Knitting for Speed & Efficiency

It’s been nearly a month since my classes at Vogue Knitting Live and I’ve been trying to incorporate what I learned during those classes into my knitting. This, especially. At the very last minute, I was transferred into the YarnHarlot’s “Knitting for Speed & Efficiency” class and was absolutely ecstatic about it. A while ago, I saw a video of Stephanie and her “Irish Cottage Knitting” and knew… I had to learn that.

Here’s the first video of her knitting on a sock, followed by a second video of her knitting with the straight needle held under her armpit.

The concepts are really very straightforward. There are basically two kinds of knitters — those that knit for a living and those that don’t. We should look those those who do production knitting for tips on speed and efficiency. Generally “picking” is the most efficient way to generate a knit stitch… and so we see pickers (such as EZ and Meg Swansen) generally knitting a lot of garments in the round or garter-based lace. “Throwers” generally knit more stockinette-based lace and garments are typically worked in pieces.

A third style of knitting, “Lever Knitting”, is used by people who knit for a living. It’s the most ergonomic way to knit and allows people to knit for 8 to 10 hours a day without any repetitive strain. Lever knitting makes knitting or purling equally easy to do and the stitches are precise and even. So, lever knitters knit everything.

The most compelling part of the 6-hour lecture was hearing about the history of this style of knitting. Stephanie studied art history and brought images to demonstrate how following the industrial revolution, knitting became one of the “domestic arts”. Women were encouraged to hold their knitting needles in a “proper” and “pretty” way to show that they were upper class — that is, to keep the palms of the hands down. This is a posture which ultimately slowed down our ability to knit fast. So, we have to go back and re-learn an old pre-industrial revolution style of knitting in order to regain speed and efficiency.

Knitting for Speed & Efficiency
My armpit. The most useful knitting tool around. Who knew?

No matter how we knit, we all had to go back to the basics… everyone had to learn how to pick, how to throw, and how to do the “yarn held over the neck Portugese style”. Then the 3-hour afternoon session was spent entirely on lever knitting. I learned to “throw” as a kid, but I’ve been knitting this way (“lever knitting” a la HeartStrings) for a few years now. Stephanie’s method of lever knitting has a different method of yarn tensioning than on the HeartStrings site. Stephanie’s criteria for lever knitting is: one needle held stationary (either under the armpit, held in a “makkin” or knitting belt, or held like a pencil) and the yarn tensioned on the lower fingers of the right hand. Tensioning the yarn lower down on the “stupid” fingers allows the index finger and thumb (the “smart” fingers) to do much more of the sensitive manipulation of the stitches. The middle and ring fingers that are holding the yarn act more like a sewing machine shuttle, arcing back and forth to catch the tip of the needle.

This is all much easier than it sounds. So Stephanie’s suggestion was to practice daily for at least 21 to 30 days in order to develop the micro muscle movement memory that is needed. So far, I’ve been knitting relatively big things on 7 and 8 mm straights, so this method has been great and I’ve been improving there. But going back and trying to knit lace like this has been very challenging. I’m sure it’s just a time and practice factor… I hope.

If you are interested in learning to knit faster (wanna get through that stash?! I do…), I would encourage you to seek out Stephanie’s class and see first-hand how her teaching can improve your knitting speed. She also gives plenty of tips and techniques for speeding up your knitting, should you choose to stick with your picking or throwing. Also, check out the Bellwether’s post about the fastest knitters in the world and see how they knit — you’ll notice how one needle is always held stationery and the hands are making tiny movements. The hand that is tensioning the yarn does not actually drop the needle and so there is no time lost to dropping and picking up the needle again. If you feel like you need a support group, there’s even a Ravelry group for production knitters. Have any of you tried this and successfully switched to lever knitting?

And as for speed, we did a little speed check at the beginning and end of class and I’m guessing the average around the class was between 20 to 30 sts per minute. Stephanie said that lever knitters start at 60 to 80 sts per minute. You can read Eunny Jang’s old post about how she knits 75 to 80 sts per minute (but how productivity is actually achieved by always knitting as opposed to fast knitting). And the latest World’s fastest knitter appears to be Hazel Tindall… and you’ve got to see this little video.

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  • Rebecca

    I like this post, I had never seen these videos! I developped my own method of knitting as a child (when getting back into knitting and discovering the Internet I found out I was picking my yarn, but I never saw anyone do that over here …) and I was pretty fast for the knit stitch (never found a better method to purl).

