Monday, 12 January 2009

Death of a Butterfly

I knitted Portuguese last night. The plan was to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly Jacket to practise the Portuguese method. The purl stitch is easier, so I planned to do one jacket in purl and one in knit and be proficient by the end of making both garments. In fact, I only got to the end of the third set of short rows, then I stopped to look at my knitting. Ugh! Nasty. Lumpy, wobbly, beginner's knitting. And then I put my brain into gear. I've been mad to try Portuguese or Arabic or 'thumb as a shuttle, yarn around the neck knitting' since I read Maggie Richetti's 'Knitting in Plain English.' A wonderful book, by the way, but in it she states clearly that Portuguese knitting is faster than Continental knitting. 'It's the fastest of all,' she states. She was wrong. She has to be - even for the purl stitch, you have to insert the needle into the stitch to be worked and then move your thumb to bring the yarn ready to be worked (that's how the yarn is fed onto the needle by the way, the flick of the thumb has to be strong enough to pull up a section of yarn), then you dip and dive your other needle and make the stitch. That's three movements. Continental is two. The Portuguese knit is even slower, because you have to put in your needle, twist your needle up to compensate for the fact that the yarn is in front not the back, and then move your thumb and make the stitch. That's four movements. Continental is two. So, as of this moment, I am putting Portuguese knitting back on the shelf. I'm glad I tried it, because I'd hate to find out at the end of my knitting life that there was a faster method and I'd missed out on it, but it is not worth putting in the several month's practice it would take to produce nice even knitting.

If you have never learned Continental and want a second method to knit with a colour in each hand or whatever, I think Portuguese might be worth considering because so far as physically holding the needles and yarn goes, it was much easier to learn than Continental. I did not like having the yarn behind my neck, and although the pin is good, it makes holes when you pin it to your shoulder, so you can only use it if you have old clothes on so that's something else to think about. I also think it would be easier to knit without looking in Portuguese knitting because the yarn feeds from the front, so anyone with vision problems or a serious TV habit might find it useful. Finally, it was easier on the hands because the neck or the pin take the strain of tensioning the yarn rather than the fingers, so anyone with hand problems might find it worth trying out - but for good old simple speed, Continental wins the day.

Andy was deep in Match of the Day on the new TV but he very heroically got out the stopwatch function on his phone, and over 34 stitches, here's what we found:
Portuguese (purl - the fastest stitch) 1 minute 12 seconds. English knit (throwing) 1 minute 3 seconds. Continental knit (picking) 53.5 seconds.
I am not practised in Portuguese, so if I stuck at it, I'd guess it would probably end up at around the same speed as English style knitting, which I've done for a long time. I was surprised that the improved speed difference of Continental wasn't greater - but observation (between goals and good bits of football) by Andy solved the mystery: It takes three times longer to settle the yarn in the left hand than to settle the yarn in the right hand ready to work with the other two methods. That's interesting. For short row of stitches, it would probably work out the same speed to use the English style because the slower stitch formation would be balanced out by the faster yarn settling. While working in Continental, it would definitely be worth learning to knit backwards for bobbles and edging strips. And as we all know, once you have the yarn set up and get going - a sweater in the round, for example, Continental stitches just fly.

So, the Portuguese Butterfly goes to the bin. I started one in Continental, and although it looks much neater, when it is put on top of the Portuguese butterfly see how much smaller the Continental sample is? I need bigger needles to get the right size.

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