An American Learns Continental-Style Knitting

Europeans have used their own fast, efficient "continental-style" knitting technique for generations. Here's how it works.

| September/October 1984

  • continental style knitting - woman wearing knitted shawl
    Both American and continental-style knitting could have produced this shawl, but the latter gets it done faster.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 1
    Technique for casting on: Allowing 1" of yarn per stitch, draw off a yarn "tail." Let it dangle for a moment while you wrap the next section of yarn around your hand as shown.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 2
    Reach across the yarn segment to scoop, from above, the yarn that comes from the forefinger to the thumb.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 4
    Pull the needle back — without losing the stitch! — to where its yarn crosses above the strand going from thumb to ring finger.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 3
    Hook the yarn with the back of your thumb and spread the thumb and forefinger so that the needle and its one stitch hang in between.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 5
    Slide the thumb loop off, then hook your thumb behind strand A and pull your thumb back to tighten the stitch. Continue in this way until you have the desired number of stitches on your needle.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - step one
    Pick up the empty needle in your right hand and insert it in the first loop from left to right, front to back.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - step two
    Go under the yarn coming from your left forefinger and scoop it up with the point of your right needle.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - step three
    Pull the yarn back through the stitch. Now slip the old stitch off the left needle. Now repeat this procedure with every stitch on the left needle.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - purl stitch
    To purl, slip the yarn in front of the left needle, then insert the right needle behind the yarn and into the stitch from right to left.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • continental style knitting - purl stitch
    Use the left forefinger to drag the yarn down between the two needles. With the tip of the right needle, scoop the yarn back through the stitch, and pull the old stitch off.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • continental style knitting - woman wearing knitted shawl
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 1
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 2
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 4
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 3
  • continental style knitting - casting on step 5
  • continental style knitting - step one
  • continental style knitting - step two
  • continental style knitting - step three
  • continental style knitting - purl stitch
  • continental style knitting - purl stitch

The first time I saw someone knitting the continental way, I was utterly astounded. What was that woman doing? And how?

I learned the answers to these questions only recently, thanks to a kind neighbor who learned to knit as a schoolchild in Switzerland. "All our children are taught this method," she told me, her needles clicking and flashing rhythmically. As I watched row after row of beautiful work cascade from her fingers, I wondered why on earth our children aren't taught the European method, too.

Efficiency's the Key

Continental-style knitting (CSK) is faster than the American style knitting (ASK) because it's more efficient. In CSK, the yarn is held in the left hand, and the right needle simply scoops the yarn through the left needle stitch to make a new stitch. In ASK, as you may know, the yarn is held in the right hand and is then passed around the point of the right needle after it's been inserted through the left needle stitch. For the ASK novice, this means that every time the yarn needs to pass around the needle point, the needle itself must be dropped, the yarn wrapped around, and the needle picked up again.

Of course, as an ASK knitter gets more proficient, he or she learns to hold onto the needle with the fingertips of the left hand while the yarn is being wrapped; or, in another technique, with the tips of the right thumb and two middle fingers while the right forefinger flips forward like a shuttle to throw the yarn around the point of the needle. However, for the majority of knitters, CSK will still be faster simply because it's easier to scoop a piece of yarn through a stitch than it is to pass that yarn around the point of a needle.



In CSK the knitting is somewhat looser; consequently, the knitter will tend to be more relaxed (but not at the beginning, when trying to learn the skill!). The final product, however, is virtually indistinguishable from the ASK version.

Another facet of CSK's efficiency is that the yarn stays on the left hand, even when an empty needle is exchanged for a full one. In ASK, the yarn is usually dropped as the needles are exchanged, and is picked up again when the new row is started. The amount of time involved is small, but it adds up in the course of a large project.

Diane Latour
11/27/2010 2:34:43 PM

Does any one have a copy of the knitting pattern for the "Nitty Gritty Afghan" knitted on about a 10.5 needle published by Mother Earth 25 years ago or so? It was a wonderful pattern for using scrap yarn and I can't locate my copy. Thanks. Diane






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