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How do you hold your knitting?

How knitting in more than one style improved my knitting life!

I hold my yarn and needles in three different ways depending on what I'm knitting. I like having this flexibility, but I don't know many other knitters who chop and change like I do. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised about that—I'd been knitting for 25 years before I made any changes to my knitting style!

I do wish I'd known earlier about the advantages of being able to hold my yarn in either hand though. I find knit/purl stitch patterns quicker and easier with the yarn in my left hand, while I prefer working lace and intarsia with the yarn in my right. When I knit Fair Isle I can now hold yarns in both hands! All this is very convenient, but I think the biggest advantage is that I can relieve aches and pains in my hands by changing styles.

So, in case you've never thought about learning a different knitting style, or you have but weren't quite sure how, I thought I'd share the story of how I came to have three different styles.

I was taught to knit with the yarn held in my right hand, and adopted the "pen" hold. This involves supporting the needle from below with the thumb and first finger, as if holding a pen.

Pen hold

The 'pen' hold.

I could knit fairly quickly and evenly in this way, and used that style for years. However, it required me to bend my right hand backwards at the wrist, and eventually my tendons began to complain. My hands and arms ached more and more whenever I was knitting.

I noticed that everyone else in my knitting group was using the "knife" hold. The yarn is still in the right hand, but the needle is held from above, with the hand and fingers in a more relaxed position.

Knife hold

The 'knife' hold.

Despite the number of years I'd been knitting my old way, I found it easy to switch styles, and the pain disappeared. Such a relief!

Making that first change gave me the confidence to try knitting with the yarn in my left hand - Continental style.

Continental style 1

The first hold I learned for Continental knitting.

I'd read that it made knit/purl patterns, such as seed (moss) stitch, much quicker and easier. Instead of having to make the regular changes between the front and back of the work by swinging the yarn nearly 360 degrees around the front of needle with your right hand, you only need a tiny flick with the left hand. On top of that, I just thought that knitting in Continental style looked cool! And loads of people knit that way, how hard could it be?

It was like learning to knit all over again. I could barely get the yarn round the needle, let alone make a stitch with it. I realized I needed a dedicated project just to learn to knit Continental style. I cast on for a seed stitch scarf in a bulky-weight yarn. Progress was slow and my tension was terrible, but it didn't matter because the point of this scarf was to learn. Two large balls of yarn later, I had a new (slightly wobbly) scarf, and I could knit Continental style.

After all that effort I was disappointed when I timed myself and found that I could still knit seed stitch faster with my right hand than with my left. It took about a year before I felt equally comfortable with the yarn in either hand. That made me properly appreciate the motor skill involved in knitting; you might become competent within a couple of hours, but it takes serious dedication for the skill to become second nature.

I just re-tested my speed in seed stitch and this time found I'm significantly faster with my left hand compared to the right. Now, I can knit in 10 minutes what would have taken me 15! I'm happy with that.

I discovered my third and favorite knitting style a couple of years ago while I was looking for ways to knit faster. I saw a video in which super-speedy Continental-style knitter Miriam Tegels shows how she holds her left index finger close to the needle to reduce strain in her hand. I still don't find it easy to purl like this, but I love it for knit rows. It's fast, and very easy on my hands.

Continental style 2

Second Continental hold: easy on my hands but I can't yet use it for purling!

There are countless different ways of holding yarn and needles. If you're happy with your style, then don't change a thing! But if your hands hurt while you're knitting, or you like the advantages of a different style, I definitely think it's worth the effort to learn. It's improved my knitting life!

—Wendy

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