These knitting methods, also known as German Knitting, European Knitting or Picking, originated in Continental Europe and remains popular there. Because of it’s strong association with German culture, Continental Knitting lost favor among people of the Allied nations during WWII but it has seen a steady increase in use in more recent years among English-speaking knitters, often credited to the avocation of knitting instructor and author Elizabeth Zimmerman. Today Continental Knitting methods remain popular among Central European, Eastern European, Scandinavian, the Balkan, Russian and Japanese knitters. It also shares popularity with Portuguese Knitting in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Greece and Peru.
In Continental Knitting, the active yarn is held in the left hand while knitting. The left hand never leaves the left needle and instead a combination of finger and needle movements allow for the yarn to be pulled through loops on the left needle to create new stitches. When mastered, Continental Knitting can be very fast. It’s often called more economical in movement than some forms of English Knitting and can result in tighter, squarer stitches for some knitters comparable to knitting with needles two sizes smaller than their English equivalent.
The following clip is a great tutorial for the basic Continental knitting and purling:
Continental Knit Stitches
Generally speaking, there are two main ways to make the Continental knit stitch: Picking and Wrapping.
With picking, the yarn is generally held close to the work and the right needle is used to “pick” stitches through the loops on the left needle and on to the right needle. This often requires that the needle be held parallel to each other.
With wrapping, the yarn is wrapped around the needle in a similar fashion but the right index finger is then used to hold the wrap in place to make a new stitch. This is sometimes easier for people new to Continental Knitting as it allows a greater variance of angle between the needles (the needles can be held perpendicular to each other) without slipping stitches.
Continental Purl Stitches
In Continental Knitting, the purl stitch is often more difficult than the knit stitch. As a result, there is more than one take on the purling. A Traditional Continental Purl Stitch involves bringing the yarn to the front of the work and bending the left index finger (sometimes quite a distance) to wrap the yarn around the right needle.
[Note: In this video, Liat Gat says that scooping the yarn clockwise around the right needle is incorrect. This isn’t incorrect but rather Combination Style Knitting, which is discussed more below].
The following clip shows a more fluid way to make a Continental purl stitch:
Another variation of the purl stitch is the Norwegian Purl which allows a purl stitch to be made with the yarn still at the back of the work. This appears to have originated among Scandinavian knitters but has found popularity among knitters in the rest of the world as well. Norwegian purling incorporates a pair of yarn overs that cancel each other out to allow a knitter to purl continental with the yarn still at the back of the work. When a knitter pairs the Norwegian Purl stitch with a Continental knit stitch, they are sometimes said to be Norwegian Knitting. However, this term is also commonly used to describe Scandinavian stranded color work similar to Fair Isle Knitting and patterns regardless of the actual knitting process used.
Other Continental Knitting Variations
Continental Lever Knitting: As with English lever knitting, the right needle can also be held as a pencil while knitting Continental. This hold is said to have been most popular at the beginning of the 20th century but quickly fell out of favor and isn’t seen much among contemporary knitters.
Eastern European Knitting: As the namesake suggests, this technique is popular with Eastern European knitters. Eastern European knitting is Continental Knitting worked with Eastern Style stitches (see my post on Stitch Orientation). Eastern European Knitting can use either the Norwegian Purl or a modified Eastern Style purl stitch. In the following clips, note how the stitches are sitting on the needles (the left leg forward) and the direction which the yarn is wrapped around the right needle.
This clip also provides some additional information concerning Eastern European Knitting and shows how to make purl without using the Norwegian Purl.
Combined Continental Knitting: This is exactly the same as standard Continental knitting except that the stitches are knitted Combination Style (see my post on Stitch Orientation). This method is popular because the knit stitches are made the same way as in standard Continental Knitting but the yarn is wrapped the opposite way when purling (i.e. Eastern Style). This makes makes purling much easier. It does however require some experience with Combination Style Knitting in order to keep from twisting and crossing stitches. This method is sometime referred to as Russian Knitting and is also supposed to be the popular way of knitting in Mexico. The following video fro KnittingHelp.com gives a really great demonstration of this technique:
If you use or know of another variation of Continental Knitting, please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear about it.