Understanding the Purl Stitch

You’ve heard of knitting and maybe you’ve even dabbled in a few basic patterns, but what about the mysterious purl stitch? If you’ve ever wondered what it is and how to master it, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll demystify the purl stitch and break it down into simple, easy-to-understand steps. So whether you’re a beginner knitter looking to expand your skills or a seasoned yarn enthusiast wanting to refresh your knowledge, get ready to unlock the secrets of the purl stitch and take your knitting game to the next level.

What is the Purl Stitch?

The purl stitch is one of the fundamental stitches in knitting. It creates a textured pattern on the fabric and is often used in combination with the knit stitch to create a variety of designs. By working the purl stitch, you create loops of yarn that appear on the front side of the fabric, giving it a bumpy and raised appearance. Understanding the purl stitch is essential for any knitter looking to expand their repertoire of stitches and create unique and beautiful projects.

Definition of the Purl Stitch

The purl stitch is a basic knitting stitch that is created by inserting the right needle from right to left into the front of the stitch on the left needle. The working yarn is then brought to the front of the work and wrapped counterclockwise around the right needle. The loop of yarn is then pulled through the stitch, creating a new stitch on the right needle. This process is repeated across the row or round, creating a row of purl stitches.

Purpose of the Purl Stitch

The purl stitch serves several purposes in knitting. It creates a contrasting texture to the knit stitch, allowing for the creation of patterns with more depth and complexity. Additionally, the purl stitch is often used in combination with the knit stitch to create various stitch patterns, such as ribbing, seed stitch, and garter stitch. The purl stitch is also used in shaping techniques, such as decreases and increases, allowing for the creation of intricate and tailored designs.

Different Variations of the Purl Stitch

While the basic purl stitch remains the same, there are several variations and modifications that can be made to create different effects. For example, the twisted purl stitch involves inserting the right needle from right to left into the back of the stitch on the left needle, creating a twisted loop of yarn. This variation can add increased texture and visual interest to your knitting projects. Other variations include the purl through the back loop and the yarn over purl stitch, both of which create unique and decorative patterns.

Tools and Materials Needed for Purl Stitch

To create the purl stitch, you will need a few essential tools and materials.

Knitting Needles

You will need a pair of knitting needles suitable for the yarn weight you are using. Knitting needles come in various materials, such as metal, wood, or plastic. Choose the needles that feel most comfortable to you and allow you to achieve the desired tension in your knitting.


Select a yarn that is appropriate for your project and compatible with your chosen needle size. Different yarn materials and weights can produce varying textures and results. Be sure to choose a yarn that matches your desired look and feel for your knitting project.

Optional Accessories

While not necessary, there are a few optional accessories that can enhance your knitting experience. Stitch markers can help you keep track of specific stitches or pattern repeats. Row counters can be useful for tracking the number of rows you have completed. Cable needles can assist with more advanced purl stitch techniques, such as cabling. These accessories can be beneficial, especially as you progress to more complex knitting projects.

Techniques for Creating Purl Stitch

Mastering the techniques for creating the purl stitch is crucial for producing neat and consistent results in your knitting projects. Below are some key techniques to practice and perfect.

Basic Purl Stitch

Start by holding the working yarn in your right hand and inserting the right needle into the front of the stitch on the left needle. Bring the yarn to the front of the work and wrap it counterclockwise around the right needle. Pull the loop of yarn through the stitch, transferring it to the right needle. Repeat this process across the row or round to create a row of purl stitches.

Purl Stitch in Combination with Knit Stitch

Many knitting patterns combine the purl stitch with the knit stitch to create beautiful stitch patterns. For example, ribbing is often used on cuffs, hems, and collars and involves alternating between knitting and purling stitches in a specific pattern. By understanding how to switch between the purl and knit stitches, you open up a wealth of design possibilities.

Purl Stitch Decreases

Purl stitch decreases are used to shape your knitting and create more intricate designs. Common purl stitch decreases include the purl two together (P2tog) and slip slip purl (SSP). These decrease stitches create a pleasing slope or angle in your fabric, allowing you to achieve the desired shaping in your project.

