Combination Knitting

I remember back when I was in university and had taken up knitting after years of not knitting at all. I had brought my knitting home on the weekend, my mom (who had taught me to knit as a kid but doesn’t knit very often herself) picked it up, looked at it and said something along the lines of “that looks different than when I knit”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, just went on my merry way.

What I assume my knitting looked like – crossed on the purl rows

Years later, while part of a knitting group, as I was knitting and chatting and sipping on coffee, someone looked at what I was doing, and I’m not sure if their exact words were “what the hell are you doing?” but that was absolutely the tone and meaning behind what they said. They had been watching me for a few minutes, and were completely amazed because what I was doing made no sense to them.

That’s when I discovered I’m a combination knitter. Somehow in the long break between when I was taught to knit and when I picked it up again, I had crossed some wires in my head and started doing things the “wrong” way, but since I knew how it was supposed to work out, I managed to adjust so that everything came out right.

You’re probably familiar with two types of knitting – English/throwing/Western and Continental/picking/Eastern. The biggest difference most people notice between the two is how the yarn is held – in English knitting the yarn is carried by the right hand and wrapped around the needle and in Continental the yarn is carried by the left hand and picked up to make a new stitch. The difference between how the new stitch is made also means that the stitch is mounted differently for the two methods – with English knitting, the stitch has the “leading leg” in front of the needle, and with Continental the “leading leg” is behind the needle.

Top – English with leading loop in front. Bottom – Continental with leading loop in back

When you knit a stitch, it’s important to always go in the leading leg (right hand leg if knitting from the left needle to the right needle) unless you want to twist the stitch (twisted rib, for example, or any other direction telling to “knit through the back loop”). I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling the bit of knitting my mom thought was different was because I had been twisting my stitches. Sometime after that I managed to keep them from twisting, but it left me doing things very different from both English and Continental knitters.

When I knit,  I knit from the left needle to the right needle. I carry/tension my yarn with my right hand – it looks exactly like English knitting. Except when I throw my yarn, for knit stitches I throw clockwise (that’s the odd bit) and for purl stitches I throw counterclockwise (like most English knitters). I don’t know why I do it that way, it’s just what I do. That means that my knit stitches are mounted on the needle with the leading leg in the back and my purl stitches are mounted with the leading leg in the front.

My method, ribbing shows the different mount of the stitches

For me, when working in the round or knitting garter stitch, to knit a stitch, I’m always inserting my needle from the top, towards the back. So for an observer, when I go to knit a stitch, it looks like I’m going to be purling it, or at the very least twisting it. When working stockinette flat, I still go into my knit stitches the “right” way (from under the front leg) but I wrap my yarn clockwise, and I purl going into the back loop.  No wonder people get confused.

I’m still not sure how I landed on this method, but I’m not alone. A few years ago I stumbled on a Ravelry post asking about different knitting styles, and someone mentioned combination knitting. There was even a whole group for us! I had suddenly found my people! While the rest of the knitting world tends to think we’re making things harder on ourselves, the general consensus seems to be that the people using this method love it.

Personally, I find combination knitting to be faster, especially on knits in the round, because less changes in movement means the movement is more efficient. The biggest benefit though is that because knit and purl stitches are mounted differently, it’s much easier to tell – without looking – what type of stitch you’re working into. This means ribbing in the dark without counting, or an easier time following patterns with purls and knits because you’re always aware of what type of stitch you’re knitting into.

There is a trade off – because knit stitches are mounted differently, ssks and k2tog go in the wrong direction sometimes. When knitting in the round or garter stitch (so, knitting stitches that were knit on the previous row and mounted with the leading leg on the back) a k2tog creates a left leaning stitch and a ssk is needed to make a right leaning stitch. I also tend to get smaller eyelets with yarn overs because of how the yarn is wrapped. Until I understood how I was knitting, lace – especially in the round – was very confusing and frustrating, and never quite gave me the results I wanted. Using charts makes this much easier, as I can intuitively knit the stitch that leans in the proper direction without caring so much what the movements actually are.

Once you understand how stitches are made, you can create beautiful work regardless of how you get there

Since learning about how I knit strangely differently, I’ve also taught myself how to knit both English and Continental – which has come in quite handy for teaching knitting classes (I teach English, because it’s what I’m more comfortable with) and for doing colour work (carrying one colour in each hand, a bit awkward but I’m ok once I get going). It does mean that sometimes I will switch styles without noticing it, and start throwing my yarn differently, making the next row a bit of a challenge. Still, when I’m relaxed and not thinking, I always end up doing combination knitting. It works well for me, and confusing other knitters is just a nice side benefit.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jennifer Digby says:

    Hi Steph,

    Loving your new blog! I am a continental knitter and just wanted to clarify something: the position of the “leading leg” is determined by the direction the yarn is wrapped NOT the hand that carries the yarn. Most continental and English knitters in North America wrap the yarn to achieve the leading leg in the front. Myself included. When talking about the two types of mounted stitches people often refer to this as Western and Eastern mounts. You can be a continental (or English) knitter who has either type of mounted stitches. This can be a handy thing to know about if you are having trouble with “rowing out”. Keep up the great work!


    1. SPerry says:

      Thank you so much for the clarification!


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