Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Western, Eastern, and Combined knitting.

I had an e-mail the other day about this, namely that they were the only person in their area who knit Eastern style, and did I have any information about it? And I realized I've never discussed the topic here, and it's an under-discussed topic in general, so here we go.

The terms above are used to describe the three different ways to knit, in terms of HOW THE STITCHES SIT ON THE NEEDLE. This has nothing to do with what hand you carry your yarn in or what needle you do most of the work with. This has to do with working into the front or back of the stitch, and how they sit on the needle. First some definitions, then some thoughts. Then some info sources.


WESTERN is how the majority of us knit in Western European-founded cultures. That includes (other than W Europe, obviously), most of N America, Australia, and parts of Africa (the sub-saharan parts). The knit stitch sits on the needle so that the front of the stitch faces left. When knitting, the yarn is brought under the needle and up, wrapping around the right hand needle in a counter-clockwise direction.

EASTERN is how Eastern Europe, Arab and Arab-settled countries (Spain, and by extension, much of S America) knit. The knit stitch sits on the needle with the front facing right. When knitting, the yarn is brought over the right needle from the back, wrapping around in a clockwise direction. This is considered the oldest method of knitting, and purling with this method is very efficient.

COMBINED uses both methods, Western style on the purl stitches and Eastern style on the knit stitches (or vice-versa, depending on the knitter, but this is the official definition). This method is used in mostly 'melting pot' areas like North America, where settlers from all over met and traded techniques. This is considered the best way to go if you have vastly different knit and purl gauges; it loosens the knit stitches and tightens the purl stitches. It also equalizes twist in yarns; you wrap the yarn around the needle in opposite directions for knit and purl.

Combined knitting is considered lightning fast, but all the knitting speed records I know of were set by someone knitting Western continental style (carrying the yarn in the left hand). Just sayin'.


While I can be an asshole about knitting in some ways (my 'do it right or not at all' approach to finishing comes to mind), in this I have no real opinion. If you knit something, you like it, and it doesn't unravel, well then, you're doing it right. HOWEVER. The vast majority of stitch patterns (like the Barbara Walker treasuries) are written for western style knitting, and if you knit another way, you'll wind up having to alter them to make them go. That's not bad either, but it is extra bother, and it's up to you whether you want to deal with it or not. When I first learned to knit, I used Combined, but realized I'd have to alter every texture and lace pattern to make them work right, and switched over to Western. But you aren't me, so it's up to you to decide how you wanna do it.


As for further information, I got mine from "Knitting in the Old Way" by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson. (The second edition.) This is probably the most useful book I own in terms of traditional knitting. Vast, huge, useful piles of information. I'd suggest buying a copy if you knit much at all, but most local libraries should have a copy; I'd get it and read up. The knitting styles I just discussed are found starting on page 42. The only other place I know of for information on this is "Confessions of a Knitting Heretic" by Annie Modisett. She uses Combined, and does the majority of her own test-knitting. She's a knitting demon. If you want to buy a copy, get it at her web site. She makes a bigger profit that way, and she needs all the money she can get - her husband's sick. Plus, if you click the link, on the left side of the page is a nice little list of links titled "All you ever wanted to know about combination knitting".

And having done a search, I find Knitty has no article on this topic. Hmmmmm. And I've got an article due in five days. Hmmmmm. Oops, four. Eek.

Anyway, there you go. I've got readers all over the world. Would some of you check in and share where you are and what method you use? I'm particularly interested in India and Asia. Do you guys use Eastern or Western?

19 comments:

Nina said...

I knit Eastern style. I had, apparently, been doing (clockwise) knit stitches and (counter-clockwise) purl stitches, until I took a sock knitting class. It was pointed out that the knit side of these purl stitches were twisted.

They were also tighter, which was something I had struggled with for years. I would try to loosen up when purling, and I think everything ended up looser. Now that everything's going the "same" direction, my knitting is much more consistent in texture.

When you mention the combined style, is this what you meant? Would the purls look twisted on the knit side? BTW, I learned knitting in the upper midwest states.

Julie said...

Ideally in combined knitting you untwist the stitches as you work them, going across in the other direction. But once I started doing lace patterns, with all those funky increases and decreases that all needed untwisted before working, I gave up and switched over.

