Learning how to purl stitch is essential for knitting if you want to make anything other than garter stitch. (Although you could even do garter stitch using only purl!) If you want to be able to create that mainstay of knitting, the stockinette stitch, or stocking stitch, you will need to learn purl stitch knitting as well as knit (or plain) stitch. In fact, anything at all in knitting, even lace knitting, and cables, is actually made up of a combination of a plain and a purl stitch, with a few extra yarn wraps or twists thrown in. Ready to start? Continue reading to learn how to purl stitch for beginners with this easy purl stitch tutorial.
Purl Stitch Tutorial - How to Purl Stitch for Beginners
What is Purl Stitch
Purl stitch is a basic knitting stitch made by inserting the tip of the right needle in front of the left needle loop. The yarn is kept to the front of the work. The purl stitch looks like a bump on the front.
What Does Purl Stitch Loop Like
Used by itself, purl stitch looks like a series of bumps on either side of the fabric. If combined with other stitches it can give a different appearance. When you knit 1 row, then purl 1 row, you get stockinette stitch which looks like little v's on one side, and the distinctive purl bumps on the reverse.
Materials Needed for this Purl Stitch Tutorial
- Knitting needles suitable for that yarn
- Yarn needle- to weave in ends and if required to stitch knitted pieces together
If you are just learning to knit, it is a good idea to use thick yarn and large needles. Use the recommended yarn for your needles. You will find guidance for this printed on the ball band which is wrapped around your yarn.
Purl Stitch Abbreviation
The abbreviation for purl stitch in patterns is simply ‘p’ (in other words a 'p stitch').
Here’s an interesting fact: If you are pulling out stitches to correct a mistake, and you are just undoing one stitch at a time, this is called ‘tinking’. Spell tink backward?...knit!
How To Purl Stitch for Beginners - Step by Step
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 1 - Cast On
To get started with learning how to purl stitch, you will first need to cast on the required number of stitches using the casting-on method of your choice. Just for a practice run, cast on around 18-20 stitches. For this example, I have used the quick cable method of casting on.
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 2 - Insert Tip of Needle
Hold the yarn in your right hand, and hold the needle with the cast-on stitches in your left hand.
The tip of the left-hand needle should point to the right. The first stitch which you will work into must be close to the tip of the needle. The working yarn must be at the front of your work.
Insert the tip of the right needle into the first stitch on the left needle, from right to left, and from back to front. You will be forming a cross with the needles. The right-hand needle must be inserted in front of the left-hand needle.
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 3 - Wrap Yarn
With your right hand, loop the yarn counterclockwise over the front of the needle. Bring it all the way around, back to the front of your work. Please note that my loop in this picture is far too loose, I have just wrapped it loosely so that you can see how it is wrapped! Yours needs to be tighter than this!
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 4 - Pull Back
Make sure the loop is caught securely between the needles, as this will make your new stitch. Pull it down firmly. I often push down the tip of the right needle with my right thumb.
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 5 - Transfer to Right Needle
Slide the right needle back a little, so that the loop comes close to the tip of the needle. Don't let it slide off!
Your original stitch is still on the left needle and your newly created loop is on the right needle. Be careful not to drop that wrap of yarn! Again, yours should not look quite this loose!
Slide the loop off the left needle, keeping the new loop on the right needle. This is your first purl stitch! The old stitch will fall below your new stitch. Give your yarn a little tug now to pull this stitch tight, and keep it firmly on that right needle. If you do this little tug every time, it will keep your stitches nice and even, and will train you to keep your tension even when knitting larger pieces. Just don’t pull it too tight, or you will struggle to insert your needle in the next row.
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 6 - Repeat for Rest of Row
Now repeat these steps until you have worked through all the stitches on the left needle. This left needle will now be empty and the right-hand needle will be full of lovely new purl stitches. If you find that this first row of stitches twists a bit on the needle, don’t panic! Just twist them back into a nice straight row! Once you have a few rows of knitting on your needles this will stop.
Purl Stitch Tutorial Step 7 - Turn
You must now turn your work so that the needle full of stitches is in your left hand, and the empty needle is in your right hand.
Step 8 - Continue Purl Stitch
Start again from the beginning of the instructions, and purl your way across this row. Keep going in this way until you have created a square (or rectangle) of purl stitch as long as you would like. By repeating purl stitch every row, you will in fact be making a square of garter stitch.
