The way we knit – continued…

In the summer I did a lot of thinking about the different ways we knitters actually knit, here. Now I have another, more personal issue related to this. How do we tension the working yarn, how do we hold it relatively securely, while still allowing it to run smoothly?

I’m asking this because my hand problems have reappeared but on my right hand, just for a change and a bit of fun (the sudden shrieks as the ring finger triggers are endlessly entertaining, heavy irony). I’m a bit closer to working out why I’m beset with these hand problems (it’s highly likely that they’re related to my neck problems, as recent well-tested US research indicates), but it’s meaning that I can’t knit. For the moment. Again. Boring.

Grinny knitterOr at least I can’t knit as I used to knit – with my right needle in the palm of my hand, and the working yarn held almost along the needle, with my hand acting as a kind of shuttle. It’s what I’ve dubbed the ‘Irish Peasant’ style, but it’s quick and incredibly even – officially praised in The Principles of Knitting for just that characteristic – and I’ve been doing it for years. But I can’t do it now. So I’ve been asking friends, going through instruction books, experimenting to see if I can find an alternative way of holding yarn while I knit. I have no intention, in case you’re worried, of also adopting the slightly mad expression of this knitter from Wikipedia; she’s also ‘parlour knitting’ – holding her right needle above her thumb like a pen – and I’m not doing that either. But you can see that she’s got the yarn wrapped round her index finger.

It’s something, as I discovered when I started asking people, that you just don’t think about. You do what you do, and that’s it. The books are equally wild sometimes; Montse Stanley (one of the best of the ‘technique’ authors, if you can bear the seventies’ illustrations) even goes so far as to be noncommittal, just saying – essentially – that whatever works for you is fine. So here are some of the things I’ve been trying.

Yarn 1Let’s start with this duo.

The first, and most simple, is the one Montse Stanley prefers. The yarn just falls out of my fingers, or at least it does if I don’t keep my fingers as tighly curled as I do when knitting as I normally would. Not the idea. The same applies to the second method too – hopeless; I still end up holding the yarn along the needle and squealing.

yarn holding 2

Back to the library. Sally Melville’s great book The Knit Stitch has some useful advice, so I took  a look at that. She suggests wrapping the yarn round the index finger twice, which did seem to help in terms of control. A bit.

Then I asked a friend, the most elegant parlour knitter I know. She had to really think about it, but it turns out that she double-wraps the yarn about her pinkie and ring finger, and then catches it on her index finger as well. It’s not fast, but it works, looks good and produces nice even fabric.

It may be. Hm. Me? Well, I ended up knitting so tightly that I could barely move the yarn on the needle, and then cut off the circulation to my hand. Yes, it looks very refined – a world away from the Irish Peasant – but probably works best with parlour knitting. I also asked her why the yarn didn’t slip off her index finger – it was very near to the tip – and she laughed and said it was probably because her skin was so rough.

Yarn holding 3

On the right is a method which you often find in basic knitting books, but again I kept losing my hold on the yarn. Maybe I wrapped it wrongly. Time for a little personal experimentation, then.

I came up with the hold on the left, with the yarn wrapped twice round my little finger, but It wasn’t comfortable. It was easier for me to manage than some of the others, and I did seem to have more control, but it really wasn’t comfortable at all – unless you like a numb pinkie – and I couldn’t keep it going for very long.

yarn holding 4

The most comfortable was to wrap the yarn round my little finger counter-clockwise (when seen from the front) but I kept losing it from the index finger. Cue more flapping and swearing, possibly helped by the red wine which had suddenly become very necessary.

Then another experiment happened. When I wrapped the yarn round my little finger, then my ring finger, took it under my middle finger and over my index finger – I could knit, and knit evenly if somewhat laboriously. For about half a short line.

But I couldn’t purl.

Another friend has suggested knitting with my right needle tethered under my arm or possibly in a knitting sheath. Yup, I gave it a go. It’s definitely more comfortable. The only disadvantage is that you can’t use circulars – and I’m doing a Knit, Swirl jacket with a cast on of over 500 stitches. Can’t fit those on a straight needle, no matter how long.

When I looked back at the original Way We Knit post, I found I’d written it because my original left-hand trigger finger appeared to be coming back. Well, it didn’t. I started doing the intensive physiotherapy for my neck and it went away over a period of about three weeks, lending considerable credibility to a link with the neck injury. Recently, my physiotherapist was giving me acupuncture for associated shoulder and arm problems – the tenseness wasn’t helping the nerve compression – and I got sloppy about the ******* exercises. I’m being good again, and I hope the magic works again.

Any more ideas? Apart from just being patient, that is?


20 thoughts on “The way we knit – continued…

  1. Julia

    So intrigued by all the different styles you comment on that I just had to go, find some wool and pins and start casting on a few stitches to see which method I was using and discovered I’m doing a Montse Stanley Favourite as depicted in your first diagram.My mother taught me and she was an East Anglian born and bred.
    I’ve seen women in Germany knitting in a most peculiar way, that looked almost back to front. is that the Continental technique? I tried to see what was happening once but never got the hang of it. I know the tension was pretty tight.
    Good luck with finding a pain-free technique. How frustrating!
    ….and Happy New Year!!!

    1. kate Post author

      Gotcha! I’ve no idea how I developed my method as my mother certainly didn’t teach me – she used to wrap the yarn round her fingers, but I can’t remember how. Yes, the style you’ve seen in Germany is indeed continental knitting – I did a workshop with a very good German knitting teacher (hello, Heike) but failed to keep it up. Shame, as it’s supposed to be faster.

      I’ll get there. And I’m doing the exercises religiously! Happy New Year to you too!