I'm finding "Combined" means "Anything funky that isn't quite Eastern or Western".

I learned to knit in Ohio farm country from a German. (which is where the left-hand carry comes from)

RobynR said...

I mostly taught myself to knit from a book. I started accidentally doing combined knitting and as I got better at recognizing the way the stitches should look, I realized that I was accidentally forming twisted stitches. Now I throw western I guess . . .

Carrie S. said...

I think you have your "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" mixed up--if the yarn comes up from below the needle it's going clockwise.

But I do Combined, so what do I know? ;)

MrsFife said...

I can't quite make out where my style would fit in, but I'll try to describe it. I learnt it from my mom, and from the net. I hold the working yarn in my right hand and throw. When I first started, I used to knit always into the back of the stitch, and purl in the back as well. Always found it very difficult to purl. Then I realised I was doing it wrong (or so I thought) and changed to knitting and purling into the front leg of the stitch, which in my case tends to be forwarder than the back leg.
The back leg thing was how my mom taught me perhaps. My stitches would be twisted.
So what does that make my knitting style?
To complicate things a little bit more, for wrapping the yarn, I used to go clockwise from below, but anti-clockwise from above for yarnovers (I don't know why). I was always puzzled why my eyelets were always screwed shut, until I starting doing my yarnovers exactly the same as yarning over for ordinary stitches, and voila! we 'ave 'oles. For purling the wrap is anticlockwise from below.

Julie said...

Mrs Fife, I don't know where that fits in, either, but thanks for checking in. I was hoping you would. :)

amy said...

I have no fricking idea!! I mainly taught myself to knit from a book (Kids Knitting, by Melanie Falick; I figured if it was supposed to teach a kid to knit, I ought to be able to figure it out). My sister checked in next time she was over and noted my knit stitches were twisted; I'd been knitting through the back. Fixed that.

I have a hard time SEEING if the stitches are on the needle correctly (for instance, after picking up dropped stitches), but I can feel it. I'm getting better at seeing because I'm trying to note when it feels wrong.

I carry the yarn in my left hand, which is Continental, I believe? I was taught to crochet as a child so holding with my left hand came naturally, plus my sister told me to start that way, it was faster. I struggled with purling for a bit, doing sort of a stab, hold, wrap with the other hand motion, but I sat myself down and practiced and now I scoop and usually leave the right hand out of it completely. I think I hold my yarn sort of oddly, and the middle finger on my left hand adjusts the tension. But it works for me.

I can't visualize "clockwise" and "counter-clockwise" as it applies to yarn around the needle, so I can't answer that question for you. I think Knitting in the Old Way is where I read about these different styles as well.

Josie said...

Here I secretly thought that all these years I have been knitting "wrong." Now I know it's got a name: Eastern. I learned from a book, but fudged it until it worked. Goodness, what a relief!

Brewgal said...

ah HA! I am not knitting wrong at all. My style is combined with yarn held in left hand. No throwing. I was taught by my Grandmother of English/Scotch descent.

Amy Lane said...

I would actually have to see it--but I'm thinking combined knitting--mostly because I'm self taught...I seem to remember having an 'a-ha' moment where I 'fixed' someting in a diagram that made purling sooooo much easier... I'm thinking that's when I skipped to the combined part and threw caution to the wind...but it's funny--when I've knit lace (simple stuff) I know that I will 'play' with how I purl to make the holes bigger... it's nothing I can put language to...until, of course, I have to explain to a student what I'm doing and why...

Amy Lane said...

oh yeah--I carry the yarn in my left--because I'm left handed, and it just made sense that it did all the work...

Camille said...

I used to knit combined, but so did my twin sister. I could never work out why my knit stitches always looked slightly different on the needle to everyone else's!

My sister and I now both knit English style as the switch over was less bother than altering the lace patterns we were trying to work!

Louiz said...

When I re-taught myself to knit, I knew that purl was knit backwards, so I knit it exactly backwards, and the purl stitches are twisted from the knit side. I re-taught myself again to do it untwisted once I realised what was the problem... but it actually looks really nice and I do do it on purpose sometimes.

