How to purl for beginners

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!

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

ⓘ 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

someone showing how to knit the purl stitch

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.

Active Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute

Instructions

  1. Start by bringing the working yarn to the front of your work.

    starting the purl stitch by bringing the yarn to the front of the work
  2. 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.

    inserting the right needle into the first stitch on the left needle from right to left

    Tip: If you don't know how to tension the yarn, I explained it in much more detail here.
  3. Next, wrap the working yarn around the needle counter-clockwise coming from below.

    wrapping the yarn around the needle counter-clockwise

    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.
  4. Use your middle finger to push the working yarn forward.

    pushing the working yarn forward with the middle finger to make it easier to purl
  5. Pull the working yarn through the stitch.

    Pulling the working yarn through the loop
  6. Slip the stitch you worked through off the left needle to finish the purl stitch.

    having dropped the stitch 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.

Notes

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.

using the index finger with the working yarn wrapped around it to purl

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.

using the thumb to do the purl stitch the easy way

Reading tip: How to knit the continental way for beginners

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).

insert the needle from right to left to purl english knitting

Step 3: Now, throw the yarn around the right needle counter-clockwise.

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

Step 4: Keep the working yarn tensioned and pull the it through the loop.

pull the working yarn 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.

the first purl stitch american knitting on your right needle

Step 6: 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 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.

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 swatch

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 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

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

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.

fixing a dropped stitch with a crochet hook

Next lesson: How to knit the Stockinette Stitch.

So, This is how to purl. Feel free to comment with your questions!

How to knit the purl stitch for beginners

2 thoughts on “How to purl for beginners”

  1. 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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