Lever Knitting Is the Fastest Knitting Technique in the World—Discover Its Benefits and Basic Steps
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Knitting is a craft technique that offers a variety of stylized methods for those who have a pair of needles, some yarn, and a willingness to learn. As beginners, many of us learn to knit with the English method or the German/Continental method; over time, we may pick up other methods and stitches. We'd encourage you to expand your horizons one more time and master lever knitting—also known as the Irish cottage style—which has the reputation of being the fastest knitting method in the world.
Knitters find that this style helps them to finish their projects in a shorter amount of time and with a reduced risk of carpal pain. We spoke with two people skilled in this technique about their experiences with lever knitting, and asked them to share their best tips for getting started using this style with your own knitting projects.
Lever Knitting, Explained
Think of lever knitting as a variation of English knitting: Similarly, the yarn is held in the right hand. One needle is held stationary—acting as a "lever"—while the other needle does all of the work in motion. The right index finger moves the yarn and the left hand moves the stitches on and off the needles. This allows for a fluid movement, cutting down on repetitive strain.
Lever knitting is easily learned on straight needles, one of which you can prop under your right arm as you work to keep it stable.
Felicia Lo, founder and creative director of SweetGeorgia Yarns, learned to knit in elementary school. She started with English-style knitting (in which the knitter holds the yarn in their right hand) before learning about lever knitting through a website called Heartstrings in adulthood. This was about 13 or 14 years ago. "Later on in 2011, I took a workshop from Stephanie Pearl McPhee specifically about Irish cottage knitting and I wrote all about it," Lo says.
For a while, she knit almost exclusively using the lever technique because it was very quick and efficient for her projects. "It was perfect for knitting lace and also great for knitting ribbing where you need to alternate quickly between knit and purl stitches," Lo says. "But I've found that practicing all different styles can help produce speed improvements. Over the past year, I've focused on switching to Continental for all my garter stitch projects and I've found it to be significantly faster."
Carol Feller, founder and designer for Stolen Stitches in Cork, Ireland, explains that lever knitting is a natural extension of the style of knitting she uses for her work. She had learned to knit when she was six years old and began copying more experienced knitters who would minimize their movements by holding the right needle still and having the left needle do majority of the work.
"[Lever knitting] was never introduced as a particular knitting style—this is just what you did when you wanted to pick up speed," Feller explains. She also learned that knitters in Donegal on the west coast of Ireland use lever knitting because it increases their speed and minimizes injuries, which is very important in their jobs. While Feller does not regularly knit this way, the concept behind it appeals to her. Lever knitting uses straight needles, and Feller prefers to use circular needles. She does, however, use movements similar to the lever knitting style.
The Benefits of Lever Knitting
Aside from speed, lever knitting offers health-related benefits. With lever knitting, you don't need to put down your knitting every time you wrap yarn around the needle tip. This helps with efficiency because you don't need to start and stop as you knit just to add more yarn.
The style also helps reduce knitting-related injuries. "By holding your hands in a position where the palms are gently facing up rather than pointed down, it can be more ergonomic and produce faster movements," Lo says. "This can help for knitters who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist and joint pain."
How to Start Lever Knitting
So, if you want to learn how to work lever knitting, what is the best way to begin?
Feller suggests that knitters study the style in action. "Start by examining a video of the knitting style—figure out how the yarn is tensioned, how the needle is held in each hand, how the yarn is put over the needle, and what movement the left hand is doing," she says. "Once you know the movements, it's just practice!" Retraining your hands to learn new movements is not always easy, Feller says. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Watch and learn, then do—the important thing is to practice.
Master Needle Positioning
For Lo, it's all in how to hold the needle. "I've found that the key to lever style knitting is that the right-hand knitting needle is held like a pencil. From the different sources where I learned my skills, different knitters will tension their yarn in their right hand in different ways, depending on what is most efficient and comfortable," Lo says. "My big tip would be to practice for at least 28 days to allow yourself ample time to get comfortable with the technique. The more you practice and do it, the faster you get."