How to knit the purl stitch for beginners

A detailed step-by-step tutorial for beginners on knitting the purl stitch with the continental or English knitting method

In the past lessons, you already learned how to cast on and how to make a knit stitch. Now it’s time to teach you the second most used stitch in the knitting world: The ‘Purl Stitch’.

If you combine it with the knit stitch, it opens up a very wide range of beautiful stitch patterns (like the stockinette stitch or the double moss stitch). Here’s how to purl stitch:

What you need:

ⓘ In knitting patterns, you’ll see “purl” or simply a “P” to indicate this stitch. So, when it says P3 it means you need to knit 3 purl stitches in a row. If your pattern says “purl to the end of the row” or “Row 3: Purl”, you’ll have to repeat this stitch over and over again until you reached the designated place.

The Continental purl stitch

When you compare the continental knit stitch to the English throwing, most will agree that the former is way faster. When it comes to purling, the difference is less pronounced. A lot of knitters I know struggle with this stitch. I always found this weird, as I can purl pretty much as fast as I knit, so I’m going to show you my exact technique here.

A knitting sample in stockinette stitch on the purl side
The purl side of a little patch in stockinette stitch

Step 1: Cast on as many stitches as you need for your pattern.

Step 2: Pick up your work and wrap the yarn around your fingers (I explained this in more detail here) and hold the yarn in front of the work (<-important).

Yarn holding technique for purl stitches with the yarn in front

Step 3: Insert your right needle into the first loop on your left needle from right to left (and make sure you do it in the front and not through the back).

Inserting the needle from right to left for the first purl stitch

Step 4: Now, wrap your left needle around the working yarn counter-clockwise from below. (If you do it clockwise, your stitch loop will lay differently on the needle and will be harder to knit in the next rounds.) Use your middle finger to push the working yarn to the front to create a nice loop and good tension.

Wraping the yarn around the needle with your middle finger to purl

Note: A lot of knitters will use the index finger to push the yarn to the front. I personally feel this is an unnatural movement, it’s hard to control the tension and the working yarn will slip around too much. But try it out as well. Maybe it suits you better than me!

Step 5: Pull the yarn through the loop.

Pull the loop through the stitch on your needle for your first purl stitch

Step 6: Slip the first stitch from your right needle. And there is your first purl stitch on your right needle. You should be able to see a little loop around the base of the stitch on your right needle. That is how you can tell purl stitches apart.

Slip of the stitch you just worked and you got your first purl stitch on your needle

Step 7: Repeat steps 3-6 until you knitted the desired amount of purl stitches.

Purling the second stitch
The second purl stitch is knitted the same way. Insert the needle in the front, pull the yarn through, and slip the stitch

Make sure to secure the knitted stitches with your right hand so they don’t fall off when you purl.

English purl stitch knitting

Note: I am using a red contrasting yarn for instructional purposes only

If you are a fan of English/American knitting, then you’ll find that the purl stitch is pretty much as easy as the knit stitch. They are both very easy to execute. Here is how:

Step 1: Bring the work in front of you and hold the knitting needle with your left hand.

Step 2: Bring the yarn in front of the work.

Step 3: Insert the right needle into the first loop from the back to the front (you could also say from right to left).

insert the needle from right to left to purl english knitting

Step 4: Now, throw the yarn around the right needle clockwise.

throw the yarn around the needle counter clockwise for the first purl stitch

Step 5: Keep the working yarn under tension and pull the yarn through the loop.

pull the working yarn through the loop

Step 6: Let the first loop slide off the right needle and tighten your first purl stitch by pulling the working yarn.

the first purl stitch american knitting on your right needle

Step 7: Repeat 3-6 to continue in purl stitch.

wrap the yarn around the needle for the second purl stitch
Throwing the yarn around the needle for the second purl stitch

Here’s a little help to learn the difference between the knit stitch vs Purl Stitch

  • Knit: Yarn in the back, insert the needle from left to right, wrap the yarn clockwise
  • Purl: Yarn in front, insert the needle right to left, wrap the yarn counter-clockwise

why is it called purl stitch?

The wrong side of a stockinette stitch sample pattern so called reverse stockinette stitch
The purl side of a stockinette stitch sample

The most popular and plausible origin is from the now obsolete Scots world pirl (“twist, ripple, whirl”) which was used since the 16th century for embroidery with gold or silver thread. Personally, I always thought the stitch looks a bit like a pearl. But who knows.

In German, we simply call them “left stitch” (because you pull the yarn from the left) with the corresponding “right stitch” for the knit stitch. I always found this a bit more plausible and easier to remember.

Common Mistakes & how to fix them

Tension problems while purling

A lot of knitters struggle with the tension while knitting purl stitches. Some continental knitters end up with very tight stitches, while a lot of English knitters have considerably looser stitches when compared to their knit stitch equivalents.

This will not be a serious problem when your pattern only requires you to purl. But if you are mixing two stitches, this may result in a somewhat lopsided structure. There are two ways to compensate for this;

  • A) Some knitters use different sized needles for their purl rows.
  • B) Adjust the tension of your working yarn by either wrapping it around your pinky finger once more (or once less) than you normally do. You can also tighten each stitch by pulling the working yarn.

The loop constantly slips from your left needle as you pull it through

Inserting the needle from right to left for the second purl stitch

If you are constantly losing the loops as you pull your stitch through, then place your right fingers over the yarn and hold them in place.

You dropped a stitch and don’t know how to fix it

A crochet needle will be your best friend. Simply pick up the dropped loop sticking out with your crochet needle. The little rib (the yarn connecting the adjacent stitches to either side) has to be in front of your crochet needle. Now simply pull it through the loop of the dropped stitch and place it back on the knitting needle.

Next lesson: How to knit the Stockinette Stitch.

So, that’s it. This was how to purl stitch. Feel free to comment with your questions!

How to knit the purl stitch for beginners

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