Wannietta said...

I am the winner of the Fastest Knitter contest that is held annually at the CSNF (http://www.csnf.com/). I knit English (I'm a thrower) and I guess Western - purling & knitting. I knit 243 sts in 3 mins - 60sts & stockinette stitch.
While I know that Miriam Tegels (current world's fastest knitter) knits Continental, I'm quite certain that Hazel Tindall (previous world champion) knits English.

I would say that it's a matter of perfecting the motion(s) on your technique of choice and practice can improve your speed rather than the style of knitting alone.

Teri said...

I hold the yarn in my left hand and knit and purl Eastern. The stitches are on the needles with the leading edge behind the needle and the yarn goes clockwise around the needle.

I'm left-handed and have since met several other left-handed knitters that knit in the same manner. I learned Western when I was about 9 but I struggled with it so dropped it until I was in high school, struggled some more and then picked up knitting again about 10 years ago.

By that time, I couldn't really remember how to create the stitches the way I'd learned, the Western style came to me naturally. In fact, it was only a few years ago when I realized that the way I knit was different from others.

Anonymous said...

The word "combined", used alone, I think was 1st used by Anne Modesitt in the 90s. I think she in turn adapted it from Mary Thomas, who in her 1938 "Mary Thomas' Knitting Book" used the term "Russian Combined Method" to describe the the method used in Russian and other areas, close to it, such as the Balkans. Mary Thomas called it "combined" since it (RCM) combined two techniques: a Western Method counterclockwise wrap for the knit sts, and an Eastern Method clockwise wrap for purl sts.

The Modesitt term Combined has come to mean that one can also do it the the other way 'round as well: eastern wraps for the knits and western wraps for the purls, along with other knitting techniques not usually used in Russia, or in other Slavic and/or Eastern European areas.

Note also - the "eastern" in Eastern Method/Wrap pertains to the Near East and the Middle East where clockwise wrapping for all sts is the norm, not to the eastern in Eastern Europe.

Anonymous said...

I knit combined continental. After row one is done using continental knit or the Russian purl, I do this:

I knit in back of a previously Russian purled stitch to reorient the stitch then finish my stitch.

If I need to purl a previously purled (Russian) stitch, I work in the back of it, too as the eastern continental folks do.

I didn't like the index finger ratcheting down and back up in the continental purl so I go Russian though I learned to just have the index finer (either one) hold the loop on and not take it clear down and back up.

All the Russian purl is doing is wrapping the working yarn CW (clockwise) around the needle compared to CCW on the C and Eng methods.

So, just knit in the back of it on the return row and it rights itself. Or if you need to purl it, work in the back with the needle behind the yarn (EC).

To purl eastern continental in the back with the needle behind the yarn is 'fun'. This, too reorients the stitch as the new stitch is made.

I can do lace, too using this method.

Good luck to all!

DRM

majnoona said...

I learned to knit at 27 years old from a woman studying with my husband. She's from Kyrgystan. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what style of knitting I used. It definitely wasn't western or continental. Recently I read in a book about eastern knitting and realized that this is the style I'm doing. For the most part this hasn't been a problem, but now I want to learn to knit lace to make a Shetland inspired baby shawl for my first child. Im having the hardest time following the pattern, and I'm not experienced enough to adapt it (I've been knitting for 2 years). I think I'm going to take the time to learn western/English before I continue on this project.

Christ In Me said...

I learned Western style, later taught myself Continental (also Western.) Then later a Polish woman slowed down enough so I could learn her method, which was Eastern Uncrossed (I only recently learned it had a name.) My stitches are never twisted, but at first I though purling was very cumbersome using this method. But later, I found it really suited me too & in fact I have more "feel" for the work on purl rows than knit rows, requiring less attention. It is also just as fast & possibly a bit more even. But at first my mind hatred coming in from the lack left side of the stitch & having to point the top of the needle down & back. I'm always amazed when people proclaim Eastern style produces twisted stitches. That has never, ever been true for me. Circular, flat & everything in between. Yes, you do have to mentally change written patterns around in your mind, but that isn't hard. Just think "right slant" or "left slant" & you are home free.