Monday, August 5, 2013

English And Continental

I think there are more ways to knit than there are to crochet.

Maybe it's that the knitters on Ravelry are louder on the main boards than the crocheters are, but there seem to be a lot more divisions, disagreements, and problems with knitting than there are with crochet.  Maybe it's because there are fewer ways to make a knot out of loops than there are to pull one loop through another loop.  Maybe we'll never know.

The biggest knitting division I know of is the English And Continental Divide.  This basically refers to which hand holds the yarn.  Knitting is a two-handed craft, meaning it doesn't really matter whether you're left- or right-handed, because you're still doing something with both hands.

English-style knitting is holding the yarn in the right hand, while Continental-style is holding it in the left hand.  Sometimes you'll hear English referred to as "throwing", and Continental as "picking", because of the different motions used to wrap the yarn around the needle.

My knitting story is as complicated as everyone else's, with one extra step at the beginning.

My grandmother taught me to knit.  I had a Learn To Knit kit that came with wooden straight needles and taught backwards loop cast-on, and I was trying so hard to make it work.  My problem was that I tightened my stitches too much, and ended up with this long strand of yarn between my needles which was my cast-on tightening way too much.  But of course I didn't know that.

So when my grandmother taught me to knit, she took my needles and yarn and played around with them (because she hadn't knit in forever), and eventually she showed me a piece she'd started that was just a ton of stitches in garter.  She taught me to hold the very end of my righthand needle under my arm to steady it, and hold the yarn in my right hand.  I was able to do this quite easily, although knitting was never really my favorite thing.

After I learned to crochet, I picked up the needles again.  I decided I wanted to be able to knit while holding both needles in my hands, and figured out how to tension the yarn in my right hand by mirroring how I tensioned it in my left hand for crochet.  I managed to get pretty quick at it, with one major issue: Seed stitch was torture.  *Bringing the yarn to the back for one knit and then to the front for one purl (repeat from *) was really horrid after about five minutes, and I never ever wanted to do seed stitch again.

I was partway through this garter stitch shawl, and very bored, when I decided to attempt Continental knitting.  Most people reading this?  Don't do that.  Going from English to Continental (or vice-versa) in the same project is generally a bad plan because your gauge will go all pear-shaped with the new technique.  The only reason I decided to try it was because (I'm dumb, and) I knew my tension should be okay from crochet.  I examined the path my yarn was taking around the needle and made sure it did the same thing when I was using my left hand (no twisted stitches here!), and soon I was flying through miles of garter stitch.

Then I switched to garter-based lace, with *yo, k2tog* every RS row and straight knits on the wrong side.  Knitting the decreases in Continental proved to be too difficult for me, so I switched to English for the lace rows and back to Continental for the knit rows.  Astonishingly, the only distortion in the final product was caused by the yarnovers, not by my switching techniques every row.

I now often knit Continental.  I can work increases and decreases, purl (using Norwegian purl), and do seed stitch or 1x1 ribbing without wanting to kill someone.  I do switch back to English when my left hand gets tired or when I have long stretches of purling to get done quickly, and I don't think I necessarily prefer one over the other.  I see use for both of them, depending on what I'm doing, and I make use of my skill set in the appropriate situation.

In essence, I have the ability for either one, so I use both as I see fit.

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