Archive for October 23, 2012

Hand Knitting Methods 1: English Knitting

English Knitting, sometimes called American Knitting or Throwing, refers to a group of hand knitting methods where the active yarn is held, tensioned and wrapped with the right hand while knitting. These methods are extremely popular in the English-speaking world (England, Ireland, Scotland, the USA, Canada, Australia, etc.), China, parts of South America and apparently shares popularity with Continental Knitting among contemporary French Knitters. The right needle is inserted into a stitch on the left needle and then dropped or held in the left hand so that the right hand can wrap the yarn around the tip of the needle before returning to the right hand needle and pulling a new loop off on to the right need. Purling is executed in an identical fashion except that the right needle is inserted from back to the front through of the loops on the left hand needle. This is where most knitters start because it is easy to see and comprehend and requires no movements that your average human being isn’t used to.  In this way a diligent knitter could make miles of fabric, and many knitters are perfectly content to do so.

Modified English Holds:

Generally speaking, knitters make their own modifications to the knitting process to what they find comfortable and effective as they gain experience. One of the most common and perhaps useful advances made upon basic English knitting is keeping the yarn tensioned in the right hand rather than letting it hang loosely to the ball. It can be wrapped a number of different ways through and around the fingers of the right hand according to the knitter’s preference but generally ends up wrapped around the index finger before leading to the work on the needles. With the right needle held between the thumb and last three fingers of the hand, this allows for knitters to wrap the yarn around the tip of the right hand needle with a small movement of the right index finger rather than the whole hand. Additionally, this allows the knitter to make wraps without taking their hand off of the right needle if they so wish. Either way, a modified English Hold can result in more comfortable and considerably faster knitting as it minimizes unnecessary hand movement.

Another modified English hold worth noting is that of Staci Perry who uses a method she calls Flicking:

As you can see, Staci holds the right hand needle fairly far down to create a fulcrum that it can swivel on. Paired with small movements from both hands towards and away from one another, this makes the right needle both wrap the yarn and position itself in a very clever manner.

Lever Knitting aka Australian, Peruvian, Catholic or Pencil Knitting:

Another variation on basic English knitting involves how the right hand needle is held. The examples above all showed the needle held with an overhand grip touching or near the palm. Some knitters, however, hold the right knitting needle in the same way they hold a pencil between either the thumb and middle finger or thumb and index finger. The yarn can then be wrapped with your index or ring finger. As with the modified English holds I mentioned above, because your hand doesn’t have to leave the right needle, this method can also be very fast. It also has the benefit that it uses muscles and movements it uses muscles and movements that your hand should already be accustomed to from writing.

[Note: the video above is confusingly labeled “Irish Cottage Knitting”. This is a reference to the name the method that the knitter, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, teaches on straight needles. More on that below. Irish Cottage Knitting isn’t possible on short double-pointed needles; however, so the method shown above is Stephanie’s take on a lever knitting method for working in the round].

Old Way, Irish Cottage, Scottish or Pit Knitting:

This group of methods is based off of the techniques used by knitting guilds and cottage cottage industry knitters. Traditionally, this method of knitting involves equipment used to hold the right needle stationary against the knitters body. This can be done with a knitting sheath (a wooden handle of sorts that can be tucked into the belt or an apron string) or a specialized knitting belt that sits anywhere between the hip and the lower rib cage. Knitting sheaths aren’t seen very often among contemporary knitters, however, and a third option is to simply tuck the right hand needle between the arm and right side (this generally requires knitting needles that are at least thirteen inches long). Whatever the set up, the actual knitting is done the same way. The left-hand needle does all of the actual knitting and is the only needle that moves at all. The right hand needle remains still and the only responsibility of the right hand is to wrap the yarn. Because this method was developed among professional knitters where time was money, it can be extremely fast when perfected. The current holder of the world’s fastest knitting record Hazel Tindall uses this method.

Here’s a clip of Hazel demonstrating her method:

Another prominent knitter known to knit this way is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka the Yarn Harlot) who can be seen knitting and discussing this method in the following videos. Notice how she holds the yarn in her right hand.

And here’s a slower demonstration from one of Stephanie’s students:

If you use or know of another variation of English Knitting, please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear about it.


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