Saturday, 22 July 2017

Continental knitting - part one

A couple of months ago, my friend F and I decide to teach ourselves to knit continental-style and then over the Summer we planned to have a little sock KAL to put our new skills into practice. That was the plan...

Continental knitting using self striping yarn with contrast cuff

My post today will share my progress and give you some tips I've learnt along the way. It's been a really steep learning curve and at times I thought the journey wasn't going to end happily but - spoiler - this post has a happy ending and there will be more continental knitting in my future.

Why continental knitting?
F and I like challenges and we're committed to developing our knitting skills; we both have 'knitting targets' that we'd like to achieve. We thought being able to knit continental-style would be advantageous in helping us to achieve our goals and I think we both thought that eventually it would be quicker than the traditional English throwing style we use.

How I taught myself knit and purl stitches
I need to confess that I have little patience for YouTube tutorials. I did start watching some of them in the very early days of learning to knit continental-style but they exasperated me. All I wanted to do was just watch someone knitting and purling - at a normal speed and without speaking!

Tip 1: If you are like me, then my first tip to share with you, is searching out people on Instagram who have shared short clips of themselves knitting. If you explore the hashtag #continentalknitting you will find some good clips. I also looked back through the galleries of people who I follow on Instagram and found some good clips too. Erica Leuder (@dreamsinfiber) has a series of little videos on Instagram in which she knits a whole sock continental style - make sure you scroll back through her gallery to March to find them!

Having watched these clips, I then felt ready to give the knit stitch a go. I used some 2.5mm dpns and some scrap sock yarn and slowly began putting each element of the stitch together. I found holding the yarn in my left hand very comfortable - I'm left handed so I think that helped - but I just couldn't get the tension right and my first few rows were incredibly tight.

Continental knitting practice swatch

Tip 2: I thought that I could practice a couple of rows of knit stitches and then cast-on my sock! My second tip is to practice, practice and practice some more to really refine technique and tension. I can't recommend enough having a practice piece to work on. You'll see that with mine I practiced garter stitch, then added in purl stitches to create stocking stitch and then practiced rib stitch. The process has been invaluable in training my muscle memory.

Knitting flat seems to be going so well; I was achieving a nice even tension and the same gauge that I would get if I was using the same yarn and short circular needles - surely that meant I was ready to start my socks?!

Starting the socks
I didn't even consider that knitting continental-style on short circulars would be tricky. I cast-on my normal number of stitches onto straight dpns as I always do and then after two rows moved the stitches onto my short circular needles but it was SO difficult to knit continental-style; there just wasn't enough space (or wriggle room!) to move my right needle around to pick up the stitches. F found it easier than me but still not very comfortable.

Tip 3: I love the hive mind of Instagram. I posted about my 'issue' on Instagram and immediately got back two really helpful suggestions that I want to share with you - if you want to knit continental style using short circulars;
- use asymmetric needles likes these: Addi 'Socks Wonder' circular needles
- knit using two short circular needles - see photo below

Sock knitting using two short circular needles

The whole process of knitting began much more enjoyable using two short circular needles but the consensus of opinion was that it was much easier to knit socks continental style on magic loop.

Magic loop
I've written before about magic loop (sock knitting with magic loop) so it was with some trepidation that I transferred my socks on to magic loop but it was just the best thing I could have done - the knitting became so easy and quick, I had plenty of wriggle room for my right needle and I actually enjoyed magic loop which is amazing!

Sock knit using magic loop

One of F's knitting goals for a while has been to knit socks two at a time on magic loop continental-style and she's doing a great job, they are looking fabulous;

Tip 4: We both agree that for continental-style sock knitting magic loop is best. F has also just whipped up a beautiful Aran-weight cable hat continental-style using magic loop and found it to be really comfortable.

What next?
Unfortunately the only downside for me is that my gauge using magic loop is different to that using short circulars so if I carried on with these socks they wouldn't fit. I also wanted this yarn and these socks to be my 'handbag holiday socks' over the summer holidays and I do think short circulars are best for this. So - I will rip back my socks and start them again on short circulars. But, then also cast-on a pair of socks for my little boy using magic loop/continental style - he'll be thrilled and I'll get more practice before starting bigger projects. In my knitting project queue I have a cowl and cardigan coming up that I plan to use my new continental knitting skills on!

It has been so much fun learning new knitting skills with a friend, sharing tips, techniques and celebrating our achievements. F is also much better at patiently watching You Tube tutorials than me which is a bonus! We are both enjoying continental knitting and think that it is probably quicker so I would recommend giving it a go if you haven't tried. x


  1. I'm almost tempted to try continental knitting now. You are very persuasive Helen. When I observe the knitters I know continental seems much faster - the movements are smaller. I will put it on my long list of techniques to try! Genius idea to learn via Instagram video clips.

    1. Thank you! I would definitely recommend it and it's great if you want to do colour work. Instagram videos are great! x