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Continental vs English Knitting: What’s the Difference?


Klara Nilsson | Updated on January 5, 2023

Here you’ll find the differences between Continental and English knitting explained along with the pros and cons of both knitting styles. We’ll explain which option is easiest, fastest, and most popular, as well as how to switch between them.
Continental vs English Knitting

No two knitters work in exactly the same way. In fact, every individual knitter has their own unique way of holding their needles, placing their yarn, and managing their tension.

Although every knitter is different, there are some fundamental methods and techniques that are shared by thousands of people all over the world. These techniques are called knitting styles, and they can vary depending on where you are and who taught you to knit.

The two main styles of knitting are called the ‘Continental’ method and the ‘English’ method – or ‘picking’ and ‘throwing’. For the most part, they determine how you hold your yarn and how you wrap the yarn around your needle as you knit.

Summary: The Differences Between Continental vs English Knitting

  • English knitting involves holding the working yarn in your right hand, while Continental knitting involves holding the working yarn in your left hand.
  • In the English knitting style, new stitches are created by “throwing” or “wrapping” the yarn around the right needle. The Continental method creates new stitches by “picking” or “grabbing” them with the needle.
  • Continental knitting is generally faster than English knitting because it requires smaller hand movements.
  • The English knitting method can feel more natural for right-handed knitters, while the Continental method can feel better to crocheters.
  • It can be easier to maintain your tension using the English method, as your fingers are throwing the yarn instead of carrying it. This can make it simpler for new knitters to learn.

Both methods can produce great results, and they don’t affect the types of projects you can work on. However, they’re different enough that it’s worth understanding how they work, and how you might benefit from learning one style over the other.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between Continental and English knitting, as well as the pros and cons of each method. Whether you’re a beginner who’s not sure which style to use, or an experienced knitter looking to try a new technique, you’ll find everything you need to decide which style is best for you.

We’ll explore the two main styles of knitting, the basic techniques involved in both, and how to switch between them. Remember: there is no right or wrong method – they’re just different, and you can benefit from both!

What’s In This Guide?

The Differences Between Continental and English Knitting

There are two main styles of knitting: the English method and the Continental method. The main differences between the two styles are how the yarn is held and how the yarn is wrapped around the needle to create a new stitch.

In continental knitting, the working yarn is held in the left hand and the needle is used to “pick up” yarn to create a new stitch. In English knitting, the working yarn is held in the right hand and the yarn is “thrown” over the needle to create a new stitch.

For this reason, Continental knitting is also known as “picking”, while English knitting is also known as “throwing”.

Both knitting styles produce the same results, but some knitters may find one style easier, faster, or more comfortable than the other.

Continental vs English Knitting Styles
The main differences between the two styles are how the yarn is held and how new stitches are created.

In the English knitting style, you use your right hand to wrap the yarn around the needle and maintain your tension. In the Continental style, you use your left hand to tension the yarn.

However, this doesn’t mean Continental knitting is only for left-handed knitters – you can use both knitting methods regardless of your dominant hand.

It’s commonly argued that the English method is easier for new knitters to learn, as the ‘throwing’ motion feels more natural. This is especially true when using big needles and super chunky yarn.

On the other hand, Continental knitting streamlines the motion of producing each new stitch. The working yarn is much closer to the tip of the needle used to “pick” it, which can make it faster than English knitting.

Here’s a table summarizing how the two methods differ:

The differences between Continental and English knitting.
Continental Knitting Method
English Knitting Method
Working yarn is held in the left hand Working yarn is held in the right hand
Yarn is “picked” by the needle Yarn is “thrown” over the needle
Can be faster to create new stitches Can be slower to create new stitches
More difficult for beginners to learn Easier for new knitters to learn

In the rest of this section, we’ll answer some of the most common questions knitters typically have about English vs Continental knitting:

Which Type of Knitting Is Easier: English or Continental?

Every knitter is different, so there is no single answer to which method is easier. Some people find one style more natural than the other due to previous experience, while others have no preference either way.

