how to

How to Purl

knitting’s sister stitch

Last week, I gave an in-depth study into the knit stitch, casting on and binding off. Today I want to focus on the purl stitch. Knowing the knit and purl stitches sets you up to make dozens of different fabrics, patterns, and textures. These two techniques, the knit and purl stitch, are the basics on which all of knitting is based.

Purling can be considered as the opposite or inverse of knitting. For example, the knit stitch is made behind the work, whereas the purl stitch is made in front of the work.

To begin to purl, your working yarn must be held in front of the work. If you are starting to purl at the beginning of the row, simply begin to purl as normal. If you are in the middle of the row and wish to purl, carry your yarn from behind the work, between your needles (without wrapping around a needle), and to the front of your work. Then, insert your right needle into the next stitch in front of the left needle. The proper yarn and needle placement are shown in the photo below.

Notice that the right needle is inserted between the front and back “legs” of the stich on the left needle.

Then, just as with knitting, wrap your working yarn around your right needle to create a loop. I like to wrap from left to right!

Now, with the new loop on your right needle, and holding the working yarn alongside your right needle, move the right needle back through the stitch on the left needle and behind the the left needle. This can be tricky and it is easy to drop the loop accidentally from your right needle. If you do, that is okay, just begin the stitch again by inserting the right needle into the stitch, wrap to create a new loop, and pulling through to the back of the left needle.

The photo below shows the desired needle placement before sliding the old stich off the left needle.

Slide the old stitch off the left needle. One stitch has been purled!

The completed purl stitch (above). A video showing me working two purl stitches is below. Notice my hand movements and how my fingers help manipulate the needles and yarn, such as my left thumb at 0:10 and my right forefinger at 0:13.

working two purl stitches

Purling is a great technique that is used to create stockinette stitch. Stockinette stitch is a very popular stitch in the knitting world. It is created by knitting the right side of the fabric and purling the wrong side. The photos below show what these look like. This fabric is likely what your clothes are made up of and is a very versatile fabric. It does tend to roll on itself, which can be cumbersome when making hats or socks. (I suggest using a ribbed edge for these projects to combat curling.)

Notice that the knit side is created by many ‘v’ shapes and the purl side is made of condensed ridges. This is helpful when identifying what stich to work for a row. Let’s say you put your work down and come back to it later and aren’t sure which stitch to work next. If you look at the fabric facing you, you can deduce which stitch to work!

Purl side = ridges; knit side = v shapes

If you recall from last Tuesday’s post, knitting both sides of the work creates garter stitch. Well, in the same way that knitting both right and wrong sides creates garter stitch, so does purling both sides of the work.

Now, if you combine both knit and purl stitches on the right side, and purl all stitches on the wrong side, you create what is called ribbing, which is traditionally used for cuffs, collars, edges, and brims.

As I mentioned earlier, the working yarn, for knitting, needs to be positioned behind the work before inserting your needle, just as the working yarn for purling needs to be in front of the work before inserting your needle. This means that when working the very popular rib stitch (knit 1, purl 1; or knit 2, purl 2; and so on), one must move the yarn to the appropriate place before inserting the needle for the next stitch.

In the photo above, I worked knit 3, purl 3, knit 3, purl 3, knit 3 on the right side, and purled all stitches on the wrong side. Notice the garter stitch that emerges where I purled on both sides, and the overall rib stich for those rows.

I hope you give this a try if you haven’t already. Purling is so useful and can create many stitches when combined with knitting, such as seed stitch, moss stitch, stockinette stitch, ripples, and more. Happy purling!

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