Knitting Terms: Throwing or Picking?

I was flipping through our new special issue Interweave Knits: Weekend, and thinking about how much I usually look forward to knitting on the weekend; “usually” is the key word here, because I’ve got a project that I’m ready to be finished with. It’s a complicated cabled scarf that I’m doing for someone else, and it’s one of those projects that is challenging to work on and beautiful once it’s done. You know I love a cable project, but I can’t wait to get back to my regular weekend knitting!

As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve been using two methods of knitting: throwing and picking. When I first learned to knit I was a “thrower.” What was I throwing, you ask? Well, I was throwing the yarn around the needle, I guess. I really wasn’t actually throwing the yarn around the needle, but “throwing” is a common term for what’s been known for years as English knitting.

When I joined a knitting group, I noticed a couple of the gals were holding the yarn in their left hands and sort of scooping it through the loop to make their knit stitches, and they were doing it pretty speedily! (This is the Continental method of knitting, also known as “picking.”)

I asked for a lesson, and discovered my tension, which had been perfectly even, by the way ;), went crazy: loose stitches everywhere! I decided to practice my picking skills on a felted bag, which is so forgiving; once it’s felted, the loose stitches disappear. The bag gave me enough practice to improve my tension and get me comfortable with this new method. And the speed was amazing! Purling wasn’t quite as fast as knitting for awhile, but I’m adept at both stitches now.

The surprise in all of this was what a bonus it is to be able to pick and throw. Working on stranded projects is the most obvious use of both methods, but I find I switch to throwing when I need more control over the yarn, such as when doing large cable crossings (more than four stitches crossing over, such as my current scarf project), picking up stitches, and knitting or purling more than two stitches together for lace projects. I default to picking now, but I love having the throwing knowledge in my arsenal.

How Do We Knit?

One day we decided to take photos of how we here at Knitting Daily knit so we could share them with you. Clockwise from left is Marilyn (a thrower), Annie (a thrower), me (a picker), Anna-Liza (a picker), Rebecca (a thrower), and Eunny (throwing and picking on a stranded project).

         

Even though we all either pick or throw, we each have a different way of tensioning our yarn. This is one of the reasons that gauge is so important when working on garments—there are infinite ways to tension yarn, some methods give more tension and some less, resulting in tighter or looser stitches.

Learn to Pick (or Throw)!

If you’re a thrower, here’s a quick lesson on picking:

To knit: Hold the working yarn behind the needles and use your right hand to bring the right needle into the first stitch on the left needle (from front to back), rotate it counterclockwise (over and behind in a scooping motion) around the taut working yarn, and back out of the stitch, pulling the new stitch through the old as you slide the old stitch off the left needle (Fig. 2).

To purl: Hold the yarn in front of the work and insert the right needle behind the yarn and down (from back to front) into the first stitch on the left needle. Rotate the right needle around the yarn counterclockwise (over, behind, and around to the front again), then push the needle to the back, pulling the new stitch through the old and sliding the old stitch off the left needle as you do so (Fig. 1). Some knitters find it helpful to use their right thumb or forefinger to prevent the yarn from sliding off the tip of the right needle as they pull the stitch through. Others like to move their left forefinger downward slightly to hold the new stitch in place as it is pulled through to completion.

If you’re a picker, here’s a quick lesson on throwing:

To knit: Hold the working yarn in back of the work and insert the right needle up (from front to back) into the first stitch on the left needle, so that the needle tip extends about an inch (2.5 cm) beyond the stitch. Grasp the right needle with your left thumb and forefinger (without letting go of the left needle), bring the yarn forward with your right forefinger, and wrap it around the right needle tip counterclockwise (behind the needle then to the front between the two needles) [Fig. 3]. Retrieve the right needle with your right hand and use that needle to draw the new stitch through the old as you slide the old stitch off the left needle. Tighten the yarn with your right hand to tension the stitch.

To purl: Hold the yarn in front and insert the right needle “down” (from back to front) into the stitch, so that the tip extends about an inch (2.5 cm) beyond the stitch. Grasp the right needle with your left thumb and forefinger as you use your right forefinger to wrap the yarn around the right needle tip counterclockwise (over and behind the needle, then to the front between the two needles) [Fig. 4]. Move both hands back into their starting position as you use the right needle to draw the new stitch through the old and off the needle. Tighten the stitch with your right hand.

As you practice these new techniques, you’ll feel like you’re a beginning knitter again—all thumbs wrapped up in string. Just keep at it, remembering to breath and relax your shoulders. And pick a project—like a felted bag, a dishcloth, or something else that’ll be forgiving but ultimately useful—and throw or pick away.

Cheers!

Kathleen

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