Picking and Flicking

And no... this is not where I write a disgusting post about personal habits, but rather, a discussion of knitting styles! Let me start by saying there is no right and wrong in knitting styles. It's definitely a case of what works for you, and I'm not an advocate of any one style being "better" than another. There are hundreds of different factors that come into play when individuals work in different knitting styles, so what works for one knitter won't necessarily work for another. That said, there are definite benefits to being comfortable with more than one style.

One of our tutorial videos (this one on tracking rounds in your knitting) was recently featured in some online discussion of "flicking". This is the style of knitting that I most comfortably use, where the yarn is over the right index finger and flicked over the right needle tip as you work. In this video you can clearly see my knitting style. I am quite strongly right-handed, and this has always been the most comfortable method for me. I generally have the yarn over my index finger so that the part I'm flicking sits at the rear of my finger. I have heard some suggestion that less movement is involved if the yarn sits at the front of the finger, but I've tried both ways, and with my preferred hand position there isn't much in it.

However, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've been experiencing some RSI in my right index finger, and my usual style of knitting was aggravating the problem. We had a week's school holiday at the end of May, and I was looking forward to making some progress on some fun knitting projects, but not being able to flick was holding me back. As I looked at the instructions to work 20 rounds of 1x1 rib at the hem of my Ola Yoke (shown above) I knew that I wasn't going to be able to use my usual style. Changing between knit and purl is one of the things that really sends my right index finger nutty! So I experimented with some alternatives...

I've been able to hold the yarn in my left hand, and pick the yarn up with the needle tip for a while now. This style is sometimes called Continental, but I don't really find location-based descriptors that helpful in the internet age, so I tend to call it picking, since the needle tip picks up the yarn. I practised this style a lot when I had my first run-in with RSI, and it lets me comfortably work stocking stitch in the round for hours, provided I'm working on circular needles. I'm not as fast when I pick rather than flick, but given the choice between picking and not knitting, it's simple! I also know how to purl with the yarn in my left hand (I use the Norwegian method described here), but I've never practised enough to get confident with it. Twenty rounds of 1x1 rib in 4ply yarn was clearly just what I needed! As it worked out, I mixed things up a bit, and sometimes worked my rib with the yarn in my left hand and the picking style (with Norwegian purls) and then sometimes I held the yarn in my right hand and let go of the needle, picking up the yarn with my thumb and forefinger and wrapping it round the needle tip. (I should really have called this post Picking, Flicking and Wrapping, but I've got kids and needed the laugh this morning.) Neither method seemed to bother my RSI (thank goodness!), and I made it through the ribbing without any further difficulty. Now I'm on to the stocking stitch body, so it's totally mindless for a while...

Although I'm now comfortable working ribbing on circular needles with the yarn in my left hand, there is still some work to be done if I'm to feel properly fluent in the picking style. I'm not yet any good at picking when I use double-pointed needles (which is my usual preference for socks), and I haven't mastered the Norwegian purl enough to work entire rows in purl. I shall keep practising and eventually I'll get there.

Just a small caveat here: if you swap styles as you are working on a single project you may find that your tension (gauge) varies quite a bit, so do keep an eye on it. It's probably best to swatch in the style you plan to use, and then work in that style throughout a project. My gauge isn't looking too different in my Ola Yoke body, but I will be washing and blocking it once I've worked a bit more on the body, just to check that I'm still where I should be.

I'm really happy that working on my skills in two different, new-to-me, knitting styles has allowed me to knit through what would otherwise be a very frustrating period of not knitting. If you're having any discomfort while knitting, definitely get it checked out by a professional! But in the meantime, if you don't have an alternative knitting style up your sleeve, I can highly recommend it as a way to keep your hands moving in different ways, and learning something new is always good, right?!