when I knit.

davidjames181's picture

haha, I think the problem is the death grip lol! To be honest I'm finding the process of continental easy and much more logical, also the moment required to create a stitch is smaller, which I like. Its just the logistics of holding the needles and yarn that will take a bit more getting used to.
It definitely wasn't a circulation problem, the pain was is ball located at the base of the thumb in the palm... its actually still a bit sensitive... feels like muscular pain. Probably because I'm not use to using that hand as much.

herbie74's picture

I too have just started this week learning Continental.

On the Bulky yarn I started with I really didn't have issues. On the worsted-weight I'm using now, it's all over the place. Sometimes the tension is fine, sometimes it's horribly loose or horribly tight and I can't tell that I've changed anything with my hands.

I'm Right-handed, and I'm going from doing nothing more than gripping the left needle, to now needing to hold it and control tension with it, so it's going to take a while for my brain to adjust.

Weirdly, I find I'm actually tensing my left foot when I go to purl. Go fig.

Like you said above, it's getting better as I continue working on it. Good luck with getting the hang of it, and stop if it hurts! ;-]

davidjames181's picture

thats the problem I was having! I'm using worsted, and didn't even notice I was doing anything different until I looked the finished row and thought WTF... it had like a wave pattern to it. I'm doing garter stitch...
I haven't tried purl yet but, I'm right handed as well so its a big adjustment for the left one to have so much work to do...
Good luck to you too!

I first taught myself English style knitting from a book. I made a vest, and then the USO on the Keflavik Naval Base offered an Icelandic knitting course. The instructor only taught continental style knitting--would not, in fact, allow English style in her class. I hadn't so set English style in my coordination that I couldn't adapt, and now I only do continental style unless I have an entire row to purl. Then I switch to English style since my purling is more even in English style. I don't recall getting pain in my hands when I started continental, but I would say that as you become more comfortable with continental knitting and become more fluid with the motion, the pain should not be an attendant part of knitting that style.

Years ago I took a castnet-making class in Gulfport, MS. The standard knot was not a problem. After the class had mastered that, the instructor taught us a knot that could be done faster called the Flying Dutchman, as I recall. That one involved all of the fingers of the left hand placed in loops with the little finger applying tension on the newly developing knot. In the beginning I could only work a couple of minutes before my hand muscles would begin hurting and then cramping. Eventually, though, I was able to work for at least a couple of hours at a stretch with no problems. Hopefully, the same will happen for you as you develop your own style and gain experience with continental knitting. Just keep at it. For me, continental style is so much faster than English style, and ribbing, especially, is much less tedious since you don't have to be constantly shifting the yarn forward and back.

Tom Hart's picture

Well, here I go tub-thumping for the Portuguese method again.

It’s fast. It’s cool. It’s Rapid Knit.

First I learned English. Then I learned continental and the Norwegian purl. (If you decide to stay with continental, I’d really recommend mastering the Norwegian’s on YouTube.) And then (because I knew I eventually wanted to do mostly color work) I learned Portuguese. I only use Portuguese now. I wish my wordsmithery were good enough to get across how dead effing easy the Portuguese method is.

One big reason I like this method so much is because you don’t handle the yarn. At all. The only manipulation of yarn using the Portuguese method is flipping the yarn over the end of the needle with your thumb. That does not require any practice or special coordination. Flipping the yarn over the end of a needle with your thumb is faster and easier than throwing it, wrapping it or picking it. Your hands are occupied with the needles and nothing else.

The second big reason I like this method is that it is self-tensioning. That’s right, you do not have to tension the yarn. The yarn goes around your neck and if you run the yarn under your collar that takes care of the tensioning. The women who teach this method do not run it under their collars (not really sure women even have collars) so they use their hands to tension the yarn. That is completely unnecessary and takes away from the ease, brilliance and simplicity of this method. Just run it under your collar like a neck tie.

If interested, you can learn it off YouTube by typing in “yarn around the neck” or “Portuguese knitting”. You’ll get some different videos for each of those searches. And it won’t take you an entire weekend to learn it either. It might take the better part of a half hour.

TheKnittingMill's picture

Like Ron, I think it's really advantageous to learn Continental and English for color work! I learned to knit English initially, but I don't throw. When I first started to practice Continental, I had some soreness as well. Some of it was just muscles getting used to the new movement, some of it was due to the "death grip" I initially had during the learning curve and some of it was caused by holding my forefinger up. With more practice I relaxed and my finger position improved. It now rests on the left needle. My tongue was also a little sore, but that subsided as my concentration became less intense and I was able to keep it in my!

potterdc's picture

Seconding the tub-thumping.

Portuguese method is EASY EASY EASY. It's easy to learn, easy on your body (hands, wrists, elbow tendons), and easy on your tension (I am a habitually loose knitter - Portuguese Knitting, or PK, tightened it up JUST RIGHT). I picked it up before Christmas because of my wretched tennis elbow. You can actually rest your hands on your lap while you knit, so there is no strain in your arms and shoulders.

Originally I had just picked this up so that I could knit while my elbow healed - but I'm sold on this method - I think it PK from here on out. There's a group on Ravelry, and here are some links that Tom referred to:

Regardless, I think it is important to learn more than one method, if for no other reason than to give your body a break from the repetitive motion of just one method.


Think less, enjoy it more.

davidjames181's picture

Thanks Jonathan,
I checked out the videos and it looks really easy. But I think I'll keep going with the continental method for a while and then learn this one too. The method of creating the stitches on this one is different, and I'm easily confused lol.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

I am a true left-handed knitter and have taught myself to knit right-handed [both Continental and English styles] and can say that it all comes down to becoming practiced enough to relax and let the needles and yarn do their thing to create the fabric. Death grips are only too common once you start learning something new so I recommend doing a simple project that just lets you practice the movements until they become natural to you. Even now, some many years later, I still find my work improving and becoming more even as I relax and just get into a rhythm. My Continental style throws people off because I carry the yarn in my right hand and scoop with the left needle, making them think I'm throwing my yarn. As to purling, I use a style learned from Elizabeth Zimmermann's books and a book written by a Swiss woman. It is the least complicated Continental purling I've ever tried and I find it similar to Norwegian but you don't have to put the needle behind the other one to make the stitch...I just move my yarn from front to back with a flick of my finger, making YOs as fast as you think them. [Should yo need one.] I find myself knitting Continental most often, nowadays, as it relieves a lot of the stress on my hands and wrists. But, it always helps to learn as much about this craft/art obsession as you always pick up new things to improve your work. Best of luck. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

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

Continental is the only way to knit for me. I was reading a book by the DomiKnitrix and she was telling how much faster it works than English knitting. She also mentions that a lot of right-hand knitting teachers use Continental to teach left-hand students. Although a new knitter, I find that I'm able to finish more rows in a limited time in Continental vs. the fewer rows in English.

mrossnyc's picture

I taught myself Continental when I started and used to get horrible cramps in my left index finger. Then I came across these videos a few years ago and learned how to hold my yarn the same way and it made a HUGE difference. I did have to re-learn how to tension, but once I got the hang of it, it was great. Now, while I'm nowhere near as fast as she is, I did notice that my speed did increase once I got used to holding the yarn this way.

Here's a video that will show you how she holds the yarn (while she knits really fast):

And here's a video that has her describing her process, but the camera is pretty far from her work, so you won't get too many clear shots of her hands:

Good luck and I hope that helps!

Bill's picture

That was fun!
...and in the and group was the old segment of Real Men Knit...
...and there I am...(grin)