Purl Stitch Increases

Purl stitch increases are used to add stitches and shape your knitting project. The most common purl stitch increase is the yarn over (YO), where you simply wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the right needle without inserting it into a stitch. This creates an eyelet or decorative hole in your knitting and can be used for lace patterns or increasing stitch count.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While learning the purl stitch, it is common to encounter some challenges. By being aware of these common mistakes and practicing good technique, you can overcome these hurdles and create beautiful, even stitches.

Loose Tension

One common mistake is having loose tension, which creates uneven and sloppy stitches. To avoid this, practice maintaining consistent tension in your yarn while purling. Make sure not to pull too tightly, as this can also result in distorted stitches. Finding a comfortable balance will ensure your stitches are even and neat.

Inconsistent Stitch Size

Another mistake to watch out for is inconsistent stitch size. This can happen if you’re not inserting the right needle consistently or wrapping the yarn with varying tension. Pay attention to the size and tension of each stitch, ensuring they are uniform throughout your work. Taking the time to adjust your technique will lead to more professional-looking results.

Dropped or Twisted Stitches

Dropped or twisted stitches can be frustrating, but with some practice, you can avoid them. Dropping a stitch happens when you accidentally let a stitch slip off the needle, unraveling the row. To fix this, carefully insert the left needle into the dropped stitch from left to right and continue knitting. Twisted stitches occur when the stitch is incorrectly mounted on the needle. Make sure your stitches are properly seated on the needle before proceeding with the purl stitch.

Applications of the Purl Stitch

The purl stitch is incredibly versatile and can be used in various applications to create beautiful knitted fabric. Some common applications include:

Stockinette Stitch

The stockinette stitch is achieved by alternating rows of knit and purl stitches. This creates a smooth and flat fabric with the purl side forming the back or wrong side of the work. It is often used as a base for other stitch patterns or as the main stitch pattern for garments and accessories.


Ribbing is a stretchy fabric created by alternating knit and purl stitches in a specific pattern. It is often used for cuffs, hems, and collars in garments to provide flexibility and structure. Ribbing can be done in various combinations, such as 1×1 (alternating one knit stitch with one purl stitch), 2×2, or even 3×1, offering endless design possibilities.

Seed Stitch

Seed stitch is created by alternating knit and purl stitches within the same row, often with a one-stitch border on each edge. This produces a textured fabric with small, raised bumps that resemble seeds. Seed stitch is commonly used for scarves, blankets, and other decorative items.

Garter Stitch

Garter stitch is achieved by knitting every row, creating a ridged fabric with a similar texture on both sides. It is an excellent choice for beginners and is often used for scarves, blankets, and simple accessories. Garter stitch also has the benefit of being reversible, making it versatile for a variety of projects.

Moss Stitch

Moss stitch, also known as seed stitch, is created by alternating knit and purl stitches within the same row, just like seed stitch. However, moss stitch alternates the placement of the stitches, creating a more pronounced texture with mini bobbles or clusters. This stitch pattern is commonly used for scarves, hats, and button bands.

Troubleshooting Purl Stitch Problems

Even experienced knitters encounter issues with the purl stitch from time to time. Here are some common problems and solutions to help troubleshoot your knitting:

Fixing Loose or Uneven Stitches

If you find that your purl stitches are turning out loose or uneven, you may need to adjust your tension. Practice maintaining consistent and even tension throughout your knitting. Consider using your fingers or a knitting tension aid to help achieve the desired tension.

Correcting Dropped Stitches

Dropped stitches can be quite frustrating, but they can be fixed. Carefully insert a crochet hook or your knitting needle into the dropped stitch from the front or back, depending on the stitch orientation. Then, gently pull the loop of yarn through the stitch and place it back onto the left needle. Be patient and take your time to avoid making any additional mistakes.

Repairing Twisted Stitches

If you notice that your stitches appear twisted or are not sitting correctly on the needle, take the time to correct them. Insert the left needle into the twisted stitch from left to right and carefully unravel the stitch until it is properly seated on the needle. You can then resume knitting as usual.

Tips and Tricks for Perfecting the Purl Stitch

To improve your purl stitch technique and achieve the best possible results, here are some useful tips and tricks:

Maintaining Consistent Tension

Consistent tension is key to creating neat and uniform purl stitches. Practice keeping your tension even and avoid pulling too tightly or loosely. Experiment with finding the tension that feels most comfortable for you while still achieving the desired results.