Some knitters say the ‘throwing’ motion of English knitting feels more natural and makes it easier to maintain your tension, as your fingers are throwing the yarn instead of carrying it. This can make it simpler for new knitters to learn – especially when using super chunky yarns.

By contrast, it’s often said that Continental knitting is easier for left-handed knitters or those who already know how to crochet.

In general, it’s easier to alternate between knit and purl stitches using the Continental method, which makes it better for projects with lots of ribbing or other alternating stitch patterns like seed stitch.

As always, it’s worth keeping an open mind and trying both knitting styles to find out which one feels easier to you.

Which Is Faster: Continental or English Knitting?

It’s possible to knit quickly using both methods. However, Continental knitting is generally regarded as the faster knitting style as it involves smaller hand movements.

Many of the fastest knitters in the world use the Continental method for this same reason: over time, the speed of the “picking” movement and the small distance from the working yarn to the tip of the needle makes the process of forming a new stitch faster and more efficient.

While the Continental knitting style is typically considered faster overall, how fast you knit will also depend on the type of stitch pattern you’re creating. For example, Continental knitting is great for knits, purls, and Fair Isle projects, but it’s much slower when working on knitting patterns that use cable stitch.

As always, this will depend on your personal experience, too. If you learned the English knitting style first and have been using it for years, you might find you knit much faster with the English method, regardless of how much you practice Continental knitting.

English vs Continental Knitting: Which Is Better?

Neither English nor Continental knitting is objectively superior to the other. Both methods can be used to create the same types of knitting projects and stitches, so the choice of which style to use often comes down to personal preference and previous experience.

They’re not mutually exclusive either – a lot of knitters start with one style, then switch to another. In fact, learning to use both styles of knitting interchangeably can be very beneficial for a wide variety of projects.

Here’s a table explaining which knitting style is generally best when it comes to difficulty, speed, versatility, and more:

Attribute Continental Knitting English Knitting Explanation
Difficulty

Loser

Winner

The ‘throwing’ motion used in the English method can feel more natural for new knitters, especially when using heavy yarn weights.
Speed

Winner

Loser

Continental knitting involves the least amount of hand movement, so it’s generally regarded as the faster knitting style.
Versatility

Equal

Equal

Both styles can be used to create the same types of knitting stitches and projects, though some techniques suit one style more than the other.
Yarn Usage

Equal

Equal

Both knitting methods use the same amount of yarn.

The knitting style that’s best for you will depend on lots of factors. If you already know how to crochet or you’re accustomed to working with yarn in your left hand, then Continental knitting will probably be better in your circumstances. If you have a very dominant right hand, then English knitting may feel more natural.

The most important thing is to develop your own style of knitting that feels comfortable and allows you to tension the yarn properly. After some practice, you’ll become a fast and confident knitter no matter which knitting style you choose.

If you’ve just started out, it’s worth trying both knitting methods to see which feels best. If you’ve been knitting for a long time, you may find that learning a new style helps you diversify your skills and improves your ability to complete certain projects.

The Pros and Cons of Continental Knitting

The Continental knitting style – also known as ‘German’ knitting or ‘left-handed’ knitting – involves holding the working yarn in the left hand and forming stitches with a ‘pick and lift’ motion. It’s most popular in Northern and Eastern Europe.

Here’s a video demonstrating the Continental knitting method:

Continental knitting tends to be faster than English knitting as it involves the least amount of hand movement. This also makes it easier on the hands and wrists, as the motion required to form each stitch is less strenuous.

Despite its advantages, Continental is not always the best method for very loose or very tightly-knit fabrics, as the tension of your work can be harder to maintain – especially when knitting in the round. For those accustomed to English knitting, it can be harder to learn, too.

Here’s a table explaining the pros and cons of Continental knitting:

The advantages and disadvantages of the Continental knitting style.

