Do you knit like Miss Marple?

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).

Julia McKenzie - Marple

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!

Margaret Rutherford - Marple

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!

Geraldine McEwan - Marple

Geraldine McEwan

Joan Hickson - Marple

Joan Hickson

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):

Parlour Style knit - video

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):

My original style - video

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!

Cathy doing Parlour Style purl - video

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:

Liz knitting

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:

Mo - needle under arm style

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:

Jackie - Parlour style

Mica knits Continental Style, holding the yarn in her left hand:

Mica - knitting continental style

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:

Alison yarn holding style

Liz has two ways of holding her yarn:

Liz - yarn holding style 1      Liz - yarn holding style 2

Laura knits Continental style, but holds her yarn differently for her purl stitch:

Laura - yarn holding style purl

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”:

Ruth - yarn holding 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?


  1. I used to think I knit continental style, but I don’t wrap the yarn around any part of my hand. The yarn comes over my index finger once and I grip the hanging yarn in my third and fourth fingers. I later learned (I think) that this is called Russian style. I have no idea how I settled on this way of knitting… I was teaching myself and it just felt comfortable. Plus, it seems to be the only way I get even stitches. Even so, I really want to see if I can learn parlour style. So fast! 🙂

    1. Wish I was as fast as Cathy doing “Parlour style”, that was her purling, imagine how fast the knit stitch is. Interesting to hear about “Russian style”.

  2. Great post! I knit continental style, and wrap the yarn around my pinkie, then over my middle and index fingers.

  3. Evidently this is the way Stephanie Pearl McPhee (The Yarn Harlot) knits. See here

    I see on youtube it is called “Lever Knitting” or “Irish Cottage Knitting”. One lady says it really helps her arthritis, it’s much more ergonomic. Also see

    Also, there is evidently a group on Rav called Let’s Lever.

  4. By the way, I do not knit this way. I learned initially to throw, and now I can knit (but not purl) continental, but I am definitely going to learn how to do this!

  5. I wrap the yarn around my finger exactly like Mica, with the ball end going from my finger across my palm, then between bases of the ring and pinkie finger.
    Joan Hickson rules! Although Julia McKenzie is growing on me.

  6. I knit continental, but I tension my yarn by wrapping it the opposite direction from your pal Mica. In fact, I hold my yarn the same for both knitting and crocheting, but the forefinger is a tad further away for crocheting than for knitting. When I knit, it’s almost touching the needle tips.

    Thank you for this lovely article!

  7. It’s very interesting to see all those different ways of holding needles and yarn!
    I’ve been knitting continental for the past 10 years or so and I throw when I purl.
    I don’t wrap my yarn at all, whether I knit or purl, I just hold it with between my thumb and second finger. It’s the same way I hold my yarn when I crochet.
    It does looks strange to most people but it’s really fast, probably because I knit at very tips of my knitting needles!
    My grandmother, who was one of those parlour knitters, showed me how to crochet when I was 4 and to knit when I was 5.
    I imagine that because my hands were so small, she let me do my own thing. 🙂
    I don’t remember holding my yarn any other way.

  8. I’miss Engish and was taught first the “over the top” style then “pencil” or “parlour” came later. Tendinitis in my right thumb caused me to teach myself continental a couple of years ago (causing no end of angst due to such a cultural betrayal 😉 ). Now, once again due to hand discomfort, my current project is back to the right hand. I find tension differences make it necessary to keep to one style per project.

  9. I was taught to knit “parlour style” by my mother (who learned it from her mother, and was shocked to discover that there are other ways to hold the needle), and re-taught myself how to hold the needles at about 16 (I hadn’t really been knitting for long yet, there were issues when my mom tried to teach me originally).

    1. My Mum had a go at teaching me when I was young, but I didn’t get on very well with it. She’s not much of a knitter now, but this post made her look at her knitting style, and we discovered she knits Parlour style too, but somehow it didn’t filter down to me. I did crochet instead of knitting while I was young, and taught myself to knit from a book in my early 20s

  10. I’ve been knitting so long it’s hard to remember how I started, but I’m pretty sure I learned to hold the needle pencil-style. Looking back, I think all the older ladies knit that way. I knit a lot of little things for my dolls when I was a child. Then I hardly knit at all till after university, and when I first picked up the needles again, that style felt awkward. And no one else seemed to be doing it. I concluded that it must have been a “child’s” way of knitting and now I would knit like an “adult”, so I held both needles from on top like everyone else. But the real reason I switched was because I was now knitting much larger pieces, and I found it awkward to have my thumb under the knitted fabric of a long row of stitches. Knitting parlour style works if the piece is narrow, like a scarf or sock, and I can bunch up the stitches in the space between my thumb and forefinger. But I still find it slower, because my forefinger has farther to travel to throw the yarn. I think the ladies I remember from my childhood were knitting small babies’ garments in very fine yarn, which would not have weighed the needles down like a pullover in worsted yarn. I found the demo of lever knitting interesting. Somethng to experiment with! Thanks for the interesting post. Going to show it to my DH who is learning to knit and having the darnedest time holding the yarn!

    1. Thanks, it’s great to hear about how you changed your knitting style too. I’ve stuck with Parlour style, and can now combine it with Continental style with the yarn in my left hand when I am doing 2 colour knitting.

  11. I. too, knit that way, most English knitters are taught this way. I have lived in the U.S. for many years. I wasn’t aware that there were other ways to knit!

  12. I started in continental style. But then I read about combination knitting and liked it that everything was made a bit easier and it could look a bit better. I teached it to me and found out that it is the same way as the russian style. I know some russians who knit and they did it the same way. Now you got a german who knits in russian style and I like the idea that it can be quite confusing to other people.

  13. I’m English and learned to knit at arround the age of 9 (yes, I said NINE years old) when my Lancashire born Grandmother, fed up with my whinging on a wet,1950s holiday, carted me off to the local wool shop and bought wool and needles and took me back to the caravan and proceeded to start me off on a “feather & fan” patterned sleveless jumper. No messing about with pot-holders and dolls’ scarves for this child – in at the deep end with a proper job. I was hooked for life!

    Granny taught me the “English” method (yarn held in the left hand) amd to hold the right-hand needle in my full hand – ie not like a pen. I find the “pen” method irritating and, as the the piece of knitting grows, my right-hand thumb gets in the way.

    However, each to their own. I some times use the “Continental” method on alternate rows with the English method as I have arthritis starting to set in on my right hand and alternating the two styles helps.avoid pain.

    I belong to a knitting group. We had a man turn up once but I think he found 25 ladies with sharp knitting needles a bit daunting.

    Happy knitting ladies and gentleman.

  14. I enjoy Portuguese knitting for speed and comfort.

    I taught myself from a book when I was 9 or 10 years old. As a young adult I found no one knitted my way and assumed I taught myself wrong, but it worked and the end product was good. Decades later I was teaching my granddaughter so we looked up videos and discovered that I hadn’t taught myself backwards, it was simply the difference between continental and English knitting! But now I almost exclusively use the Portuguese method.

  15. Greer Garson knits this way in the bomb shelter scene in MRS. MINIVER, and it’s pretty impressive. The best view of Margaret Rutherford knitting is when she is in the jury box at the beginning of MURDER MOST FOUL. I have knitting envy when I see this method. I don’t think the Continental method looks especially beautiful, but this one does.

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