Sunday, January 09, 2011

Continental Knitting; the Norwegian Purl

I taught a couple of classes on Continental knitting this past weekend in New Hamburg. Now, some may question my qualifications to knit such a classes, since by default I knit English-style - that is, with my yarn in my right hand. I learnt that way, when I was very young, and I find that although it might not be the fastest method, it's very comfortable for me.

But that doesn't mean I don't use and enjoy the Continental method when it suits me. I'm all about having options!

Continental knitting has you hold your yarn in your left hand, like so:

English-style knitters, like me, usually find the Continental knit stitch easy to manage - it's easy to work, and the benefits are immediate and obvious.

Because the working yarn is stretched behind your needles, it's pretty easy to "pick" the stitch. Like so:

Just put the right-hand needle into the stitch, and swing the tip of the needle over top of the working yarn to the right, and bring the working yarn back through the stitch. Easy!

It's much more efficient in movement, since you're not moving the yarn at all, and barely moving the needles.

I like to use the continental knit when I'm working a piece entirely in garter stitch, or when my hands are tired.

My gauge is quite different between the English and Continental methods, however, so I have to be consistent about which method I'm using in a project. This is true for many knitters - continental knitting is often looser than English knitter.

I must confess, however, that although I could (and would) do it, until recently I'd never really been fluid with the Continental purl.

No matter what method they learn, it seems that a lot of newer knitters dislike purling - they find it cumbersome and sort of unnatural. (They're not wrong; there is a theory among knitting historians that knitting in the round was invented first, and then the purl was a later adaptation to make it work flat.) A purl seems fiddly in English knitting, but downright unpleasant in Continental knitting. It's the pesky wrap.

What you save in movement in a Continental knit seems to get spent in the purl, trying to man-handle the yarn over the needle point and make it stay still while you move the needles.

There are a couple of common ways of wrapping the yarn for the Continental purl.

With your index (or middle) finger:

Or with your thumb (less "traditional", but I find this easier - I can pivot my thumb and let my fingers worry about holding the needles):

These work well, but don't feel elegant to me.

And then there's the Norwegian purl. I did some experimenting with it and reading about it before I taught the New Hamburg class, and I think it's changed my life.

In essence, instead of moving the yarn to work the purl, you move the needle. It's much closer to the method you use for the Continental knit stitch, in fact.

It goes like this...

Leave the yarn at the back (Yes, pause to think about that. No moving the yarn at all. Imagine how easy ribbing could be!) and put the needle into the stitch as normal for purling (that is, from back to front)...

And, leaving the yarn in place, move the tip of the right hand needle around the working yarn (as you do for a knit; think on that, too - makes it very easy and familiar)....

Then once the yarn is wrapped around the needle like this:

push the wrapped needle back through the stitch (from front back through to the back), like this:

For some knitters, it's a world-changer. I know it was for me. If you've been struggling with a Continental purl, try it.

Some knitters do still find it easier if you bring the yarn to the front, but still use the same basic technique.

You can read more about it, and see more pictures here and here on the blog of Knitty's Teresa.

Play with it and see how it works for you. Let me know how it goes!


Catherine said...

Wow I'm going to try that! A lot of people in Northern England knit like this, perhaps it is the Norwegian influence.
C x

Anonymous said...

And a WOW from me too. This is too good. All I need is to train my hands in a new way and gather up a little speed. Thanks. Marilyn

KarenJ said...

Having literally taught myself to knit 40 years ago when books were not nearly as available (not that this option even occured to me) and there was no internet, I looked at a piece of knitting and saw a series of loops with more loops going through them and wound up teaching myself to knit continental, not that I knew it at the time. To purl, I just did the same thing in reverse. I hooked up the yarn from the front, just as I'd hooked it from the back. No wrapping the yarn over. The result is that the stitch sits reversed on my needle. It's quick and easy. I only need to accomodate to the fact that when I knit in the round I have to enter the knit stitch from the left, not the right. It also requires thinking certain things in reverse. For example a K2tog. becomes a ssk and vice versa. It's actually faster for me to purl than to knit!