Pros

Cons

Generally faster than the English method Harder to learn than the English method
Less stressful on the wrists and hands May be difficult to maintain even tension
Alternating between knits and purls is easier Worse for cable stitch patterns
Can feel more natural for left-handed knitters or crocheters
Better for Fair Isle knitting projects

Now we’ll explain these advantages and disadvantages in more detail.

The Pros of Continental Knitting

  • Continental knitting is typically faster than English knitting because each stitch is formed by a quick ‘picking’ motion, which is more efficient than the ‘throwing’ involved in English knitting. The working yarn is also closer to the tip of your needle, which can make your knitting more efficient over time.
  • The picking motion required to form each stitch can be less strenuous than the throwing motion used in English knitting, which means Continental knitting can be easier on your hands and wrists.
  • For left-handed knitters or people with experience in crochet, holding the working yarn in the left hand can feel more natural. The Continental method can be easier to learn in these circumstances.
  • Continental knitting makes it easier to alternate between knit and purl stitches, which makes it better for Fair Isle knitting patterns, ribbing, and similar techniques like alternating seed stitch.

The Cons of Continental Knitting

  • For those accustomed to English knitting, Continental knitting can be more difficult to learn. Some beginner knitters find the picking motion feels less natural than the throwing alternative.
  • Continental knitting may not be as suitable for certain types of knitting – such as very loose or very tightly-knit fabrics – because the tension can be harder to control, especially when knitting in the round.

The Pros and Cons of English Knitting

The English knitting style – also known as ‘American’ knitting or ‘right-handed’ knitting – involves holding the working yarn in the right hand and ‘throwing’ the yarn over the needle to form new stitches. It’s the most popular knitting style in England, parts of Europe, and the USA.

Here’s a video demonstrating the English knitting method:

The throwing motion used in the English method can feel more natural for beginners and right-handed knitters, especially when using heavy yarn weights. Some people also find it easier to maintain their knitting tension using the English style. For these reasons, it has a reputation for being the easier method overall.

Despite these advantages, English knitting is typically slower than Continental knitting as the throwing motion is larger and less time-efficient. This movement can also make it harder on the hands and wrists over time, which means it’s less suited to people with repetitive stress problems.

Here’s a table explaining the pros and cons of English knitting:

The advantages and disadvantages of the English knitting style.

Pros

Cons

Can be simpler for new knitters to learn Generally slower than the Continental method
Easier when handling super chunky yarns More strenuous on your hands and wrists
More comfortable for right-handed knitters Less comfortable for left-handed knitters
Can be easier to maintain knitting tension

Now we’ll explain these advantages and disadvantages in more detail.

The Pros of English Knitting

  • English knitting may feel more comfortable to right-handed knitters, as the working yarn is held in the right hand.
  • Some people find the English knitting method easier to learn than the Continental method, as the throwing motion feels more natural.
  • English knitting can make it easier to manage your tension, as your fingers aren’t as preoccupied with carrying the yarn. This makes it easier for knitting very tight or very loose fabrics where maintaining gauge is particularly important.

The Cons of English Knitting

    The English knitting style can be slower than the Continental style, as it takes slightly longer to create each new stitch using the throwing motion.
  • If you suffer from arthritis or repetitive stress pain in your hands or wrists, you may find the throwing movement more strenuous than the Continental method.
  • It can feel less natural for left-handed knitters or crocheters accustomed to working with yarn in their left hand.

Why Does It Matter Which Style You Choose?

The differences between the two main knitting styles might seem trivial at first, and in many ways that’s true. For the most part, it really doesn’t matter which method you use.

However, there are a few ways you can benefit from learning both styles and incorporating them into your knitting practice:

Changing Your Tension to Meet Gauge

If you’re having trouble maintaining your tension and meeting the correct knitting gauge, switching between knitting styles can be very useful.

Most people who are accustomed to a particular method will find their tension changes slightly when they switch styles. You might naturally knit more tightly or loosely using the English method for example, which can be used to your advantage next time you’re having issues meeting gauge for a particular project.

If you’re having issues maintaining the right tension, switching styles can be a valuable tool in your skillset.