Using Stitch Markers

Stitch markers can be incredibly helpful in keeping track of specific stitches or pattern repeats. They can be used to mark the beginning of a round or to indicate where you need to change stitch patterns. Use stitch markers to your advantage, especially for more complex projects, to avoid confusion and mistakes.

Reading Purl Stitch Patterns

Become familiar with reading and understanding purl stitch patterns. Pay attention to stitch abbreviations and symbols, as they can differ from one pattern to another. Take your time to read through the pattern instructions thoroughly and make sure you understand each step before you begin.

Blocking Purl Stitch Projects

Blocking is the process of shaping and setting your finished knitted project using moisture or steam. It can help even out stitches, relax the fabric, and enhance the drape of your finished piece. To block your purl stitch project, carefully follow the blocking instructions specific to your yarn and project type.

Alternative Methods for Creating Purl Stitch

While the basic method of creating the purl stitch is using straight knitting needles, there are alternative methods you can explore to expand your knitting skills and techniques.

Purl Stitch on Circular Needles

Circular needles are often used for larger projects, such as garments or blankets, as they can hold a larger number of stitches. To work the purl stitch on circular needles, follow the same technique as with straight needles. Keep in mind that you will need to switch the work from one needle to the other as you reach the end of each row.

Purl Stitch on Double-Pointed Needles

Double-pointed needles are commonly used for smaller projects or for working in the round, such as socks or gloves. When working the purl stitch on double-pointed needles, distribute the stitches evenly across three or more needles. Follow the same purl stitch technique as on straight needles, being mindful of the needle transitions.

Purl Stitch on Straight Needles

Using straight needles is the traditional method for working the purl stitch. Experiment with different needle materials and sizes to find the ones that suit your knitting style and comfort. Remember to practice good technique and maintain consistent tension to achieve beautiful purl stitches.

Purl Stitch in Different Knitting Styles

Different knitting styles can affect the way you work the purl stitch and the overall look of your knitting. Here are a few common knitting styles and how they impact the purl stitch:

English Style Knitting

In English style knitting, the working yarn is held in the right hand and thrown over the right needle to create the purl stitch. This style often results in a looser tension and a more pronounced stitch definition. If you prefer a more relaxed and traditional knitting method, English style knitting may be perfect for you.

Continental Style Knitting

Continental style knitting involves holding the working yarn in the left hand and using the right needle to scoop the yarn and create the purl stitch. This style often produces a tighter tension and faster knitting speed. Continental style knitting is popular among knitters who prefer a more efficient and ergonomic method.

Combination Knitting

Combination knitting combines elements of both English and Continental styles. The purl stitch in combination knitting is worked by inserting the right needle from right to left into the back of the stitch and wrapping the yarn counterclockwise. This style can result in slightly tighter tension and a unique stitch orientation. Combination knitting is favored by those who appreciate its versatility and comfortable technique.

Inspiring Purl Stitch Patterns and Projects

The purl stitch can be used to create a wide range of stunning patterns and projects, allowing you to showcase your knitting skills and creativity. Here are some inspiring ideas to get you started:


Scarves are perfect for experimenting with different purl stitch patterns. Try a classic garter stitch scarf or explore intricate lace motifs using purl stitches. Mix and match different purl stitch patterns to create a unique and eye-catching accessory.


From cozy pullovers to elegant cardigans, purl stitches can add texture and interest to your knitted sweaters. Experiment with combining purl stitches with other stitch patterns and shaping techniques to create one-of-a-kind garments that are as comfortable as they are stylish.


Hats provide a canvas for showcasing various purl stitch techniques. Whether it’s a simple beanie with ribbing or a more intricate cabled design, purl stitches can elevate the look and feel of your knitted hats. Get creative and experiment with different patterns and textures.


Blankets offer a larger canvas to showcase the versatility of purl stitches. Combine different stitch patterns like seed stitch, moss stitch, and garter stitch to create a visually stunning and cozy blanket. Play with color and yarn choices to make it truly unique.


Purl stitches can add both style and functionality to knitted socks. Whether it’s adding ribbing for a snug fit or incorporating lace motifs using the purl stitch, the possibilities are endless. Explore different sock patterns and techniques to create beautiful, customized socks.

With the knowledge and understanding of the purl stitch, you are ready to embark on a versatile and creative knitting journey. Enjoy the process of mastering this essential stitch, and let your imagination guide you as you explore the incredible world of knitting. Happy knitting!