Your garter stitch sample will look exactly the same whether you have made it with knit stitches or purl stitches. The red sample was made with a purl stitch, the turquoise was made with a knit stitch. (Turquoise was made with larger needles.)
How To Increase in Purl Stitch
In most patterns increasing and decreasing are worked on a knit row, because they are only done on alternate rows. But there will be times when you need to increase on a purl row. This is how to do it:
- Insert your needle into the front of the stitch, as usual for making a purl stitch.
- Wrap the yarn around the needle and start to make the new stitch, pull the loop through, but don’t pull it off yet.
- Twist the needle slightly. Take your yarn to the back.
- Now put it into the back of the same stitch.
- Wrap yarn around the needle again. Knit the new loop.
- Transfer stitch to right hand needle.
- You will now have an extra stitch.
How To Decrease In Purl Stitch (p2tog)
The easiest method is simply to purl two together. This is abbreviated in patterns as p2tog.
- Insert the needle into the front of the two next stitches on the left needle.
- Wrap yarn to create a new stitch.
- Pull two stitches together off the left needle.
- You will now have one less stitch, with a double loop beneath your new stitch.
How to Decrease Purl with Slip, Slip, Purl (SSP)
The other method is to work a slip, slip, purl. This is abbreviated as ssp in patterns.
To slip a stitch, you simply transfer it from one needle to the other, without doing anything else to it.
- Slip two stitches, knitwise, (ie, as if you were going to knit them), one at a time.
- Now slip them back onto the left needle purl wise. This will twist them slightly.
- Now purl those two stitches together into the back of the two stitches (insert right needle from left to right). This will twist them again.
- You will see the two loops below the new stitch.
This gives a slightly more invisible decrease than method no. 1.
Purl Stitch Projects
Now you know how to purl stitch, you can combine it with a knit stitch and learn to knit a hat! This easy beanie pattern just uses 2 stitches and is knitted using straight needles.
Purl Stitch Patterns
Purl Stitch vs Knit Stitch
If you are working a knit stitch, the little bump at the base of the stitch will face away from you, if you are working a purl stitch, the bump faces you. It is useful to know which are knit and which are purl stitches, for when you are working with a combination of the two. If you make a mistake, you will then know which stitch to recreate after you have pulled out the incorrect stitches. If you are working purely purl stitch or knit stitch there is very little difference in the fabric you produce.
Rib stitch or ribbing is produced when you alternate knit stitch and purl stitch on the same row. You may alternative 1:1, 2:2, 4:4, or unevenly to create different thicknesses and patterns of ribs. You will often see on the pattern instructions k1 p1. This means knit 1 stitch, then purl 1 stitch. Ribbing is used for the bands of beanies, sweaters, and even scarves. It is stretchy and lays flat. The scarf below what knitted in a 2:2 rib. You can see the purls in the valleys when it is stretched out in the bottom photo.
When you alternate one row of knit stitch, then one row of purl stitch, you get stockinette stitch (also called stocking stitch). This popular combination is smooth on the front with interlocking bumps on the back. The knit stitches look like little v's on the front while the purl stitches look like interlocking bumps on the back.
How to Purl Stitch for Beginners - In Conclusion
I know that some knitters learning how to purl stitch say they dislike purl stitch and prefer knit stitch, but this is really quite absurd! They are almost the same, the only difference being that with purl you work into the front of the stitch with your yarn at the front. And with the knit stitch, you work into the back of each stitch, with your yarn behind the needles. You will find that as your muscle memory improves, you will eventually be able to purl row after row without any concentration at all! Enjoy learning this ancient craft, you will soon be creating your own masterpieces!
More Knitting Articles
Once you are done with this purl stitch tutorial, here are some more knitting articles to get you started on this great hobby.
- Knitting Needles
- Cast on the required number of stitches. For a sample, cast on 20 stitches.
- Hold the cast on stitches in your left hand and the empty needle in your right hand.
- Insert the tip of the right needle into the first stitch from right to left, back to front.
- With your right hand, wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the needle.
- Pull back to reveal a new stitch and slide the old stitch off the left needle.
- Repeat for the rest of the row.