Relieving Hand and Wrist Pain

Switching styles can have physical benefits too. Just like any craft that involves a lot of small and repetitive hand movements, knitting can sometimes lead to pain in your hands and wrists – especially during long sessions.

You can relieve some or all of this pain by switching knitting styles halfway through your session, thereby changing the hand and wrist movements used to form each new stitch.

Of course, repetition of either movement for long periods of time will cause some strain. However, having the option to combine the two methods and alternate between them can be hugely beneficial.

Improving Your Knitting Technique

Even if you’ve been knitting with one method for a long time, it’s worth learning the other method to widen your skillset and help improve your abilities overall.

Being able to knit both ways can be particularly useful for certain knitting techniques and projects. For example, if you’re working with two colors of yarn in the same row, it’s possible to combine both knitting methods and knit with one color in your right hand and one in your left.

This helps to speed up the process and prevents you having to swap out yarns every time you change colors.

It’s not all about technique, either. It’s fun to learn and develop your skills, even if you decide to stick with one method most of the time.

Switching From English to Continental Knitting

If you’re accustomed to knitting with one method and have decided to learn the other, you can easily switch between the two – even halfway through a project.

However, switching from the English to the Continental style can be particularly difficult for some knitters, especially when it comes to the purl stitch. You may find that you tend to drop the working yarn or the entire stitch altogether.

Similarly, you may be used to the stitches on your right needle moving along naturally using the English method. With the Continental style, you need to deliberately move these stitches along to prevent them bunching up and ruining your gauge.

Lastly, it’s recommended not to move the hand holding your yarn very much. Unlike the English method, Continental knitting mostly relies on movement in your wrist, not in your fingers.

If you’re trying out the Continental method and having similar issues, you may find this video useful for fixing some of these common problems:

In general, switching knitting methods won’t make a difference to your work as long as you maintain the same tension throughout. This ensures your stitches look the same from the beginning to the end of the project.

After switching, you may find your knitting looks a little loose and messy to begin with. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable as you adjust to the new hand motion, too. As always though, the longer you practice, the faster and more confident you’ll become.

Using Both Knitting Styles at Once

It’s also possible to mix Continental and English knitting – that is, to use both styles at once. For example, if you’re working in stockinette stitch, you could knit in the Continental style and purl in the English style.

Be careful if your tension is noticeably different in each style though; this can lead to inconsistency in the final fabric.

One common use-case for mixing the two methods is Fair Isle or “stranded” knitting. Here, you can hold different colors of yarn in both hands and use the two methods simultaneously to speed up the process.

You can see this process demonstrated in the video below:

Which Knitting Style Should You Use, and When?

As we’ve mentioned, the main differences between each knitting style are how you hold your yarn and how you create new stitches. Though the results of each method are mostly the same, some people may find one style easier or more comfortable than the other.

Some knitters find the English knitting method is easier for projects using chunky yarns, while others find the Continental style is easier if they’ve already learned to crochet.

Even if you’ve happily used one method for a long time, it’s worth learning the other method to see how it feels. Once you know both, you can alternate between the two where necessary – even if you stick to one method most of the time.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to knit. Both methods work well, and you should focus on whichever way works best for you.

FAQs

What’s the Difference Between Continental and English Knitting?

The main differences between the English and Continental knitting styles are the way the yarn is held and how the yarn is wrapped around the right needle to create a new stitch.

In Continental knitting, the working yarn is held in the left hand and new stitches are formed by “picking up” the yarn with your needle. In English knitting, the working yarn is held in the right hand and new stitches are formed by “throwing” the yarn over your needle.

Continental knitting is generally faster than English knitting because it requires smaller hand movements, while English knitting can feel easier and more comfortable for right-handed knitters.

Which Knitting Method is Most Popular?

The most popular knitting method depends on where you are in the world. The English knitting style is the most popular method in England, parts of Europe, and the USA, while the Continental style is most popular in parts of Northern and Eastern Europe.

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