English Style or Continental

There are two main ways of holding knitting whilst it is in progress; English style (sometimes called American style) and Continental or German style. Assuming that yu knit conventionally by working stitches from the left needle to the right needle, then English style is when you hold the working yarn in the right hand and Continental style is when you hold the yarn in your left hand. There are lots of variations on just how the yarn and needles are held but the end results should be exactly the same. In all western countries the norm is to have the leading leg of each stitch to the front of the needle and unless instructed otherwise to knit or purl into that front leg to make untwisted stitches. That is the way in which just abour all English language knitting patterns are written. In most Asian countries the norm is to have the leading leg of each stitch to the back and to knit or purl into that leg, though I believe that most Japanese knitters work western style.

Some left-handed people knit by working stitches from the right needle to the left one. That is mirror knitting and can be English mirror knitting with the yarn in the left hand or Continental mirror knitting with the yarn in the right hand.

Until fairly recently anyone who learned to knit was taught the style prevalent in their part of the world and that was it. In countries influenced by the UK (generally the Commonwealth countries) the English style prevailed and in European countries with German influence the continental style prevailed. In USA both styles are practiced. With the coming of the internet and much more global communication there is often debate about which style is best and which is quicker.

There is no 'best' way and there is no quicker way. Some people can knit very fast because they can move their fingers very quickly, others just cannot move their fingers so quickly and will never be able to knit really fast, although speed does develop with practice, and by making the various movements as small as is reasonable practical so work on the tips of your needles, but, if you have hand problems such as RSI, arthritis, carpel tunnel etc you may be better off making bigger movements and/or switching between techniques - but be careful if you change technique part wya through a project as the change is likely to affect your tension. It would be advisable to have two (or more) works in progress, each being made with a different style of knitting.

However knitting is not just about how many stitches can be worked in one minute, it's also about making the purl stitch and working combinations of knit and purl, about turning the work or moving from needle to needle if using a set of double pointed needles or manipulating the cables connecting circular needles, about working all the stitches correctly and evenly - and that's all before you start to follow a pattern with increases and decreases etc etc.

To try to evaluate the differences between the two main styles a few nice knitter on Ravelry have knitted a test swatch and posted their times:

Using (straight) needles and yarn of your choice cast on 20 stitches and knit a couple of rows to avoid the awkward first row situation, then use a stopwatch such as this one.

1, Start stopwatch and knit 10 rows garter stitch, stop stopwatch, record your time.
2, Start stopwatch and work 10 rows in K1P1 (moss stitch or ribbing), stop stopwatch, record your time.
3, Start stopwatch and work 10 rows in stocking stitch (stockingette), stop stopwatch, record your time.
4, Start stopwatch and work 10 rows K2 P2 ribbing, stop stopwatch, record your time.
5, Start stopwatch and purl 10 rows (purl garter stitch) stop stopwatch, record your time.

Remember, this is not a race, just a way of comparing different styles to work various stitch combinations

As yet I only have a small sample of of times Excel file here but I think that a pattern is emerging.

English style knitters, once practiced and comfortable with their technique have very little time difference between working the knit stitch and the purl stitch ie both garter stitch sections take similar lengths of time, but they do take longer to move the yarn forwards and backwards to change between knit and purl as evidenced by the K2P2 section taking longer than a garter stitch section and the K1P1 section taking even longer.

Continental knitters are usually quite fast working the all knit garter stitch, but take longer to work the purl garter stitch. That is because the scooping movement used to make a knit stitch is quite small, but several movements are needed to make a purl stitch, regardless of the exact way of forming that stitch. For continental knitters the additional time needed to move the yarn backwards and forwards for ribbing is much less significant.

Some continental knitters choose to work in a combined style of western knitting and eastern purling. Usually that means that they use a scooping movement to make the knit stitch and a backwards scoop, or push, to make the purl stitch but in doing so the yarn goes clockwise instead of anti-clockwise around the needle resulting in the stiches having the leading leg to the back. This can result in faster working, but it has to be compensated for by working into the back leg of any purl stitch on the next row/round. Some combined knitters have reported that purling into an eastern mounted stitch (thier purls) takes them longer than purling into a western mounted stitch (their knits). Combined style knitting also means that decreases slant in the opposite direction so any SSK or K2tog in a pattern have to be switched around, and also if the pattern uses twisted stitches (made by knitting into the back of a stitch) a combined style knitter needs to knit into the front of the stitch to make it twisted - and then it twists Z direction instead of S direction; which may or may not matter depending on the pattern.

My conclusion is that it is swings and roundabouts. Most continental knitters gain speed on knit speed but loose it on purling speed whilst English kitters can knit and purl equally fast but loose time swapping between the two. If you are comfortable with your knitting style, whatever it is, keep to that. Try to knit on the tips of the needles in order to keep the movements small, but don't allow that to make your tension too tight. Try different ways of tensioning the yarn around your fingers and if you thow English style don't drop the yarn between each stitch as many beginners do.

Links to YouTube demos of different styles of knitting

English Knitting Techniques
English purl - throwing English purl - throwing lever or pit knitting lever urling English knit, flicking English flick purl
Knit stitch, throwing
Purl stitch, throwing
Knit stitch, lever
Purl stitch, lever
Knit stitch, flicking
Purl stitch, flicking
Same video for knit and purl.
Also known as (arm)pit knitting and cottage knitting
Same video for knit and purl.


Continental Knitting Techniques
continental  knit stitch continental knit stitch continental purl continental purling using thumb  
Knit stitch
Knit stitch variation
Purl stitch
Purl stitch using thumb
Norwegian purl


Other Knitting Techniques
peruvian knitting Peruvian purl Portuguese knit Portuguese purl eastern knitting eastern purl
Peruvian knit
Peruvian purl
Portugese knit
Portugese purl
Eastern knit
Eastern purl
Same video for knit and purl
(yarn goes around neck or through a pin on the knitter's bodice)
stitches are mounted with leading leg to the rear.


My Knitting style
English flicking
I knit in a similar way to this English Flicking although I do tension the yarn around my little finger. I can flick the yarn with either my middle finger or my fore finger and switch between the two with ease which is very useful for Fair Isle as I have one yarn over the forefinger and one yarn over the middle finger. I purl in a very similar way to the video too.


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