A step-by-step tutorial for beginners on how to do the purl stitch the continental way
Do you want to learn how to purl? Do you want to access the whole world of knitting stitch patterns? Then you came to the right place because this tutorial is all about it! I will show you the continental purl stitch and further down below an alternative way to knit it as well.
In the past lessons, you already learned how to cast on and how to make a knit stitch. If you combine these basic knitting techniques, it opens up a very wide range of beautiful stitch patterns (like the stockinette stitch or the double moss stitch).
Let’s dive right into it and show you how to purl!
ⓘ 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.
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Instructions: How to purl
When knitting the continental purl stitch, the yarn is tensioned with the left hand and always held in front of the work. With the additional aid of either the index finger, middle finger, or thumb, it's actually quite easy to do.
- Start by bringing the working yarn to the front of your work.
- Insert your right needle into the front of the first stitch on the left needle from right to left. The working yarn needs to stay in front of it all.
Tip: If you don't know how to tension the yarn, I explained it in much more detail here.
- Next, wrap the working yarn around the needle counter-clockwise coming from below.
Note: Think of it as the needle as the center of a clock. If you look at it from above, the yarn needs to go around counter-clockwise.
- Use your middle finger to push the working yarn forward.
- Pull the working yarn through the stitch.
- Slip the stitch you worked through off the left needle to finish the purl stitch.
There should be a little bump around its base. And actually, that's an easy way to read your knitting and identify purl stitches. If it has a little bump there, then it's a purl stitch.
A lot of continental knitters tension the yarn around their index finger. Nothing wrong with that. But in this case, it's much easier to bring the whole index finger forward.
Instead of pushing the yarn forward with your middle finger, you can also do it with your thumb. I personally find this a bit less comfortable but some beginners love this method.
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 working yarn to the front.
Step 2: Insert the right needle into the first loop from the back to the front (you could also say from right to left).
Step 3: Now, throw the yarn around the right needle counter-clockwise.
Step 4: Keep the working yarn tensioned and pull the it through the loop.
Step 5: Let the first loop slide off the right needle and tighten your first purl stitch by pulling on the working yarn gently.
Step 6: Repeat 3-6 to continue in 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 counter-clockwise
- Purl: Yarn in front, insert the needle right to left, wrap the yarn counter-clockwise
If you look closely at these instructions, you can see that these stitches are mirror-inverted. The only thing that stays the same is that you wrap the yarn around counter-clockwise. And that’s actually a very important takeaway. In continental knitting, you always wrap the yarn around the needles in that direction – no matter which stitches you knit. Find more about knit vs purl here.
Reading tip for advanced knitters: How to purl backwards
why is it called purl stitch?
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. And in fact, if you read victorian knitting books such as Miss Lambert’s “My Knitting book” (1847) the instructions actually call this stitch “pearl”.
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 when purling & how to fix them
1. Tension problems
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 (like for a 2×2 ribs stitch), 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 on the working yarn individually after you finished it.
2. The loop constantly slips from your needle as you try to pull it through
If you are constantly losing the loops as you try to pull your stitch through, then place your right fingers over the yarn and hold them in place.
3. 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.
If the stitch unravels for several rows, it’s best to turn your workaround. Then you can crochet simple chain stitches to fix the mistakes. Here’s a more detailed tutorial on fixing a dropped stitch in knitting. There’s a video included to show you the technique step-by-step.
Next lesson: How to knit the Stockinette Stitch.
11 thoughts on “How to purl for beginners”
Hi! I’ve found these tutorials super helpful- I love that yo upstart with the continental method. I want to be sure I am wrapping the yarn correctly for the knit stitch. Following pictures it seems like the yarn wraps counter clockwise, but here you say it is clockwise (only purl counterclockwise). Does the yarn wrap the same or different clock orientation in these stitches? Thanks!
that was a typo. Shame on me. I have a left-right weakness kind of thing and if it’s between left and right, clockwise and counterclockwise or east and west I aaaalways mix it up! sorry. corrected it now.
Thank you so much for this tutorial and video. I have always struggled with holding the yarn and needles and your video really helped my tangled fingers and tension problems. Thankful for your help !!!
Hi Norman, thanks for all the work in the blog. All the material is great and I think I watched already 90% of the youtube videos. 😀
Having started knitting like a month ago, your material has helped me a lot. On the Purl stitch I started with continental (because I come from crochet, so it makes more sense). Fur Purl I was struggling a bit with both techniques to be honest, so I started to search more options and I stumbled upon the Norwegian one. I liked it because you don’t need to move the yarn back and forth, so keeping tension is easier for beginners like me. Perhaps it would be a good addition to this post.
Thanks again for the good work!
hey thiago. very happy to read that I could help you learn knitting. And yeah, let’s see if I can find the time to do a tutorial on the Norwegian purl.
I have watched many videos and struggled with the Continental purling. Your explanation, pictures, and video are the best I have discovered by far.
You are a natural teacher; I can spot one because I am also but not for knitting. I have taught reading, math, English, and social studies to many learners and it came naturally to me or else I learned from observing my favorite teachers. (college had little to do with it)
You mentioned before that purl stitches are often looser than knit stitches when knit English vs. Continental. Is there a particular reason for that? I usually knit English and notice that I have this problem. Sometimes, I’ll do knit rows Continental for a break, which for me has the same tension as when I do knit stitches English, but I don’t really love purling Continental if I’m being honest. For stockinette stitch at least, to achieve consistency, I just knit backwards, but that really wouldn’t be great for ribbings or moss stitch.
Well, it’s a different way to tension things and so, of course, these will differ. As for the reasons, there are so many and most of them are highly individual.
I do wrap my purl stitches in a clockwise manner, but when knitting the next row, I knit in the back of the stitch. This works for me and doesn’t give the dreaded wrong-way stitch.
Yes Carla, this style is called combination knitting and is a very valid approach.
Thanks so much for this website and your videos. This lesson on purling was a real game-changer for me! Instead of feeling clumsy with my knitting needles, doing a 1×1 rib almost feels like a graceful yoga flow!
I learned crochet and basic knitting as a child, and I kind of glommed onto crochet for the last 50(!) years. After seeing so many beautiful knitting patterns available, I decided to return to the craft. My first project that required shaping was a pair of mittens done on DPNs, and I couldn’t have done it without your help! Now I’ve gained enough confidence to tackle a simple sweater.
I appreciate your positivity, your sense of humor, your expertise, and your teaching style. You’re the best! Danke schön.