  2. Laura

    Fascinating! I appreciated the photos, and although I do knit continental, I do colourwork using both hands. I actually wrap the yarn twice backwards over my right index finger, so that the yarn being knit is coming from underneath the first join on the finger. The rest of the yarn is just loosely held under the palm. My yarn on the left hand doesn’t get carried in any of the ways shown…closest being “experiment 1,” but only wrapped around the pinkie once, not twice. And I find my wedding rings to be very helpful with my tension, and preventing the yarn from sliding down my fingers!

    1. kate Post author

      That’s really interesting (I’ve just been messing about with some handy string and a finger), and I’d not thought of wrapping backwards – that might help with the purling, too. AND I’d not thought of using rings as a tether – I usually take them off so they don’t get caught up. Brilliant, it’s got to be tried!

  3. Pia

    I don’t wrap my yarn at all. It runs over my index finger, where I pick it up, then just from there inside my hand to the skein – but I don’t really squeeze it. It does run inside my closed pinky I guess, but no wrapping.

    1. kate Post author

      That sounds a bit like Montse Stanley’s method – I think. Logical and comfortable (no double wraps round two fingers, anyway)… it’s amazing the way we do these things so automatically. I’ve never had to think about it at all until recently, and the sheer variety is astonishing.

  4. Chloe

    Gosh how many different ways to hold the yarn! Thanks for widening my view. You mention not being able to tether a circular needle – I’ve used this method now for similar comfort reasons and it is doable, the end of the needle sits on my hip and I bend the cable away, it involves a tad more moving of stitches along but at least I’m still knitting. Hope you feel much more comfortable soon

    1. kate Post author

      Hi Chloe, that sounds interesting – I’ll give it a try. It would do me good to keep my hands lower down when I knit, and I could support my the elbow of my dodgy arm on a cushion….

  5. kiwiyarns

    Fascinating post! I hope your injury sorts itself out quickly with all your exercises. Reading this reminds me of when I took up knitting again – I found I’d forgotten how to hold the yarn. The method that works for me is to have the yarn running under the pinkie and over my ring finger and then back under the palm and the index finger is feeder. (I actually have a ‘yarn ring’ mark on my ring finger because I knit so much. hehe!

    1. kate Post author

      Hah ha – the knitting god/dess has got you marked out! Once upon a time I was quite good a judging some occupations by skeletal changes (er, archaeologist, particularly finds, not ghoul), perhaps knitting will leave a permanent mark…

      Seriously, that’s another threading option – certainly under / over / under sounds possible.

  6. Pat

    I too am having problems with tension causing pain. I am planning on trying Portuguese knitting. In this method it looks like your hands don’t tension the yarn at all. You might want to take a look.

  7. knitsofacto

    I read the comments excitedly because no one else had suggested Portuguese knitting, and then discovered I was late to even that party. But Pat doesn’t mention that even with Portuguese knitting you have a choice between wrapping the yarn around your neck – not a great idea for you I’d suggest – and using a pin to carry it. knitbitsandgifts on Etsy has some lovely Portuguese knitting pins if you’re looking for one.

    Given geographical proximity I’m guessing that ‘your’ Heike is ‘my Heike … she’s a member of my knit group. We really need to organise a get together for all we knitty bloggers in this corner of the world 🙂

    Hope you’re healing m’dear x

    1. kate Post author

      Hand definitely improving but doc suggests arthritis may be putting in an appearance. Not surprised, even though I consider myself too young and there’s no family history, even in the 99-year-olds, because I spent far too long on manky archaeological sites and it’s sooooo common in field archaeologists. Oh well, pass the bromelain.

      I’d looked up Portuguese knitting – which seems very similar to Andean knitting – but I’d not realised that you could use I needle. I will investigate further!

      Yes, I’m sure we know the same Heike – the workshop I did was one at Stash. We clearly need to arrange some sort of northwalian meet!

  8. Suzisue

    Woolwinding – I knit exactly like you, never got the hand of the wool around the finger stuff and my tension is always spot on! I am left handed but knit right handed – I think!!!!

    1. kate Post author

      I was watching one of our knitting group last night (while nursing a glass of wine and carefully not knitting), and she’s the fastest and smoothest of us. AND she knits like you and I do, too. Well, it is the style the June H-H says is the best… she’s clearly right!

  9. Helen

    I do something pretty like your ‘experiment 1’, except that the yarn is only over fingers 1 and 3, not my little finger at all. Also, the yarn is much lower down – below my first finger joints.
    Hope by now you’ve found a good way for you!

    1. kate Post author

      Another way… I’m still experimenting, but I’m managing better; using compression gloves seems to help. Did a whole SIX lines last night!

  10. Paula

    Hope your hand is better by now! I almost gave up knitting when I came to Australia, the yarn available was shite! And when I did find something decent the Adelaide water turned all the beautiful baby things I had knitted for my first Aussie baby brown all over. Roll on a few years, moved to Melbourne, and I went to work for an author – hours and hours and hours of keyboarding ruined my hands for knitting. Then I got chronic fatigue and thought, what the hey, I’m on the couch a lot, why not get knitting – I did four rows and my arms pinned themselves to my sides in abject pain and I thought I had had a stroke. But I’d knitted, so I just laid there and smiled! After a few more years, Billy Connolly made me laugh and things got much better. But knitting – how can a knitter not knit? Have you tried ‘wonging’? (Google/You Tube Andrea Wong) It’s cocking slow, but you get lovely results.

    1. kate Post author

      Well, it’s improving – I’m obviously always going to need to be careful. Possibly because I spent years being mad, knitting until things hurt, etc. etc…

      And YO! How indeed can a knitter not knit??? You are my witness!


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