The Barb Brown: The Absolute Best and Correct Way to Knit

603405_10150976264652084_17011716_nWhen I began teaching knitting classes (about 1000 years ago), I was shocked when the students almost got into a knock down drag out hair-pulling fight over the Correct Way to Knit. The left handers, the right handers, the continental, the pickers, the throwers….it was an ugly scene. Things died down a bit when the continental people became confused. They weren’t sure if they belonged in the continental camp, or the picker camp. I finally had to bang on the table with my knitters’ tool bag to restore order.

Since that day, I start every single class I teach – whether it’s technique, lecture, history, or colour selection  – with the question: “What is the correct and best way to knit?” Hands shoot up in the air, opinions are shouted out, and the atmosphere gets intense! I learned early on to nip this in the bud by yelling “Time Out!” at the top of my voice, which usually works. All those years as a hockey mom finally paid off!

Different hands, different gauge, same pattern!
Different hands, different gauge, same pattern!

Once the class gets all of this out of their system, I share what I consider to be the correct knitting style, which begins with a series of questions:

  1. Does the way you knit hurt your hands?
  2. Are you happy with the fabric you produce?
  3. Are you happy with how quickly the project works up?

If the answer to question 1 is No, and question 2 and 3 earn a Yes, then the knitter is knitting the correct way for THEM.

Let’s look at each of these questions individually:

  1. Does the way you knit hurt your hands? The big thing to remember here is that what hurts my hands might not hurt yours. And vice versa. Every person’s hands are different, in size, shape, joints, tendons, and muscles. A movement that is easy for me might be impossible for you. Just because it works for old Aunt Vera that taught you to knit, does not mean it will work for you! If it hurts, try other ways.
  2. Are you happy with the fabric you produce? Is it nice and even? Does looking at it make you happy? If not, try some other knitting styles. Just remember that you are not going to be proficient in it after 15 minutes of practice. It’s a NEW technique! Knit up a few small projects such as some blanket squares (these are welcome donations for many charitable groups), some mug rugs, luggage tags, etc. 
  3. Are you happy with how quickly the project works up? On this one, we need to be realistic: many knitters would love to knit faster than they do, even though they are contenders for the title of “world’s fastest knitter!” But if it is driving you insane that it takes 27 minutes to knit a row of 42 stitches, trying a new method or refining the method you are using might be a thing to do.

Refining the method you are already using is something for all knitters to think about. My purling has always been very fast, but in flat work such as stocking stitch, I tend to row out badly. While I was taking a class in knitting with a knitting belt from June Hemmons Hiatt, she suggested I rotate my right hand forward. The rotation she suggested was less than 1/8 of an inch. I tried it, and the rowing out disappeared, and my speed increased as well. It was the tiniest smitch of a correction that made a huge difference!

Three Knitters, three styles.
Three knitters, three styles.

Last year, I taught some knitting classes. I began them as usual by asking “What is the correct way to knit?” The class yelled out, in unison, “The way that works for you!” It was a very satisfying moment!


30 thoughts on “The Barb Brown: The Absolute Best and Correct Way to Knit

  1. Thank you for this!! It sets my teeth on edge every time I hear a picker declare that Cont is the fatest way to knit. Whenever my students questioned me about this claim I would ask them how much time they devote to knitting. If it’s an hour or two each week, no amount of change in technique will help. I get s lot of knitting done because I have a lot of time to knit. Speed only counts in St st in thr round. Once you throw in st patterns your speed goes out the window.

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    1. For me it’s faster. Picking requires less hand motion, thus allowing for more speed. Plus the yarn is already angled in a direction where it’s easy for the needle to grab, instead of having to swing it over with your right index. I don’t have very long fingers, so perhaps the English style is better suited to those who do.

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  2. Amen, sistah! This exact issue kept me from learning how to knit — my teachers always spent more time trying to get the yarn wound “correctly” around my fingers than showing me how to make the stitches. Keep preaching it!!

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  3. I’m sorry, I’m just totally distracted by those BEAUTIFUL wrist warmers you’re wearing. I keep trying to read your article, and end up going back to gaze at them one more time. Want want want want want!!!!

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    1. No worries! They are the Raindrops Wristers, which were previously available only as a kit through stores. We should have both the pattern and kit added to our online store by the end of today!

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  4. Hmmmm….I think my first comment disappeared when I had to log in…. I’m trying to read your article, but I’m too distracted by those BEAUTIFUL wrist warmers you’re wearing. I read a little bit, then have to scroll back to gaze longingly at them, one more time. Want want want want want!!!

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  5. Thank you for this article. I learned to throw and didn’t know there was another way until I started going to knitting groups. It is very interesting to see all the different techniques and to learn some as well.

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  6. Showing my ignorance … you wrote ‘ the continental, the pickers, the throwers’. What kind of knitting to ‘pickers’ do?

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    1. That’s actually a great question, Elizabeth! Pickers are continental knitters, and carry the yarn in the left hand. They “pick” the stitches by grabbing the yarn with the needle tip to make the stitch. Throwers are the knitters who carry the yarn in the right hand and “throw” it around the needle tip to make the stitch. The end result is identical of course.

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  7. What a great way to frame things! As long as the stitches themselves are being made correctly, it shouldn’t make a difference. After all, if you asked several people to write cursive there is a good chance that everyone would hold their pencil/pen differently and according to what made them most comfortable, but they would all still be making similar shapes in cursive.

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  8. During my teenage years, way back in the 70s, last century, an elderly lady (who was probably younger than I am now) showed me a different way to knit. It was more comfortable. Then I stopped knitting for a few years. Couldn’t afford it. Now I can’t remember that different style and I’m back to the way my family knits. I hadn’t thought of digging through the internet to find other ways of knitting until your post popped past me – thanks to Vogue Knitting. Thank you,

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  9. I so agree with this! I’m doing a series to encourage people to pick up some needles (or a hook) & I keep stressing that, whilst there are traditional ways to hold needles & yarn, there is no ‘right’ way, just what works for you!

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  10. yup yup!! i get asked this all the time in my classes and on my blog – I just say there is no write or wrong and anyone who tells you there is, just say thank you. It doesn’t matter! can’t we all just knit along?!

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  11. As a leftie who knits right handed, I have a unusual technique, my mother can’t bear to watch mr knit ( she taught me but my style developed over time) but she is the first to admit, my tensions, neatness & skill are of a decent standard. I may look awkward but my results speak for themselves. If it works for you, who cares which method you prefer, the main thing g is, do you enjoy knitting g & are you happy with the results of your efforts.

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  12. If I’m teaching a complete beginner I add a fourth criterion: do they understand the ways in which how they are knitting is completely unique? Because if they don’t, they might have trouble trying to pick up new techniques later, or think that something is an inherent problem with knitting (i.e. any of the problems in points 1-3) when it’s just their technique. Aside from that, yes, and I make sure my students know that I’m teaching them A way to knit, not THE way to knit.

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