Stockinette stitch front and back in colorful yarn

Learn to purl and make stockinette

Once you have learned to make the knit stitch, it is time to learn how to make the other basic stitch in knitting – the purl stitch. If you have skipped the first lesson, please take a look at my previous post.

If you already have a piece of knitting going, where you have been practising the knit stitch, you can simply try switching to the purl stitch, the next time you begin a new row. Otherwise, you get to practice casting on once more. You can learn to cast on here. If you cast on a new set of stitches, I advise that you knit the first row before you start purling. The first row is always a little cumbersome, so it is easier to get going with the knit stitch that you already learned. Then on row two, you will begin to purl.

The critical thing to remember when you purl is that the working yarn needs to be in front of your needles. The “working yarn” is the yarn attached to both the ball of yarn and one of your needles.

Watch the video below from Sheep & Stitch to see how the purl stitch is done. You should begin by purling several rows to see how that creates garter stitch, the same as when you knitted every row. That is because the purl stitch is the reverse of the knit stitch.

Keep purling every row, until it is no longer awkward. If you prefer holding the working yarn in your left hand (continental style knitting), take a look at the video below from Knit Purl Hunter for an example. Some people find continental style easier for purling, even though they prefer English style (working yarn in right hand) for knitting. You do you.


Once you have the rhythm, it is time to learn how to switch between rows of knit stitches and rows of purl stitches. Alternating rows of knit and purl produce the most common stitch combination in knitting, called stockinette stitch or sometimes stocking stitch. You will have seen stockinette fabric in almost every knit piece you’ve ever owned, whether it was a hand-knit sweater or a machine knit t-shirt. The side of the fabric where you knit all the stitches is commonly referred to as the “right side” of the fabric, because it is the side of the fabric that typically faces outward on a garment. The side of the fabric where you purl all the stitches is the “wrong side” of the fabric, and it looks a little similar to garter stitch.

Left: the right side (or the knit side) of the stockinette fabric
Right: the wrong side (or the purl side) of the stockinette fabric

Watch this video from New Stitch a Day to see how stockinette stitch is produced, and try it out yourself. Pay attention to your working yarn when you turn the work at the end of a row. The working yarn needs to go under the needle and to the back if it’s a knit row, and under and to the front if it’s a purl row.

Keep knitting and purling in stockinette for about 4 inches (10 cm). Don’t worry if you lose or gain a stitch now and then. First, you want to get the rhythm, so keep knitting and purling until it feels natural. Take a photo of your first stockinette swatch and be proud!

Congratulations! You have now learned the basics of knitting. It takes a little practice to learn to combine the knit stitch and the purl stitch in different ways to create structured patterns, but once you have conquered knit and purl, there’s no stopping you. Of course, you are bound to have made some mistakes already, and before you attempt your first project, it is helpful to know how to avoid errors, recognize them quickly, and how to fix them with as little fuss as possible. The next lesson deals with one of the most common knitting mistakes: Adding extra stitches without realizing it. Click here to go directly to the post.

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