Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some thrills

There are many people who find knitters and knitting so boring they cannot possibly imagine what thrills we have. I spent a lot of time knitting my kimono cardigan on our recent sailing trip, and it seemed a good time to analyze my technique and see what I might do if I wanted to knit faster!

I am a picker (meaning I knit by holding the working yarn in my left hand and making the right hand needle do the work of catching it to create the new loop).  I am left handed but knit in the right handed direction since I’m pretty fast at it.  I knit about 60 stitches per minute, which would be a poor showing for knitting speed competitions, but seems faster than most knitters I have spent time with..

To be fair, I should say that I have tried many ways of knitting and still use them all on occasion.  I was taught to knit ‘throwing’ (the traditional English way which involves having the working yarn in your right hand and using your right hand to ‘throw’ the yarn around the left needle), and over the years I’ve tired both ‘picking’ and ‘throwing’ in the opposite direction (with the knitted work on the right needle moving to the left needle) just because I’m left handed and felt I should give it a whirl!  It comes in handy when I don’t want to keep turning my work around, but I am still faster at right handed picking than other methods. Other methods will get mentioned later…maybe!

So, faster…  knowing that efficiency of motion is a vital key to speed I have also made efforts to keep my knitting right at the tips of my needles, and now, for years now actually, I’ve managed no movement at all in my left hand…my right needle does a little flick to get that needle to pick up a loop from the yarn in my left hand.  When I switch from knit to purl, involving moving that working yarn from the back of the needle to the front, I barely move my finger, making ribbing quite fast to work. 

What else could I do to get faster?? I realized that while my knitting stays right at the tips of the needles, my right needle which gets inserted into the loop on the left needle was going into the loop a bit further than just the tip before catching the working yarn.  Could this be minimized??  A little practice showed me it could! Since I was knitting my kimono cardi on brand new Signature needles (another thrill!) I could keep track of how much I was inserting that right needle by keeping the movement completely on the silver tips.  Those silver tips sure come in handy for checking movement!  Although I love my Addi Turbos and my wooden Knit Picks, and in general prefer circular needles to straight, these Signature needles gave me a visual marker to how little movement I needed to make with the right needle.  Almost immediately I noticed that the tiniest change with the inserting needle made a noticeable difference in speed!  In a couple of hours I was knitting faster than ever before!

What is fast now?  I think I’m knitting in the range of 75 stitches per minute now, and it happened with only about an hour of practice.  Pretty exciting for me!  Here’s my plan for checking my accuracy.  I tried knitting to my metronome, but I got so uptight I became completely clumsy!  Since I have a natural memory for 60 beats per minute (try it, many people do!) I will listen to my metronome at other speeds until I feel that rhythm is well established in my head, then I will try knitting at that speed!

I have some piano works that I’ve played at certain speeds for so many years that they come naturally to me now (like Bach inventions that I had to practice ad nauseam to work up to speed).  I will hum those pieces at speed and see if I can knit to them!   75 stitches per inch is pretty satisfying, but if I can get closer to 100 I’m going to go for it!  I’ll let you know how I get on! Wish me luck!


Michelle said...

Food for thought! I KNOW I'm slow and don't worry about it too much, but will see if I can knit with less movement and less needle. Where I need the most improvement is in purling; it feels SO awkward and I'm agonizingly slow at it, and at ribbing.

Michelle said...

P.S. I need a YouTube video of your knitting, so I can try to mimic your movements -- or lack thereof!

OzWeaver said...


Very funny you should mention this! My husband bought me a digital video camera about 2 weeks ago, and I am slowing making my way through the huge user's manual.

One hurdle I will have to face is that my fingers become completely clumsy whenever that 'record' button is on. I swear they aren't even my fingers at that point! So you wouldn't even know I can knit based on what happens when I try to record it!

Jennifer said...

The kimono is beautiful! One tip that I learned about gaining speed with the harp was to work up to speed by going up and down. It's all about muscle memory, so you have to give the muscles time to learn and time to perfect. For example, I want to play something at 100 bpm. I presently can only do it perfectly at 80 bpm. So I practice at 80. I then move up to say 90 and practice it a few times. Then I go down to 85, then back up to 95, down to 90, and finally up to 100. If intervals of 10 bpm is too much I'll move to 5. but you get the point. If the performance absolutely must be at 100, I may even overshoot to 100 so that 100 seems slow. Your muscles can do it - you just have to give it time to build up to it and be strong enough to be relaxed at the speed you desire - so you can survive at that speed! Go for it!

OzWeaver said...


Excellent advice! That's exactly what I'm going to do...

Life Looms Large said...

I am a super slow knitter. I've promised myself I'll learn picking on one of my projects, but inevitably I get frustrated with it and just go back to throwing.

I'm kind of a social knitter more than anything.....I knit and chat. Or knit while I wait for something. Or knit at my knitting group. So speed isn't the thing for me....but maybe if I was faster, I'd knit more often? Who knows!


OzWeaver said...


I definitely don't tout one of knitting as better than any other, so perhaps you are a natural thrower. I think the Shetland Islanders were known for their speed, and they were traditionally throwers. Just think about how to minimize your movements and keep those stitches right at the tips of your needles!

WireWoman said...

I should have known I wasn't the only person around to knit with a metronome or to time knitting speed by coordinating it with piano rep played in my head!!
I have gone through many Chopin waltzes and mazurkas this way.
What fabulous technique you have described here, and it encourages me to do more with these little tricks. 75 stitches a minute? You Tasmanian Devil, you ;-0) The best I can do so far is around 30, if I'm REALLY cooking. I've been knitting 10 months, so maybe it's just time. English style. I don't like extending a finger to flick yarn, so I knit with a curled bear-paw sort of position in both hands.
Thanks for a marvelous post!