September 28, 2004

Knitting Continental or English? Knit picking from a nitpicker

I am crazy about knitting. For years, I had wanted to learn how and I finally took some classes earlier this year. I thought I would be so cool learning how to knit. Imagine my extreme disappointment when I realized everyone else was on the knitting bandwagon – story of my life, always the sheep and never, ever the trendsetter. Regardless, I was hooked from the start! (and yes, that would be a pun if I was crocheting. But I’m not. So there.) Anyway, I am now the Imelda Marcos of scarves. Yes, scarves are the knitting equivalent of kindergarten, but I was traveling a lot and they are easily stuffed into a suitcase. For the most part, knitting is very relaxing – interspersed with tense moments after mistakes are made. The sense of accomplishment when those mistakes are fixed is well worth the hassle (and at times, tears. Big ones. The kind that roll down your cheek). If I don’t knit for a few days, I start to crave it. My favorite sort of evening is to hang out with The Husband and knit while we watch TV (oh, how long I have come from college. But that’s another post. Entirely. ). Anyway, knitting has saved me from going loopy with boredom in airports (okay, now that’s a valid knitting pun for you) and it has significantly reduced my anxiety from many a canceled or delayed flight. As long as I am knitting, I am in a Zen-like zone and feel very peaceful – instead of counting breaths, I count stitches. It’s all good, yo (another knitting pun for you).

With all this serenity surrounding the Zen of knitting, imagine my surprise then when I discovered a major source of discord in knitting circles – knitting continental-style vs. English-style. When you knit English, you are “throwing” the yarn and when you knit continental you are “picking” the yarn. Most Americans knit English – in fact, it seems most of the world knits English. I even started out knitting English because I didn’t realize there was more than one method. I switched teams when I discovered a classmate knitting continental and noticed she finished the project WITHIN the class itself. The rest of us had to take the project home to finish because we ran out of time. I realized then that my classmate was onto something and vowed to learn how she did it. After some research, I found out how to knit continental and I never looked back.

What has amazed me the most is how passionate people can get about their preferred method – chicks with sticks can be dangerous (yeah, maybe they are blunt sticks made out of bamboo. But still.). When my classmate was knitting continental, the teacher (an older, Grandma Knitter) insisted she was doing it “wrong” and it was obvious the classmate was upset, in particular because as she put it “my mother taught me this way and it worked for HER” (I should note this line was delivered rather curtly). Ouch. I didn’t blame her though, the teacher was slightly irritating.

Overall, I don’t understand the cause for such emotion and argument. Knitting is supposed to be the equivalent of productive meditation. This, coincidently, is much easier to accomplish when knitting continental. English BAAAD. Continental GOOOOD. Ha!


Anonymous said...

I am a new knitter, and I knit English. I don't know if I will ever make that leap over to Continental or not; the most I can do is to promise to give it a hearty try one day. I am still in the process of feeling comfortable holding two needles (I am a "convert" from crochet), and for that purpose, English method is very soothing to me.
I had an exact opposite experience to the lady in your class. A woman saw me knitting English, and proceeded to tell me that I was doing everything wrong. I was so crushed and discouraged that I decided to not knit in front of others. Then, I just decided to not knit at all, and went back to crochet completely for the next two years.
A few months back, I found myself blissfully thrust into married life, and the role of a "homemaker." With the extra time on my hands (I used to work full-time so knitting and crochet had to be confined to my time off), I decided to try to take up knitting again (also, seeing my mother-in-law knitting really inspired me, although I did not dare to knit in front of her!). I am happy to report that I came back to knitting with a greater passion, and have learned what I was really doing wrong (it was not the way in which I held my needles, or threw my yarn, rather, I was committing the simplest newbie mistake of twisting my stitches). I, too, have become the Imelda Marcos of scarves!! I am currently knitting a cabled scarf for my husband (he loves my hobby, and even gleefully takes me to buy yarn from the fancy "boutiques!"). I've learned Fair Isle (my husband absolutely adores Fair Isle), and mastered Cables (sooo much easier than I had ever imagined!). I am even building a knitting library, and look forward to spending a lifetime knitting for family and friends!
Anyways, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog on the two styles of knitting. It amazes me what a big world knitting is! :)

John Davis said...

This is a very nice post that you have here. thanks for the info.

Chiwaluv said...

I use to be a solo English knitter , then one day I had to have surgery on my primary throwing arm, I was determined to still knit , but how?? It hurt to throw the yarn. So I learned how to knit continental style, and I love it , allowing me to continue my passion without all the pain. I have also learned Portuguese knitting.
I am so glad I have such a choice that keeps me knitting, I also have arthritis in my hands so switching it up when they get achy really helps.
So the moral of my story , learn before you should need something like a surgery to force you into learning... Much easier.