Follow along as I conduct a yarn experiment to try five different knitting styles and find out what works for me and what doesn’t.
If you are learning to knit or looking to expand your knitting skills you may be wondering about different styles of knitting. Most US knitters use either Continental or English style knitting, but there are even more styles to explore!
I tried five different styles of knitting:
Some of these knitting methods were new to me, while others I was much more familiar with. I found some styles worked great for me, and others were a struggle.
To keep things fair, I tried each technique with the same set of needles, the same yarn, and the same stitches. I already had some cotton yarn on hand so this was the perfect opportunity to knit some dishcloths.
I used the Hurdle Stitch Diagonal Dishcloth pattern by Tricots et Créations Isabelle on Ravelry as the base pattern for my dishcloths, with two modifications. First, I only increased the dishcloth to 31 stitches, then began decreases, making a smaller dishcloth overall. The second change was after the halfway point of the pattern, I switched the garter stitch sections to purling on each side instead of knitting.
With these slight modifications, this pattern let me put each knitting method through its paces. I did increases, decreases, solid knit stitch, solid purl stitch, and ribbing. Using the same pattern for each lets me compare the final product of each method as well.
I want to make a big disclaimer right at the start. This is my own experience with these knitting techniques. Just because one method didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you and vice versa. I personally know knitters who use each of these methods and they all have their pros and cons. The point of this experiment was to find out what works for me and have some fun learning something new.
I hope you take the time to try different knitting styles and find out what works for you, but, as long as you are having fun and getting the product you want, you are doing it right!
Now, let’s get knitting!
The first knitting style I tried was Continental style knitting. Sometimes this style of knitting is called Picking or German knitting. This is my default knitting mode, so this is my control method.
To knit continental style, both needles are held overhand, with the working yarn tensioned and manipulated by the left hand. The yarn is wrapped clockwise around the needles, using the pointer finger of the left hand to form stitches.
- Relatively fast technique
- Easy to switch from knits to purls
- Lots of information online for using this technique
- Purl stitch is more difficult than knit stitch
- Takes practice to keep tension even between knits and purls
- A lot of wrist movement
This is an easy method for me. To be fair, I have years of practice at this. I don’t have a problem forming different stitches or following patterns. I was able to knit up this dishcloth quickly and without any trouble.
To tension the yarn I wrap the working yarn around my left pinky and over my pointer finger.
The biggest issue I’ve found with knitting Continental is it can be difficult on the wrists. For most of the time I’ve been knitting, I haven’t had physical difficulties when knitting. In the past year or so I have noticed that I am not able to knit in this style for very long before I start to get some tingling in my right hand, telling me to take a break. This has caused me to keep my knitting sessions much shorter and I’m not able to get as much knitting done as I used to.
Final Dishcloth Result
This dishcloth turned out exactly how I expected. It is the proper square shape, the stitches look even, and I didn’t notice any mistakes in the pattern.
I give this dishcloth a 5 out of 5 cuttlefish.
Also known as Throwing, English knitting was next up to try. I’ve dabbled in English knitting before. It is often the first style shown to people when they learn to knit because it is slower and easier to break down for a demonstration.
I don’t usually knit English style, but I do use the technique in conjunction with Continental knitting when I knit Faire Isle Colorwork. To keep the different colored yarn from getting tangled up, I hold one color of yarn in my right hand and knit English, and hold the other color in my left hand and knit Continental.
I thought that having some experience with this knitting style would make knitting a dishcloth a piece of cake. Spoiler alert: it did not.
For English style knitting, the knitting needles are held in about the same way as Continental style, and the yarn is still wrapped around clockwise to form stitches. The biggest difference is the yarn is controlled by the right hand instead of the left.
The traditional “throwing” style of English knitting has the knitter letting go of the needle with the right hand to wrap the yarn around. There is also a variation called “flicking” where the knitter doesn’t let go and flicks the yarn around with the tip of the right pointer finger. This is very similar to continental knitting. I stuck with the more classic throwing method for my dishcloth.
