Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Learning: Continental or English?

No too long ago, I found myself teaching a learn-to-knit class with a large group. I'm an English-style knitter myself (that is, yarn in right hand, like so), and that's the way I've always taught beginners.

But I've been teaching classes on Continental knitting (yarn in left hand, like so) of late, and it's been making me think.

After all, learning to knit English style (that is, yarn in right hand) is actually pretty tricky, and not very efficient.  I mean, you're holding both a needle AND yarn in your right hand, as below...

which is all well and good, until you have to wrap the yarn.

Beginner knitters tend to drop the yarn between stitches, and even knitters who have managed to figure out how to hang onto the yarn with their right hand (as in the pic above) struggle with the wrap.  Most of them end up having to try to hold both needles in their left hand as they pick up the yarn and wrap it around the right needle.

And it's neither elegant nor particularly easy.... check out what I'm doing with my left thumb:

So for this group of beginners, I decided to go Continental.  With the Continental knit stitch... that is, with yarn in left hand.

Using this method, you can keep a firm grip on the right needle as you "pick" the yarn and wrap it around the needle.

Little did my poor students know that I was conducting an experiment on them... I want to see if an average
collection of novices found it any easier to learn Continental than English.

After a fair bit of practice with a continental knit, once I had a sense they were comfortable, I suggested to some of the students that they might want to try wrapping the yarn with the right hand instead. I presented it casually, as an option for students who were more comfortable working with their right hands.

Of 7 in the class who tried both, 5 ended up keeping the yarn in the left hand, and 2 ended up with it in the right. Not scientific, by any means, but I though this was an interesting result that confirmed my suspicions.

The key, of course, is to ensure that no matter what students end up doing, that they are wrapping the yarn the correct way. And, perhaps more to the point, to help knitters understand that where and how they hold the yarn is a minor choice in how they knit, and it doesn't affect in the least the finished product or the instructions.

Any other teachers of beginner knitting classes tried the same thing? Which way do you prefer to teach newbies?


Sherri said...

I prefer to teach English, but only because Continental knitting is harder on my own hands.

What I do recommend is that they learn on circular needles. Much easier to balance and less dropping of the needles.

cari said...

As a new-to-continental knitter, I find my hands are happier knitting English, and my tension is more even. It's hard to keep with picking, and I have to focus to keep from reverting to throwing! The elegance and efficiency of continental holds tremendous appeal, and I wish I had learned lefty as a beginner. I like having both in my repertoire for colour knitting, and plan to work on getting a better grasp on purling continental, as it still feels awkward. (I have bookmarked your very helpful tutorial for easy reference, and wish my hands would just get it the way my brain does!)

Lise said...

Well, that is an interesting prospect! If I were a bit more confident in my own continental purling abilities, I might just try that on my next set of beginners. I guess that is motivation for me to practice more! Sorry to keep missing your visits at Swk :/. Next time you come I will be in Orlando! ack...

ColorJoy LynnH said...

I teach most people to knit English. I learned it first, though I knit Continental by choice, learned about 20 years after I learned to knit.

I teach children as young as 5 to knit. I've taught hundreds of kids. Especially 7 or younger, they just don't have the finger coordination to tension yarn between their left hand fingers.

If I find that an adult student is either Left Handed or a crocheter, I'll show them both options and let them try for themselves what works.

Interesting... with kids, they prop their needles against their bellies or legs most often, and they would really struggle with circular needles. Nothing to prop with. (I have 2 adult knitting friends who also have this issue with circulars.)

Yeah... I purl continental in a way I've never seen anyone else do. I control the yarn with my left hand thumb. I can rib in the dark, so it works for me, but I'm hesitant to teach it. I have taught 2 lefties who liked my purl, but again I usually teach English.

Jenny said...

Hello, im new to all this...Im making your basic socks, but im confused by the instructions
SKP turn..
would that be slip,knit,pearl,turn?

learning all the time,

thank you

Anonymous said...

I knit English style. I don't and never have knit Continental (I can't get my brain around it, although my mother think's it's much easier.) My Grandmother taught me to knit when I was seven. She never took her right hand off her needle, just used her index finger to wrap the yarn around, so that's what I did too. I never take my hand off unless I'm trying to tighten a stitch or something.