When I first learned to knit I was a "thrower" (or English-style knitter)—I held the yarn in my right hand and wrapped it (or threw it) around the right-hand needle. Most of my friends were "pickers" (or Continental-style knitters)—they held the yarn in their left hands and used the right-hand needle to pick it through the loop to make a stitch—and they wanted me to switch methods so I would be a faster knitter.
I was perfectly happy with my throwing technique, though. It was fast enough for me and my tension was really even.
Then I started a seed stitch scarf. I did about three inches and quit the project. Seed stitch is a pretty pattern that adds a lot of texture to your knitting.
For seed stitch, you do a row of K1, P1, and then you knit the purls and purl the knits from the previous row throughout the entire project. (This stitch lays flat—no stockinette curling on the edges—so it's really great for scarves, too.)
But for throwers, moving the yarn back and forth for each stitch can be too tedious and time-consuming.
My friend Molly teased me about abandoning the scarf, saying that if I switched to picking I'd be halfway done, and so forth. This planted a "seed" in my mind and I went to my LYS and asked the ladies there to teach me how to pick. They did, and at first I felt all-thumbs, it was so awkward! But I kept at it, knitting swatches just using the picking technique and the knit stitch.
I also practiced the knit stitch on garter stitch-dishcloths until I was comfortable—it only took a couple of cloths—and then I did the same dishcloth pattern just using the purl stitch. Purling is a bit harder to get even tension with, and to this day I sometimes throw purl rows. But like any skill, the more I practiced, the better I got. (And that seed stitch scarf was finally finished and given away as a birthday gift.)
Now I pick almost exclusively (except for the occasional purl row I mentioned!), but I do use a combo of picking and throwing when I do colorwork.
Here's a video tutorial I made for you to show you my picking technique and how I move the yarn back and forth to do seed stitch.
Below is the washcloth pattern I used for practice. It's widely available on the Internet, sometimes called Grandma's Favorite Washcloth. Use any cotton yarn, such as Tahki Cotton Classic, Lily Sugar & Cream, or Cascade Fixation, and size 8 or 9 needles.
Cast on 4 sts.
Row 1: Knit.
Row 2: K2, YO, K to end of row.
Repeat row 2 until you have 50 sts.
Decrease Row: K1, K2tog, YO, K2tog, K to end of row.
Repeat Decrease Row until you have 4 sts left.
Practice your picking skills while making a bunch of these for stocking stuffers! You can also make spa cloths: just use a DK-weight linen or hemp yarn, size 6 or 7 needles, and repeat Row 2 until you have 40 stitches instead of 50 stitches.
A Free Pattern!
The Green Tea Raglan has been one of my favorite sweaters since it debuted in the Spring 2007 issue of Interweave Knits. It's a casual piece, and I love how it looks with jeans.
The design is so simple and classic, with the belt detail to add interest at the waist. This pattern is made up of two identical pieces—a front and a back—done in seed stitch, and two stockinette sleeves.
If you're a beginner, the Green Tea is the perfect first sweater. For such a simple garment, you'll practice lots of skills, too, such as casting on, knitting and purling in both seed stitch and stockinette stitch, simple ribbing, decreasing (k2tog), increasing (either make 1 or k1f&b), binding off purlwise, simple seams, weaving in loose ends, and blocking.
So download the free pattern for the Green Tea Raglan, plus 5 more free easy knitting patterns!
And if you want a more in-depth lesson in Continental knitting, check out our video workshop, Continental Knitting with Biggan Ryd-Dups!