PixelatedMushroom said...

Thanks muchly for this! Was amazed that the usual continental purl stitch took so much manipulation using the fingers (I have issues with really sore fingers) so this is going to be amazing ^_^
Gauge turning out around double my normal English style gauge - going to need some practice :) thanks again!

Lisa R-R said...

This was my big technical knitting improvement for 2010, having switched to continental some years back. I agree - total life changing moment when the Norwegian Purl clicked! My gauge is much better on the purl rows as well.
I am now making a ribbed watch cap without anguish.

Anonymous said...

It's so weird for me to see this. This is how I've ALWAYS knitted. It's the way my mom taught me and the only way I've ever actually SEEN anyone knit. Major culture shock.

Anyhow, hint to those who struggle with the gauge. It'll of course get tighter with practice as the left hand learns to control the yarn better. But it's also possible to adjust it by looping or not looping the yarn around the left hand fingers, thus making it run tighter or looser. If you already do this, forget I mentioned it :)

Phyllis said...

Back in the 1970's when I taught myself to knit, I used a book that showed the English method. I thought it was a waste of motion and effort so I started knitting the Continental way. I thought I had found a new way of knitting. It wasn't until just a few years ago, I found out it was called the Continental way of knitting. And here I thought all those years I invented something.

lefty Angie said...

The way I do the Continental purl is to put the needle from back to front into the stitch and take the needle from top down ( put needle over the yarn and not under) and pull the yarn through, according to your picture you are wrapping the yarn the other way.
When I wrap the yarn around my fingers (for tension control) I hold my hand so that my palm faces me, wrap the yarn around the little finger from front between the 2 fingers, loop around little finger then close the little finger, around the front of the index finger once or twice, then as I knit I open the little finger to release the yarn.
As I knit I use both thumbs, and as I make each stitch I use the index finger without the yarn to pull the stitch down on the needle after I take it off of the first needle.
This is awkward to describe because I am left handed but have taught many right handed people to knit.
Hope this helps
Angie Draghici

SSheilah said...

What good timing you have!

It finally occurred to me to check the internet for possible solutions to my slooooww Continental purling when working in the round, and there you are with a post about the Norwegian purl just the week before. Now that I've had a couple of weeks to figure it out and practice, I have to comment and let you know how much faster and happier I am purling in the round, thanks to you. You rock!

Gina D. said...

This is the first I've seen of this. I HATE to purl, but this may actually change my life! I am now looking for a pattern with a lot of purl in it, so give it a go. Thank you so much for sharing this!

thelovingewe said...

Thank you! It took several attempts, but I got it--beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

I am from Switzerland and that the way I purl, norvegian way. I did not know it was norvegian, I am happy with this method, it is fast and easy for the ribbing.
Happy knitting to all of you.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear I'm not alone when I say that I really dislike purling!

I knit English/combination, and my mom knits continental/Eastern. We have things that we admire about each others' methods, and things we dislike. She finds tension difficult to control, and I find I can be very slow to wrap.

Thanks for explaining to me how continental works. Maybe someday, my mom and I can trade styles.

Anonymous said...

I know I have to comment on this. For portuguese knitters neither purling or knitting feels tricky, purling is the super easy and knitting is just not so fast but natural movements as well. I'd suggest a quick search and be the judge yourself. For patterns with a lot of purling, definitely give it a go. Thank you for your sharing!

sewbeedoo a.k.a. Schöne Töne said...

welcome! that's the way I knit for 30 years, fast and easy. Enjoy! :)

Anonymous said...

Have been knitting Continental style for 5 decades, since age 9, taught by my mother. Her mother started out knitting Continental, but somewhere along the line, she switched to English because she thought she had more stitch control and consistency. Must say, her knitting was perfect....almost looked like machine work.
Plan to try the Norwegian purl for variety and general knowledge, BUT I do not understand all the Continental purl-bashing going on. I have always found purling relaxing, as I could simply move the yarn in front, flick my throwing finger and move forward. Am I missing something? Hmmmm...