The Knit Stitch

The knit stitch is just pulling a loop of yarn through an existing loop on the needle. Pulling it through with the yarn in the back creates the knit stitch. Pulling it through with the yarn in front creates the purl stitch. These are the foundation stitches of knitting. To begin your knitting, start with a cast-on.

Which style will you learn?

Well, if no one has given you a suggestion yet, and you're looking for someone to point to one method for simplicity's sake, I'll say try Continental. This features the yarn held in the left hand. But if you're up for it, try English knitting as well, which places the yarn in the right hand. The "best" method is simply the one you feel most easy with, the method you most enjoy. Each method has its own appeal. And at some point you'll find it quite handy to know both English and Continental knit stitches, because you can employ both of them simultaneously for a very efficient technique of doing color work (see "Stranding" in the Advanced Techniques section).

Continental Method

Also known as the German Method or Left-Handed Knitting

view continental video

And here is a short close-up video: view video

To see how it's all put together, from cast-on to bind-off, take a look at thisDemo of a Small Project videoview video
Continental knitters hold the yarn in their left hand, which allows the knitter to simply scoop, or "pick", the yarn with the right needle. This has a reputation of being the fastest knitting method. One aspect contributing to the reputation of speed is an efficiency of movement between knit and purl stitches (evident in the Ribbing and Seed stitch videos, see the Tips section).  For me, personally, it is definitely a more efficent method.  Despite having learned as an English knitter originally, I couldn't resist Continental once I stumbled upon it.  

The primary challenge with the Continental style is its corresponding purl stitch, which requires agility and practice to execute comfortably.  

Not sure which method is for you?  Try both and see!  Knowing two methods comes in handy when you venture into colored knitting (stranding), in which you carry a yarn strand in each hand!

Videos that have a pink video icon are demonstrated in the Continental style.

Continental Method

English Method

Also known as the Throw Method or the American Method

view english video

And here is a short close-up shot: view video

To see how it's all put together, from cast-on to bind-off, take a look at thisDemo of a SmallProject video:  view video

This is the most common knitting method in this country. Yarn is "thrown" (wrapped) around the right needle before pulling the stitch through. It's also possible, and perhaps more fluid, to throw the yarn without letting go of the right needle.  I do not demonstrate it, but it entails keeping the yarn closer to the tip of the index finger, where that finger can slip the yarn easily around the needle.

English knitting is more generous in adapting to less precise hand motions.  This is also true for its corresponding Purl method.  One needn't hold the yarn as precisely to accomplish a stitch.  The yarn can be slackened or dropped mid stich, while the beginner focuses on getting the yarn through the stitch.  For this reason, I recommend English when teaching young children, or anyone with limited coordination.

Videos where I hold the yarn in the right hand and throw the yarn, all have a blue video icon. 

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English Method

Combination Knitting

Combined Knitting, Eastern Uncrossed Knitting, Eastern Knitting

view continental video

Although I have found this method intriguing for its complexity and unique approach, I must caution the new knitter considering it, that this method will require you to think. It is easier physically, but presents challenges, mentally, as you will be adapting pattern instructions from the get go, and even adapting your basic knit stitch at times (see Adaptations, below). However, if you are a flexible, thinking kind of person, you may find the easier hand motion of this method worth the required adaptations. 

The main appeal of the method is that it is has all of the efficiency-of-motion advantages of Continental knitting and purling (with the yarn held in the left hand), but its purl stitch is simplified and is far easier to execute.  

Don't let anyone tell you that purling this way is wrong. There are plenty of Continental knitters who, although they wrap the yarn the more typical way when purling, settle on a hand motion that is awkward, and consequently make a habit of avoiding purling wherever possible. Avoiding purling is an adaptation too.  There's nothing wrong with adaptations: in the end it's enjoying your knitting that counts!

What's different about this method?

  • The purl stitch involves wrapping the yarn around the needle the opposite way as other methods, resulting in a stitch oriented differently on the needle. That's really the only distinction of this method. All adaptations revolve around accomodating this unique stitch orientation (with the leading edge of the stitch in the back of the left needle).
  • Adaptation #1: If you knit this way, your "knit two together" decrease (which you'll do through the back loops as you would to knit) will actually create a left-leaning decrease, so use this when a standard pattern calls for SSK, SKP. See Annie Modesitt's website for a clear illustration of this, and also for a substitute right-leaning decrease, as well as other information for Combined knitters:
  • Adaptation #2: just when you've gotten used to flat knitting, and knitting through the front loop of some stitches and the back loop of others, you will may be surprised by the fact that when doing circular knitting, things change.  I recall one Combination knitter telling me that she wraps the yarn the other way when doing the knit stitch in circular knitting, so that her fabric remains more familiar, with the leading edge of the presenting knit stitch being in the back. 

One note on my video: I was still learning about Combination knitting when I shot the video, as evidenced by my clever attempt to demonstrate "English Combination knitting." I doubt such a thing exists!  

Are there advantages to this Combination knitting other than the purl stitch being easier to execute?  Annie Modesitt claims a more even tension and resulting fabric. Another combination knitter wrote me to say that she finds the different orientation of the knit and purl stitches on the needle an advantage for knitting without looking, as she can easily tell the two stitches apart.

Combined Knitting

Backwards Knitting

Alternatively known as Looking-Glass Knitting or Left-Handed Knitting

To see how to do this, simply prop a mirror up to the English or Continental knitting videos, and watch the videos in the mirror! It is mirror reverse of standard Western knitting.

Knitting is awkward at first, no matter which method you use, no matter whether you're a righty or leftie. If you are a leftie, and have heard of this method of knitting and think it will be easier for you, I would encourage you to try Continental knitting first. That method also favors lefties, and you won't find yourself following knitting instructions backwards.  I'm told that following knitting instructions in mirror reverse will usually work out fine.  But I can't help but being warry of the one pattern that is a-symmetrical or otherwise not mirror-reversible.

If you knit this way, then you will find using a mirror alongside the videos on this site a handy trick.