The obstacle to my success in color knitting has been learning to hold the yarn. Yes, I realize that every knitter has to come to grips with this (in more ways than one), but my problem has a philosophical aspect to it as well. It is a matter of being right or wrong.
For more than forty years, I have held my yarn incorrectly. When I began my life as a true knitter at age 16, I needed a refresher because it had been around 3 years since anyone showed me how to do a knit stitch or purl stitch. All I had for guidance was a 16-page leaflet that not only taught you to knit, it taught you to embroider, tat, and crochet—so you can imagine how thorough the knitting instructions were. I focused so hard on the knit and purl pictures that I ignored those for holding the yarn. In fact, I’m not even sure they existed. And I clearly didn’t follow the pictures well because I continued to knit in combination style, and I’m sure the book showed either English or Continental. But that didn’t stop me from becoming a knitter, and producing smooth and even work.
Instead of wrapping your yarn around the figures of my left hand, as most Continental or combined knitters would, I tension it though my thumb and forefinger—feeding it into the work in progress.
The yarn wrapped around my forefinger is not what gives me the tension--I wrap it loosely just to help feed it through my thumb and forefinger. The way I purl is even odder. I use my middle finger to push the stitch to be purled into place.
I realize this might not make sense, and I actually would not recommend it to a new knitter, but it works for me. And in this instance I’m willing to consider myself an old dog who is not about to learn any newfangled tricks. To continue with the unfortunate analogies, I’d be throwing out the baby (my beautiful knitted fabric) with the bathwater (technical correctness). My method might be handy for Continental and combined knitters when tinking—so consider holding the yarn as I do if it is something you don’t now do. The yarn stays somewhat untangled as you remove each stitch.
My knitting life went on peacefully for decades of one-color knitting as a combined knitter who holds the yarn “funny”, and I ignored all ridicule of my knitting style by showing off my fine work. But things came to a crashing halt when I tried stranded color knitting.
At first I resisted holding the yarn in two hands, and I tried the technique of both yarns in the same hand. But this works only if you can wrap yarn around different fingers on your left hand. But you then have to tension each color, and I can't tension both through my thumb and forefinger at the same time. I had to drop one color and pick up the new color—and so I never clearly established a dominant color, and my color work suffered from it. It was tedious. I was unhappy because the inside was messy.
The only option left was to learn at least enough English knitting to hold one color in my right hand. I had no idea how you “throwers” manage it—when I tried throwing, needles fell on the floor, stitches dropped, and yarn became tangled. The fabric was a blobby mass. I spent an unnatural number of hours staring at the guests’ hands on the TV show, Knitty Gritty, even if I didn’t care a whit about what they were knitting, so long as they knitted English style. (I even taped some shows so I could watch the English knitting over and over.) I also spent more time than one ought looking at the English knitting tutorials on knittinghelp.com. But those knitters wrapped the yarn around their right hands, just as I was supposed to do with my left hand. And when I tried it, I continued to drop needles and produce loopy uneven work. I finally had a breakthrough last year, when I read Melinda's post about how she holds the yarn wrong for English knitting because she holds the yarn with her right forefinger and thumb. She is a genius. This is the exact opposite of what I do with my left hand, and when I do what she demonstrates, my right hand muscles “understand” how to act. So I’ve adopted her method for my right hand (although for some reason I have to wrap the yarn loosely around my forefinger twice), and I use my method for my left hand. Now that I’m doubly wrong, I can do stranded knitting.
So, do two wrongs make a right? While you’re pondering this, I’ll keep on with my stranded mittens.