The knit stitch is the basic unit of knitting, a loop or yarn interlocked in another loop of yarn, a very simple thing. This very simple thing can be achieved in many different ways, which we call knitting techniques or styles. You are probably familiar with two of them, the English and Continental style, however the goal of this post is to tell you about a third, less known style: the Portuguese knitting technique.
We can trace the beginnings of Portuguese knitting to the Arabic world of the Middle East. The Umayyad Empire expanded towards Europe when they conquered the Iberian peninsula around the 700’s, and thus the Arabic way of knitting spread to what is today Portugal and Spain. This style of knitting was then dispersed among many Mediterranean countries. These days countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Turkey still practice it. Finally, due to the colonization of South America by the Spanish and the Portuguese, countries like Brazil and Peru knit mostly in the Portuguese way today.
This style is very unique, because the yarn feeding the knitting process does not come from the back of the knitted item, but from the front. It’s main characteristic is that it requires very little hand movement, just the flicking of your left thumb. This is what makes it a very efficient way to knit, because less movement translates to faster knitting. It is very easy to understand if someone is knitting Portuguese style, because you will see them tensioning the yarn around their neck, or through a knitting pin. This is what brings the yarn to the front of your work, and it also helps tension the yarn. If more control is needed, the tension can additionally be controlled with the right hand.
This is what makes it a very efficient way to knit, because less movement translates to faster knitting.
Switching the way you knit into the Portuguese way has many advantages. Besides the speed, the minimum hand movement means it is great for people with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. If your usual way of knitting makes you ache, Portuguese style can be an alternative. Your tension will also become more even, because you will maneuver the yarn a lot less.
Most English and Continental knitters dread the purl stitch, but the Portuguese purl stitch is ridiculously easy! It is even easier than the Continental knit stitch. This means that your Portuguese Garter stitch will most probably be purl every row instead of knit every row. If you knit inside out, your Stockinette stitch in the round can also be all purls.
Switching from knit to purl stitches and vice versa is also very quick and easy. Ribbing, Seed stitch and Double Knitting are therefore faster. That was my personal motive for learning to knit Portuguese style: now my Ribbing is very even (no ugly purl stitches for me!), much quicker, and more enjoyable to do.
The other popular reason for learning Portuguese is that it is very easy to do Stranded colorwork, especially if you do it inside out in the round using purl stitches. Using a separate pin for each color translates to a smoother colorwork experience. Finally, because the yarn is always in the front of your work and you never drop it, it is an excellent way to knit for blind people, or people with other visual impairments.
What are the disadvantages of Portuguese knitting? To be honest, tracing down the cons of this style was really hard. I could not find any, besides that, as with every new technique that you try, it takes some time to learn and master. Still, learning Portuguese knitting is very easy because of the very few movements it includes.
When I first started learning to knit this way, I begun with tensioning the yarn around my neck instead of using a pin. It was summer, and I was learning with wool; that made me sweat. It was not a smooth process! Then I changed to knitting with a pin, and my experience transformed completely!
I highly recommend the use of a knitting pin. If you do not want to pierce your clothes, you can use magnetic knitting pins. The magnet is very strong and the pin stays in place, even when wearing a thick sweater. If you prefer to knit naked, or if you want to combine your knitting accessory with your jewelry, then you can opt for a pin necklace. However, no matter what accessory you may choose, remember to support your back properly while knitting. You do not want to replace the hand and elbow pain of your previous knitting style, with back or neck pain!