    The “under the armpit” method of the YH is a great method, one used here by almost all of the older generation of knitters (when they see me using a round needle they often wonder how I can knit without putting the needle under my arm!). But the big setback is that you usually have all of the weight of your knitting is on one needle and thus putting pressure on one arm/wrist. Many get RSI because of this, especially if you knit a lot of big sweaters! When you knit on a round needle the weight of your knit is always on your lap.

    Oh, and I still have DPNs that are 30 or 40cm long, in case one wants to knit socks “armpit style” (londer DPNs are currently used as blocking wires as I can’t get those over here …).

  • mari

    So interesting! I always wondered how I could knit more efficiently. I don’t know if I have the time now to relearn a new knitting method… but I’m definitely going to take one of Stephanie’s classes if I get the chance! Thanks for posting!

  • http://www.streetsandyos.com Diana

    wow. I am pretty sure I am NOT knitting for speed or efficiency. It takes me hours and hours to finish a pair of socks. Plus, I am a thrower. Thanks for posting this, it is inspiration to research and try out speedier techniques!

  • Jeffi

    After reading your blog this morning I decided that it is time to try this technique. I am already a pretty fast knitter and have been knitting continental style for over 30 years but I have been having a lot of hand pain and weakness recently. If this can help keep my hands working longer than I am willing to go back to square one and learn to knit all over again!

    I found a pair of metal straights that didn’t get tossed into the donation basket when I decided to use only circular needles a few years ago. I knit a garter stitch base to keep it from rolling and gave it a go. I am glad for the tip to keep at it every day for a month or so! The hardest part is learning how to hold and tension the yarn properly in my right hand. My tension is far tighter than it has been since I was first learning to knit :)

    It felt so good to go back to my usual style after 30 minutes of working at the lever knitting. I did notice just how many tiny movements my hands do with continental so I am excited about learning a better method – with speed as a terrific bonus. I should see how fast I am now knitting continental, how fast I am with this technique, and see where I am at with both in two weeks and a month.

  • Sjmccorq

    Really interesting to watch. But guess what….almost everything I do in life is for speed and efficiency. I knit to relax, the method I use will never win a contest for speed or efficiency, but it accomplishes something for me that is far more valuable…and – eventually – I have something beautiful to keep or gift. More power to you speed gals, though, I enjoyed watching.

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  • http://yarniapdx.blogspot.com Lindsey @ Yarnia

    Very cool! Switching your knitting style definitely is something that takes dedication and practice, and something you have to do consciously (i.e. Stephanie’s 21-30 day suggestion). I tried switching to Continental a few years back, after 10 years as a “throwing” knitter, and while I taught myself how to do it accurately, my fingers still prefer the way I learned, and I’m still sooo much faster that way, too. I’m sure if I really made it a point to practice something like you’re talking about here it would make a huge difference eventually :)

  • Pam G.

    I like that. Now where did she have her yarn place at when she was knitting, on the table in the video? I notice the yarn was up a little.

  • Suzanne Selby

    Wow! This is an awesome post.  Thank you for sharing your experience with the class and for all of the links.  I got so much out of reading and watching your links.

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  • lynna buck

    I am obsessed with learning this method and your blog has the best video and explanation….do you think it’s possible to learn this without taking the class?  It’s sold out at Vogue Live and I’m not able to get out much with 6 kiddos (which is another reason I want to knit faster).

    • http://www.sweetgeorgiayarns.com/ SweetGeorgia

      Hi Lynna! While I think taking Stephanie’s class in person is an invaluable experience, I do think that you can learn things on your own too. Many years ago, I taught myself one style of lever knitting by following the instructions here: http://www.heartstringsfiberarts.com/leverstyle.shtm.

      Ultimately, it’s all about practice and developing that muscle memory to get faster and faster. Just keep your movements simple and small, and practice 10 minutes every day for 30 days!

      • lynna buck

        Oh, thank you for the link…I just happened to recheck your site and saw your encouraging reply….I am still determined to try lever knitting and just bought a pair of 14″ straights (in US 2 since I’m a very loose knitter). Maybe I’ll try out your Sweet Georgia Tough sock that I have been saving in my stash! Thanks again…I’ll keep checking your video as a reference!
        Lynna

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  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.anne.505 Wendy Anne

    Very interesting and I’m bookmarking this too see if I can figure it out later. Knitting is currently an excersise in pain and trying to measure to see when my fingers on my left hand start to go completely numb. I’ve already been trying to keep motion to a minimum so maybe this will help me further achieve that, and hey it’d be nice to knit a pair of socks in anything under a month.

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