Text and images are copyright. All rights reserved.
I have seen too many young and even middle-aged people knitting the 'wrong way'. By this I mean making hard work it, excessively moving shoulders and elbows and having to look down at the needles all the time - and then achieving a result much more slowly than if they had been knitting the 'right way'. If I point this out they say it would be too difficult to change now - and they are probably right.
By the 'right way' to knit I mean how women used to knit in most of the last century and before and how women born before the middle of the last century still knit today. They knitted effortlessly, only moving their arms very slightly and were able to look around, chat or read as they knitted.
Below there is more on how women used to knit, but first it is worth explaining what I mean by the 'wrong way' and why you should learn from the outset not to do it.
Our grandparents always used wool because man-made fibres had not be invented. So the term 'wool' is used on this page. Think of it as 'yarn' if you prefer.
The wrong way to knit - as I am defining it - involves taking one's right hand off the needle every time one makes a loop for a new stitch. So for every stitch, the needle has to be let go while the wool is wound round the needle. Then the needle has to be picked up again. The whole process is slow, laborious, requires continuous eye contact and on-going shoulder and elbow movement. Some knitters who knit this way and do a lot of knitting have even developed shoulder and elbow strains.
It is fair to say that I have seen some excellent work produced this 'wrong way', but I am sad that the knitters concerned were never taught the old skills from the outset. They would have found it far, far better in the long run.
The right way of knitting involves working largely by feel, with perhaps only the odd glance downwards at the end of a row or for more complex stitches. Relaxing and chatting, reading or watching television at the same time comes naturally because, once learnt, the skill becomes second nature and effortless.
The photographs and their captions show how and what is involved. The method works however many rows of stitching are on the needles, but just a few rows, mid-row are shown in the first few photos to make it easier to see what the hands are doing. This is crucial whatever the type of stitch.
As a first step to knitting the 'right way', you need to learn to control how tightly or loosely you are going to knit. This is called controlling the tension of the wool, and is very important indeed in knitting. Tension is controlled by how you pick up the wool at the outset, by winding it round the fingers of the right hand and altering how tightly or loosely they grip. Sizes of needles are considered on another page.
Check how you can make the wool slide easily or keep it taut simply by how tightly or loosely you hold your fingers together.
To get used to the feel of knitting the right way try the following movements until they seem easy to you.
This simple stitch is called a stocking stitch.
As the knitting grows, make sure that you keep the grips shown above, so that you don't let go of the needles until the end of a row. Then turn the knitting round and repeat the above stages. You will have to hold it such that the thumb of your right hand grips the knitting as shown in the photo.
By never letting go of the needles, you work by feel which frees your eyes for looking at people as you talk together or watch television, etc. It becomes so effortless that women used to say that it felt wrong of an evening not to have "knitting on the needles".
More complex stitches are either a matter of how the wool is wound round the needle or how the stitches of the previous row are treated for each new stitch. Irrespective of what the pattern may be, what matters is that you still hold the wool the same way and grip the right hand needle through the knitting, not letting go of it until the end of a row, i.e. continuing to work by feel.
There are guides on the internet on what to do with the wool for casting on, casting off and knitting elaborate stitches. The aim of this page is to stress the importance of the right way of holding the needles. Do make sure when following the guides that you don't fall into bad habits of holding the needles the wrong way. The right hand must never leave the right hand needle.
When I was a child in the 1940s, there were immigrants from Europe settled in our area. They knitted even more quickly, and I have wondered why their way didn't catch on widely in UK. The wool was wound round the left hand fingers, rather than the right hand ones, and the right hand needle dug into stitches on the left hand needle, rather like crocheting with a crochet hook. This method, too, involved never letting go of the needles between rows.
In my experience this Continental way produces a tighter tension.
In the USA we call your 'continental way' the 'French style' of knitting. It was how my mother taught me to knit.