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.



  1. Arnold said

    Victory! New content! You’ve obviously been working on your writing skills. Good work 🙂 Thank you so much for the originality of well – you!

  2. Kate Balmer said

    I learned to knit in Canada and moved to the States. Everyone who knitted “English” let go of their right needle to wrap their yarn which seemed very inefficient. So I now realize my Canadian way is more like lever knitting. It is very exciting to see the variations so I shall continue to hone my knitting skills. Thanks for all the videos.

  3. This site is quite educational! Hold up the
    very good posts. I just bookmarked it

  4. Sally said

    I knit English with a variation of my own as taught by my mother, not from Stacy of Very Pink Knits. The wrap on my index finger is backwards to hers so the leading edge of the yarn and the trailing edge are far apart so it is nearly impossible to get stuck.

    It works well with knitting backwards which is Continental for the right hand, so that you don’t have to turn to do Entrelac knitting or short rows for socks, etc.

    Outside of that I usually knit Combined now because of the easier purl, I just have adjusted my decreases to compensate for the stitch mount. Combined is very nice for double knitting, very easy, eastern mount does not slow down the knitting at all, no loose purls so no rowing.

    Saves my hands as I have arthritis. When I get sore, I change knitting methods.

    Hope this helps.

  5. Gina Hiatt said

    I learned how to knit with the right needle under my right arm. A lady from Europe in a yarn store taught me. But I never learned how to purl with that technique, so it’s good to see a demonstration. The thing is, I love my circular needles, and they hold so much fabric for when you’re knitting shawls, etc.

    Now I knit continental style, with the yarn in my left hand. It seems more efficient than the style where you actually let go of your needle to make a stitch.

    I admire how you’re researching all this. You must turn it into a book!

  6. Meridion said

    “this is generally considered the oldest style of stitch orientation.”

    I have been talking (and writing) with many knitters interested in historic knitting and it is not GENERALLY considered. Those who know something about difficulties of historic knitting research are carefull with such statements. Mostly they say “we know how the ancient objects look and may have been done, however, we do not know which technique (knitting/purling, yarn in left/right hand, knitting direction from right to left/from left to right) was really used those centuries ago. I have started my own research of this topic recently and I am surprised somebody already did it. Can you please reveal your source of information?

    • TheDudeWhoKnits said

      As this is a casual post from my own personal blog a few years ago, I can’t tell you off the top of my head which articles and books that exact piece of information came from. I’m sure you’ll come across them eventually. A good amount of knitting technique history remains unknowable (how needles were held, things like that) but stitch orientation can be guessed at a bit more solidly for a few reasons. One of the more indicative is the presence of twisted knit stitches in older items (though a lot of these could be some sort of naalbinding, twisted knitting is talked about in some old knitting books as being a sort of remnant antiquated technique). I’d assume that somewhere along the lines someone has physically examined the twist direction to see which stitch direction would make more sense. There’s also presence of this stitch orientation among what appear to be the older, more isolated knitting populations. Though Portuguese knitting is an interesting anomaly. There’s no real way of knowing one way or the other. And, again, this is just a small, informal blog – not a thesis or proposed official history. just notes from my reading and experience.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: