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Knitting Styles Survey, Part 1: Broad Strokes

In December last year I wrote a blog post categorizing knitting styles based on how (and where) you hold your yarn and how your stitches are mounted. The post and the associated survey went a little viral. I got 500 responses to the survey on the first day alone, another 500 on the second day, and another 300+ trickling in over the next weeks.

All in all, there were 1,328 respondents to the survey. There is such a vast amount of information — particularly in the open comments — that it's going to take a few posts to shift through all of it. This first post in the series will go over the results in broad strokes. In future posts I'll focus more in depth on the differences between right- and left-handed knitters, geographical regions, and the minutiae of knitting styles and handedness.

Dominant Hand & Knitting Direction

The general wisdom says 9 in 10 people are right handed. That would presumably mean 10% of the world's population are left handed but for knitters, at least, there's a little more to the story. According to the survey results, about 83% of knitters are right handed and 11% are left handed.

About 83% of knitters are right handed and 11% left handed.

That still leaves 6% of the respondents unaccounted for. Of the remaining 68 knitters, about two thirds (3.4 % of all respondents) are fully ambidextrous, that is, equally adept at using both right and left hands. The final third (1.6% of total) are ambidextrous to some degree, perhaps favoring one hand in certain tasks (e.g., writing or eating) and the other in different types of situations. As one respondent writes:

"Left is more artistical and for writing; right is practical and has more strength."

Approx. 75% of the respondents prefer to work from right to left and around 20% from left to right.

It seems that knitting direction and handedness don't go perfectly hand-in-hand (groan). The proportion of knitting directions follows the division to right- and left-handed knitters pretty closely but there are some differences, too. Approximately three in every four knitters prefer to work from right to left, that is, with the working needle in their right hand and the working yarn coming off from the right edge of the work. Working in the opposite direction (left to right) is the favored method for 20% of respondents.

Right-to-left and left-to-right knitting directions.

Of the remaining 53, about 73% (2.9% of all respondents) prefer to knit in both directions: they don't turn their work but instead work the return rows in the opposite direction with the right side of the working always facing. Handy! Twelve people (0.9%) are the opposite: they always work from the wrong side of the work. For 2 respondents the favored knitting direction depends on the type of project they're working on.

Knitting Styles and Stitch Mounts

The two major knitting style categories, continental and English knitting, are by far the most common in real life, too. Nearly half of the respondents (46%) prefer the picking style whereas more than a third (35%) use the throwing method.

Continental (picking) and English knitting (throwing) are the two most common knitting styles.

Lever knitting styles (including flicking, Irish Cottage, and Shetland knitting) are favored by approx. 15% of the knitters. Of these three styles, flicking with its many variations is the most common (12% of all respondents), Irish Cottage or lever knitting is the next most popular (2.6%), and Shetland or from-the-hip knitting the third (0.7%).

Portuguese knitting is a rarity with just 16 (1.2%) respondents. The remaining 3% use several different knitting styles interchangeably or depending on the situation.

The majority of knitters use Western stitch mounts.

The vast majority (77%) of the respondents knit using Western stitch mounts, that is, with the leading leg of the stitch in front of the needle. Fully Eastern style knitting is much rarer: only 9% knit with stitches in the Eastern mount (leading leg behind the needle).

Western and Eastern stitch mounts.

In fact, combination knitting is more common than Eastern mounts: 11% of the respondents knit with Western knits and Eastern purls; 1.6% are reverse combination knitters with Eastern knits and Western purls. Nine knitters (0.7%) switch stitch mounts depending on occasion or have switched their preferred style over the years. The remaining eight (0.6%) haven't paid attention to stitch mounts.

The prevalence of different knitting styles and stitch mounts.

How Common Are Different Knitting Styles?

To further dissect the prevalence of different knitting styles, I cross-tabulated the responses on two dimensions: knitting style and stitch mount. The direction of the results are in line with the overall results. Picking style (continental) is the most common, followed by throwing, lever-style, and Portuguese knitting, in that order.

The same holds true when examining the styles by stitch mount of which Western is the most common, followed by combination knitting, Eastern mount, and reverse combination, in that order. The only exception to the rule is English knitting in which it is more common to use Eastern rather than combined stitch mounts... but the difference between the two are minuscule.

Knitting style categories divided by yarn position and stitch mount.

What's more interesting to note here are the myriad of different combinations. Remember this table on categorizing knitting styles? It had quite a few empty cells in which conventional literature on knitting styles hadn't placed anything. Turns out this is not the case in real life. There are people who knit in the Portuguese style using Eastern or combined stitch mounts, for example. Reverse combination knitting (represented by the reverse-colored bubbles) might not be very common but it should be recognized as a separate entity. What these unconventional style combinations are called, though, is a task left for future knitting generations.

On the Generalizability of the Results

From the get-go, the knitting styles survey was always going to be skewed towards the English-speaking or, at least, English-writing proportion of the knitting community with a good grasp of Internet skills. The respondent population turned out to be even more biased than I anticipated: over 65% of the respondents hail from North America and around a third from Europe, leaving less than 5% for South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia combined. This undoubtedly has a massive influence on the results, in particular on the apparent rareness of Portuguese-style knitting.

Take the results with a grain of salt, if you will.

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Susanna Winter is a knitwear designer, creating timeless and elegant pieces with clean lines. She has been knitting for over 20 years, knit blogging since 2007, and designing knitting patterns professionally since 2016.

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