How to knit purl stitch

·3-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Purl stitch is essentially a mirrored knit stitch. Take a moment to sit and watch your hands doing a purl stitch from the back of your work using a mirror – it will soon make sense. It will look like you’re doing a knit stitch. Because essentially – you are! Just the other way around.

Everything you do when you’re knitting any project ever, is going to be made up of some variation of knit and purl stitches. It’s how you use them that makes the difference. Textured stitches such as moss or seed stitch, or rib stitch where knit stitch and purl are alternated across the row can create different textures. Whole rows of purl to work alternated with knit rows creates stocking stitch.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Yes, you’ll need your purl stitches when you get to cable stitch and chances are, your colourwork knitting patterns will have some thrown in somewhere too. So to get you off on the best journey, purl stitch is absolutely a skill you’ll need to master – and thankfully it’s easy!

What you need to do a purl stitch

Not much – just some needles and yarn. Depending on what you’re making, two straight needles for a flat piece of knitting will do just fine when paired up with a yarn recommending the size you have in-hand, on the label.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

If you’re knitting something tubular, you might find that circular or a set of five double-pointed needles are coming into play. But if you’re not there yet, don’t fret – learn how to purl first. The rest comes later.

Purl stitch step-by-step with pictures

You’re better off practising purl stitch with at least 15-20 stitches cast on. If nothing more, it will give you a better feel of the fabric, whereas a smaller numbers of stitches can feel fiddly and cumbersome.

Purl stitch does precisely what is says on the tin – it’s a stitch. One stitch, in amongst others. So let’s take it one stitch at a time.

Make sure your working yarn is in front of your work

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

This is important. With knit stitches, your yarn is always held at the back. If you’re moving between a knit and a purl stitch in the middle of a row, you’ll need to bring your working yarn between the needles to the front of the work. And vice versa if you’re going from a purl to a knit.

Insert the right needle from back to front through the first stitch on your left-hand needle

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

So your needle moves from behind your work, poking under and through the first unworked stitch available and toward you.

At the front of your work, wrap your yarn counter clockwise around the right-hand needle tip

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

That’s upwards first, over to the left and then down and to the right where you can hold it comfortably in your right hand for the time being, maintaining a little tension for the next bit.

Retract your right-hand needle through the stitch, and away from you

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Making sure not to lose that precious loop of yarn, carefully move it away from you and through the stitch you’d previously poked through.

Carefully slip the now worked stitch off your left-hand needle

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

And that’s it! You’ve purled one stitch. Keep your yarn at the front of the work if your next stitch is a purl stitch, and repeat these steps to your heart’s content.

Onwards and upwards! Now that you’ve got your head around the purl stitch, try it in a stitch pattern with our easy-to-follow moss stitch tutorial.

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