- Easy to break down for teaching
- Right hand moves the same for a knit stitch or a purl stitch
- Easier for most people to knit with even tension
- Slower technique
- Difficult (for me) to get enough tension on the yarn
- Hard to transition from knits to purls
My overall impression of English style knitting in one word: frustrating!
When I started I tried to tension the yarn the same way I do with Continental knitting, wrapped around the pinky finger and then looped over the pointer finger. For some reason, my right hand cannot keep tension this way. My pinky finger likes to go off and do its own thing instead of staying next to my ring finger. This meant I didn’t have enough resistance on the yarn.
Eventually, I found that tensioning the yarn around my middle finger and then over my pointer finger worked much better.
The other big issue I had was alternating between knits and purls. It was so fiddly and I kept messing up, which created extra yarnovers in weird places.
One thing I did like about this technique was the purl stitch was the same difficulty as a knit stitch. As long as the whole row was one or the other I was fine.
By the end of the dishcloth, I felt a bit more confident, but I wasn’t enjoying the technique. It took a lot more effort to stick to the pattern and not mess up my stitches and the end result reflects my difficulties.
Final Dishcloth Result
After three failed attempts and restarts, I ended up knitting a kite instead of a dishcloth.
I’m not 100% sure what went wrong. At first, I thought my purl stitch gauge must be looser than my knit stitch gauge, which could explain why the second half of the washcloth was longer than the first half. But I also counted the yarnovers on the short side and on the long side. There were 14 on the short side and 19 on the long side. I must have missed decreases, which made it so I knit more rows.
Because I found the English style so frustrating, I didn’t bother to rip out the stitches and reknit this dishcloth. The missed decreases were even enough to make it look almost intentional, and it will still wash dishes.
Overall, I have this dishcloth a 2 out of 5 cuttlefish.
Lever knitting, also known as Irish Cottage Knitting is arguably the most picturesque knitting style. With extra long knitting needles, one tucked under an arm, anyone knitting this way looks like they belong in a rocking chair on the porch of a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Lever knitting is similar to English style knitting because the working yarn is usually held in the right hand. You can hold the yarn in the left hand, but it is rare.
This technique works best with long straight knitting needles so you can tuck the right needle into your armpit. With the right needle braced, you can completely let go making it easy to throw the working yarn. The left needle does all the moving but the right hand does all the yarn manipulation.
There is a variation of lever knitting where the right needle is held in the right hand like a pencil instead of braced under the arm. This can be used with other needles like circular knitting needles.
- Good for beginners
- Purl and knit stitches are very similar
- Easy to switch from knit to purl
- Works best on straight needles
- Decrease stitches difficult
To start, I want to note that the knitting needles I was using weren’t the best for this method. Long straight needles are the best for this technique and I was using regular length needles. I was still successful at learning the technique, even with the shorter needles.
I liked this technique a lot more than regular English style knitting. With the right needle tucked under my arm, it was much easier to get a steady rhythm throwing the working yarn. Even switching from knits to purls went smoothly.
I noticed my tension was tighter than usual, making it difficult to slide the stitches on the needles. By the end of the dishcloth, the tension loosened a bit, so with a bit more practice, this wouldn’t be a problem.
I also had the stitches drop off the right needle while trying to get the stitches off of the left needle quite a bit. Fortunately, this cotton yarn was stiff and the stitches were usually easy to slip back on. Like my tension, this issue seemed to get better the more I practiced.
Decrease stitches were a bit awkward with this method. My tighter tension and the stiff cotton yarn weren’t helping either, but I do think the movement of the needles in this style makes it a bit trickier. Purling two stitches together was particularly difficult. It wasn’t so difficult that I wouldn’t want to use this knitting method, but it was noticeable.
As I used this technique, I found myself naturally bracing my right thumb on the top of the right needle as I directed the working yarn with my fingers. I don’t know if any other lever knitters do this, but it worked for me.
