Despite my passionate defense of the right of lefties to knit mirror fashion if they want to, that actually isn't what I teach lefties who come brand new to the craft. Instead, I teach a variant on unmirrored Continental, which puts even more of the motion into the left hand than the standard variety. Today I'm going to talk about how that works, and then I'll talk a little bit about why this is what I teach.
In this variety of Continental, the role of the right hand is to (a) hold the right needle steady, and (b) ... there is no (b). This is a completely left-dominant method, and the right hand is just along for the ride. It's so left-dominant that I usually begin by demonstrating it with the end of the right needle held in the crook of my elbow, and my right hand completely off the needle.
The actual variation from standard-variety Continental is pretty small, and just consists of moving the left needle to achieve the same relative positions of the needles, rather than moving the right one. It's subtle, but the movements of knitting are for the most part subtle; it makes a substantial difference.
To form a knit stitch, hold the right needle steady, pointing to the left and angled slightly upward. Move the left needle so that the first stitch is hooked over the tip of the right needle, which should, of course, enter the stitch from its left side in front, and emerge from the right side in back. Bring the yarn across the tip of the right needle as usual for the Continental method. Then, instead of moving the right needle tip to pull the new stitch through, twist the left needle back slightly to pop the old stitch over the tip of the right needle and the yarn held against it, which forms the new stitch. Pull the left needle tip out of the old stitch.
To form a purl stitch, hold the right needle steady, again pointing to the left but more straight across than angled. Move the left needle so the first stitch is hooked over the tip of the right needle, which should enter on the right and emerge on the left, in front of the left needle. Bring the yarn in front of and over the right needle tip, as usual for the Continental method. Then, instead of drawing the new stitch through with the tip of the right needle, twist the left needle forward slightly to pop the old stitch over the tip of the right needle and the yarn held against it. Pull the left needle tip out of the old stitch.
See, not a big difference. But try it, and you'll feel that your left hand is doing all the work.
The other place where you'll want to adjust which hand does the work is for the long-tail cast-on. Again, you're going to hold the right needle still and move the left hand; instead of going up the thumb, down the index finger, and down the thumb, you'll hook the outer thumb strand over, and then bring the index-finger strand up from beneath and lift the entire thumb loop over. That sounds much more complicated in writing than it actually is to do; in practice it's easy, and it's fast. It's actually faster than moving the needle, in fact, because the steps of bringing the index-finger strand and the thumb loop up can be done in a single rocking motion; I always do my long-tail this way.
The foregoing explanation is probably not enough for an absolute novice who's never knit before to understand this method; it's not really meant to be. It's directed more at the knitter who is preparing to teach a left-handed friend, or the mirror knitter who is interested in experimenting with unmirrored knitting, either of whom will fully understand what knit and purl stitches are intended to look like, how a long-tail cast-on works, and so on. If you're a brand new knitter and want to experiment with this, contact me, and I can provide you with a few more resources and some more involved explanation.
One note about this method: it's not quite as fast as standard even-handed Continental. I think that's inherent, however, in any method where the work is done by one hand, rather than splitting it between hands, because simultaneous motion cuts down on the duration for the sequence of motions to be completed. Personally, I find it slightly slower than even-handed Continental, but slightly faster than English, where I have not quite mastered not letting go of the right needle with I throw.
Now, why do I teach this instead of mirrored knitting? There are several reasons. As we previously discussed, there are certain cases where mirrored knitting requires modification, and it can take some analysis to figure out exactly where those changes are applicable. While I don't feel that figuring that out is a monumental task, it is an additional task that the unmirrored knitter doesn't have to undertake. Also, there is the don't-knit-backwards reaction that pretty much every mirrored knitter seems to encounter at one point or another; skipping the opportunity to engage in such confrontations seems to have its benefits. And finally, there's a more subtle point about the way knitters tend to learn the craft these days; instead of being taught by our mothers and grandmothers, we're mostly picking it up from a variety of disparate sources, a bit from a book, some from online, perhaps a class or just being shown something in a sit-and-knit session at our LYSes. I think mirrored knitters face a little bit more of an obstacle in learning this way, and may have some difficulty getting help, as potential helpers look at the way they knit and say, "Oh, I can't help you with that," instead of taking the time to analyze the problem and see whether the different method even impacts the answer. Again, it's by no means an insurmountable obstacle, but it is an obstacle, and I believe in offering new knitters the choice of whether or not to confront it.
I am not dogmatic about teaching left-dominant Continental; I present the two options, explaining the differences, and what I see as the potential ups and downs of each, and then suggest that we start with the left-dominant Continental, and see how that works out. If I had a student who strongly wanted to try mirrored knitting first, I'd teach it; so far, that hasn't happened.