I've found all of the comments on my last post fascinating. I've decided that there is no obvious reason to switch to continental for the sake of speed - the general consensus seems to be that it is only faster if you are having problems with holding the yarn in the right hand. That reassurance is good enough for me. But I have been thinking about how I hold the yarn and needles more. Apparently, I've also inspired others to do the same. Perhaps I didn't make myself particularly clear about one thing though. As far as I've seen the term used 'English' knitting refers to any method that involves holding the yarn in the right hand. There are three basic methods.
Firstly the right needle can be anchored, either in the armpit, in a knitting belt of some kind, or less efficiently against the thigh. The right hand is then free to wrap the yarn. This is what I meant when I refererred to the Shetland method. Apparently it's the fastest way to knit. Secondly the right needle is held under the right hand: this is generally how I knit, I rest the right needle loosely against my middle, third and fourth fingers with my thumb on top. My index finger is then free to throw the yarn - a motion that only varies slightly for knit and purl sts.
Thirdly the right needle (and presumably) the left can be held like a pencil. This has the major problem that after a few rows the stitches will all bunch up between the thumb and forefinger. It is also pretty inefficent and hard to control. I haven't seen many people who knit like this, or many modern books that teach this method. However I did notice that in the stitch dictionary I had out of the library this was the only method shown in the techniques section. To me this simply looks horribly awkward and wrong.
In the Handknitter's Handbook (thanks to anyone who recommended it a while back) Montse Stanley writes that "In Britain, for example, there is an invisible divide half-way across the country. To the south, the needle is held like a pen; to the north, it is steadied under the arm or into a sheath." (p.25) She goes on to suggest that this divide may be to do with the division between knitting as a commercial rather than leisurely activity. Although Montse Stanley is fairly dismissive of the way I knit I never feel the need drop the needle in order to wrap the yarn. The only times I've ever wanted to anchor the needle is when knitting something wide and heavy on long straights - and then it's to balance the weight, not to give greater control or speed. Technically you could argue that dropping the needle and picking up the yarn between every stitch is a fourth method, but I would say that that is simply wrong, and in that case it is defintely worth working on another method and perhaps finding someone to show you how.
The other interesting thing that came up in the comments was the trouble people have with purling in continental. This is something I've heard off but never really had a problem with. As I said, while I don't like knitting continental I can do it competently and I don't find purling particularly difficult. I have a feeling this is because when knitting continental I also use my index finger to control the yarn, and have it free of the needles. I use my left middle finger to push the needle tip through the stitch and knit with my index finger raised so that there is about 2 inches of yarn held taught to pick up. When purling I sort of use my index finger to throw the yarn, rather than trying to pick it up by some crazy right handed wrist twisting. Perhaps that helps someone to make purling in continental easier. There is also the combined method, where you work the purl stitches backwards and then untwist them by knitting into the back of the sts on the next row.
One reason I prefer to knit english over continental is that I find it easier to read. Today I made a stencil to make prettier book weights than the makeshift one I made a while ago.
*edit - I am not trying to claim that either English or Continental is a better method to use. I'm just saying that there doesn't really seem to be any reason to switch from one to the other unless you are having problems or feel more comfortable with the other way.