I think this technique would be great for beginners. It would be easy to break down to show someone and learn piece by piece like English style, but having a stable right needle makes it so much easier.
Final Dishcloth Result
This final dishcloth looks much more like my Continental style one than the English style one. Overall, it is a bit smaller, probably because of the tighter tension. The second half is slightly longer due to my tension loosening, but it is pretty subtle.
I give this dishcloth 4 out of 5 cuttlefish.
Portuguese was the style I was the most excited to try. It is the most unique of all the styles, but most knitters who try it seem to love it.
To knit Portuguese style, the yarn is tensioned around the neck or through a necklace or pin. The working yarn is always held to the front and you use your left thumb to wrap the yarn. This style of knitting is known for being an easy way to purl when compared to other knitting styles.
It is a very efficient knitting method and a lot of knitters who try it find they have less strain and can knit longer. It is also just a fun way to knit!
- Fast method
- Very easy to purl
- Minimal movements reduce strain
- Without necklace/pin the yarn rubs on your neck
Since I do not have a yarn pin or necklace, I just laid the yarn around the back of my neck and wrapped the working yarn over the back of the middle finger of my right hand to get enough tension. If I was knitting this way frequently I would probably invest in a knitting pin or necklace because having the yarn drag across the back of my neck got irritating after a while.
Other than the neck irritation I really liked this knitting style. Always having the yarn in front took a little getting used to but the stitches were so easy to form, I can see why a lot of knitters use this style.
Final Dishcloth Result
This dishcloth was almost the same as my continental knit one. That means that I have the same tension across both styles so if I am knitting one way and start to have fatigue from the repetitive motions I can switch to the other style without having a gauge problem later. This could really increase the amount of time I can spend knitting.
Overall, I give this dishcloth a 5 out of 5 cuttlefish.
Eastern knitting, also known as Russian knitting, is probably the least well-known on this list in the US and other English-speaking countries. I only know one knitter who knits this way, and she only uses this purl stitch.
The other four styles of knitting that we have explored so far all wrap the yarn clockwise, which creates stitches where the right leg is in front of the knitting needle and the left leg is behind.
What makes the Eastern knitting style different is the yarn is wrapped counterclockwise. This makes the stitches lean in the opposite direction. It is also the same way the yarn is wrapped for crocheting.
- Fast knitting style
- Very easy purl stitches
- Wrapping yarn counterclockwise unspins the yarn
- Harder to find English resources
I held the yarn and needles the same way I do when I knit continental to have as few variables as possible.
When I first started knitting this way I really had to think about which way to wrap the yarn and if I didn’t pay close enough attention it was easy to slip back into my usual knitting style.
Where this knitting style really shines is for purling. With just a tiny flick the purl stitches almost make themselves.
An interesting effect of reversing the direction of the yarn wrapping is it is the opposite direction that the yarn was made to be knit in, at least for US yarns. This means that each counterclockwise stitch makes the yarn unwind just a little bit. The same thing happens when you crochet with yarn spun for knitting. If you have ever wondered why yarn always seems to split when you crochet, that’s why.
Having the stitches backward from what I am used to also made decrease stitches different. I think my attempt at a knit two together ended up being more of a slip slip knit, but for this kind of utilitarian project, I wasn’t too worried about how my decreases looked as long as my stitch count was correct.
Eastern knitting would be perfect for a seasoned crocheter learning to knit. It is the most similar knitting technique to crochet.
Final Dishcloth Result
The final dishcloth was great. My tension is a lot looser with this method, so I wouldn’t want to use it with any other method in conjunction with another.
I think this dishcloth is a 4 out of 5 cuttlefish.
And that’s a wrap
I had so much fun exploring new knitting styles!
English style was the most difficult for me. I don’t think I’ll be switching to that style any time soon.
It was a pleasant surprise that Portuguese style matched my continental style knitting. I will definitely be switching between these two styles to keep my wrists happy.
If you want to learn more about knitting, click here.
What is your favorite knitting style? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!