There are not many opportunities to see knitting on the TV, but it’s always possible on the Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple TV series. I was watching a re-run one Sunday afternoon, and was struck by the fluidity and elegant hand movements of Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple knitting. I was trying to copy how she was holding her knitting while I was watching. See what I saw – Miss Marple – Why Didn’t they ask Evans? (from 4:04 mins – has audio).
What surprised me was how she was holding her right needle from underneath, like holding a pen. I was still figuring out how to knit like that over the next few days, when there was an old Miss Marple film on TV, and I saw Margaret Rutherford holding her knitting in the same way!
So then I had a look on YouTube to see how the other British actresses who have played Miss Marple on TV held their knitting. And it was just the same!
Now of course, they could have all been copying each others’ style for continuity, but I thought that level of knitting detail was unlikely. Perhaps it was a popular style of knitting for the last few generations? I usually pride myself on being so observant, but evidently although I have regularly watched people knit, I haven’t really been looking that hard.
I needed to find out more, so I had a look in the vast knitting tome – The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt. She lists several different ways of holding your needles when you knit with the yarn in the right hand (English style) – and I knew all of them, except this style, which she calls, “Pencil knitting”, because the needle is held like a pencil, or “Parlour style”, which was mentioned in A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt. Hemmons Hiatt says:
“When middle-class Victorian women took up knitting as an activity to occupy quiet hours in the parlour after dinner…”, they moved away from using knitting sheaths or belts like the working-classes, and apparently liked “…the idea of holding the needle from underneath because the hand took on such an elegant position, quite like daintily raising a cup when sipping tea.”
I started to look at my friends’ knitting with new eyes, and many of them have had to put up with me intently staring at them knitting. One night, down at my knitting group, I realised nearly half of the group knitted “Parlour style”. I had a chat to Cathy about it, who also knits this way, and we had a laugh about the idea of a “Parlour style”, it sounded so “lah-di-dah”! By watching her closely I have managed to start knitting in this style, I’m still a little stiff and jerky though (no audio):
Now you must be thinking, why is she wanting to change her style of knitting? Good point. I’ve not been that happy with my knitting style, I’m not a very fast knitter, I’d thought about trying knitting with the yarn in the left hand (Continental style), as I had been told that was faster, but I thought it would be hard to get used to using the other hand, and while I was learning it would slow me down a lot, and I just had so many things I wanted to knit! I had heard that you get faster if you work closer to the needle tips, as your hand doesn’t have to travel so far, so I’d been thinking about that as I knitted. I also find that the ring and little fingers on my right hand can feel cramped as they grip the needle, especially when using 2-2.5 mm needles. I was pleased to find a style that seemed more efficient, used less hand and arm movement, relaxed my fingers, and felt nicer too, more fluid and not so jerky, and with more practice I can see it being faster. This is how I used to knit; holding the yarn between my thumb and fore-finger and moving the whole hand (has audio):
I also read in The Principles of Knitting that my original style was they way most people taught beginners to knit, so I felt like perhaps it was time to move on…
However, I found it had to apply “Parlour style” to the purl stitch, so I got Cathy to give me a demonstration of “Parlour style” purlwise; she’s so fast!
I’ll get the hang of it soon; in the meantime, I’ve been using my old style for purl stitches. It’s not been too difficult adjusting my knitting style, and I can do it on and off, until I get the hang of it, and it’s not affected my stitch tension too much. I’d suggest having a nice stocking stitch project to do while getting used to a new style – I’m knitting Melia, by Ysolda Teague.
To encourage you to broaden your knitting style horizons, have a look at the variety of knitting styles at my knitting group, the Tea Tree Tea Knitters (Ravelry link).
Liz knits English style, hands over the needles:
Mo knits English style with straight needles, and can therefore tuck one under her arm, which keeps that needle still, as she knits around it:
Her right hand is over the needle, but from the front; she knits astonishingly fast.
Jackie does a variant on Mo’s style, but as she mainly uses circular needles, she steadies the solid part of the right needle against her body:
Mica knits Continental Style, holding the yarn in her left hand:
And then there are the different ways of holding the yarn to keep the tension even. See how Mica winds the yarn twice around her fore-finger above.
This is how Alison holds her yarn:
Liz has two ways of holding her yarn:
Laura knits Continental style, but holds her yarn differently for her purl stitch:
This is the way I am doing purl at the moment too, except held in the other hand; and this is my new way of holding my yarn for “Parlour style”:
I think most people knit the way they were first taught, often how we were taught by our Mothers and Grandmothers. I had a few stops and starts in my knitting, and had a lot of reminders from books, so I’m not sure how I ended up knitting that way. That said, in discussing this topic with my friends we all agree there is no right or wrong way to hold your knitting; if it feels comfortable and you are producing lovely even knitting, then that is right for you.
How do you hold your knitting?