Knitting 101: Purling

Purl bumps on the back of stockinette

Purl bumps on the back of stockinette

If you’re following along, you’ve been working on just the knit stitch up to this point. We’re going to take this one step further now and add the purl stitch. Once you’ve got the knit and purl down, you’ve mastered the basics of knitting!

Purl Side Left, Knit Side Right

Purl Side Left, Knit Side Right

Purls are basically backwards knit stitches. If you look at the picture above, each knit stitch looks like a little “V.” On the other side, are the purls. Each purl looks like a horizontal little bump.

Garter Left, Stockinette Right

Garter Left, Stockinette Right

Up until now, you’ve just been knitting every row. This is called the garter stitch. If a pattern asks for stockinette, you’re knitting on one side (often called right side or rs, depending on the pattern) and then purling on the other side (wrong side or ws). This creates a flat piece like in the picture above. Well, I say flat. Stockinette rolls in on itself. The only way to prevent that is either some kind of a border or really block the heck out of it.

Why purl?

Purling can do so much for a knitted garment. When alternating with knit stitches, it creates a ribbing. You often see this in hats, sleeves, and cuffs of mittens, gloves, or socks. Ribbing creates an extra stretch to help a garment fit better. Look at how it cinches in the fabric in the picture below.


Knit 2, Purl 2 Ribbing

Purling is also used as a backdrop for cabling. The horizontal bumps help the knit cables stand up and pop out more. If the cables were surrounded by just knitting, the effect wouldn’t be quite as dramatic.

Basic 3x3 Cable

Basic 3×3 Cable

As mentioned earlier, purling on one side and knitting on the other creates the stockinette stitch. You might use this when knitting a triangle or rectangle shawl, for instance. Stockinette gives a nice flat fabric. I will say, when you have a project that’s all stockinette or mostly stockinette, you’ll understand the importance of blocking. Stockinette has this tendency to curl. I’ll go over how to block in a later lesson.

Purling also can create great texture. Knit 1, purl 1 alternating can create what’s called seed stitch, for instance. This is another way to set off cabling.

I have a love-hate relationship with purling. I love how purls help set-off knitting or how they make a stretchy ribbing. I hate how slow I am at them. It takes at least twice as long for me to do a row in purl as it does in knit. I suppose, like with any other technique, with practice comes speed.

How to Purl

Let’s get to it! Like I said earlier, a purl stitch is basically a backwards knit stitch.

1. Move your yarn to the front. In the knit stitch, we work with the yarn in the back.

2. Slip your right hand needle through the front of the stitch, creating an “X.” Unlike knitting, this time you’re right-hand needle is in front and the left-hand needle is in the back.

3. Lift the yarn up over the right-hand needle and bring it down between the “X.”

4. Use the right-hand needle to guide the new stitch through the previous one.

5. Just like with knitting, gently push the old stitch off the left-hand needle, holding onto the new one on the right.

Do a few rows of just purling until you get the hang of it. If you do row after row of just purl stitches, you’ll get what looks like garter stitch once again. After you’re comfortable with the purl stitch, alternate with knit and purl stitches on a few rows to create stockinette.

If you want to try some ribbing out, try this:

Row 1: Knit two, purl two to end of row

Row 2: Purl two, knit two to end of row



Notice how row 2 is opposite of row 1. To create ribbing, you’re sort of doing a small scale stockinette. One side needs to be knit and the other side purl.

If you want to try the seed stitch, try this:

Row 1: Knit one, purl one to end of row

Row 2: Knit one, purl one to end of row

Seed Stitch

Seed Stitch

If you want to try basket weave, try this:

Set One

Row 1: Knit four, purl four to end of row

Row 2: Purl four, knit four to end of row

Repeat for 4 rows total, then:

Set Two

Row 5: Purl four, knit four to end of row

Row 6: Knit four, purl four to end of row

Repeat for 4 rows total. Alternate the sets to get the basket weave look.

Basket Weave

Basket Weave

Notice how both rows are identical. One side of the seed stitch needs to be knit and the other side purl. It’s just like a mini-garter stitch. My basket weave always looks so messy, but that’s why we block (a topic coming up soon)!

To knit, move the yarn to the back. To purl, bring the yarn forward. Make sure you do this. If you go to purl with your yarn in the back, you’ll create a hole.

The knit and purl stitches form the basis of every single pattern. The main difference is how you manipulate those stitches. There are a couple of new issues that come up once you starting adding purling to the mix. Next week we will talk about how to fix mistakes with purling and stockinette.

9 thoughts on “Knitting 101: Purling

  1. These are so helpful. I really admire some of the results that can be achieved from knitting (as opposed to crochet).

  2. I recently learned how to purl and am currently working on a scarf for my son using the ribbing idea. I can’t wait to get it finished so I can try out the other ideas you’ve put up here. Thanks!

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