Have you ever watched an experienced knitter at work? They make the entire process look effortless.
The secret, obviously, is practice. But there’s another reason that experienced knitters can create cables, baubles, and patterns so easily. All those fancy knitting stitches are created with two foundational knitting stitches: knit and purl.
Once you’ve mastered the knit and purl stitches, you’ll be able to follow patterns to make more advanced designs. Read on to demystify the process and start knitting!
Knit Versus Purl
It’s easy for beginners to confuse these two essential knitting stitches. They are mirror images of each other!
The knit stitch is created by pulling yarn from the back of the loop towards the front. In other words, you’ll be pulling the yarn towards you.
By contrast, the purl stitch is created by pulling yarn from the front of a loop towards the back. Unlike the knit stitch, you’ll be pulling the yarn away from you.
The process of creating both the knit and purl stitch is so repetitive that knitters often use a rhyme to remember each step. Get comfortable with your chosen yarn and knitting needles. We’ll go over a common rhyme for each stitch and explain each step.
Most knitters are familiar with this rhyme for learning the knit stitch:
“In through the front door
Around the back
Peep through the window
Off jumps Jack!”
Each line explains the action you’ll take with your working needle to form the knit stitch.
- In through the front door: Insert your working needle through the first loop from the front.
- Around the back: Your knitting needles are now forming an X shape, with your working needle behind the other. Wrap the yarn around your working needle.
- Peep through the window: Pull your working needle back through the first loop, bringing the yarn towards you.
- Off jumps Jack: Pull the finished stitch off the needle.
A common rhyme for the purl stitch also uses directional language:
“In under the fence
Grab that sheep
Back we come
Off we leap!”
Just like the knitting stitch rhyme, this poem describes the action of your working needle while purling.
- In under the fence: Insert your working needle from the back to the front of the first loop
- Grab that sheep: Wrap the yarn around your working needle
- Back we come: Pull your working needle back through the first loop, bringing the yarn away from you
- Off we leap: Pull the finished stitch off the needle.
Basic Knitting Stitches
The best way to master knitting and purling is by practicing these essential knitting stitches. Many beginners choose a basic stitch and create a simple square or rectangle. These practice squares can be joined together to make a scarf or even a whole blanket!
Working entirely in knitting stitches will result in the “garter stitch.” When you use the knit stitch in every row, the result is a wavy, striped fabric.
The garter stitch is especially useful for beginners and knitters who want a flat fabric that resists curling at the ends. Try making a long scarf or table runner. By the end of the project, the process of making the knit stitch should feel rhythmic and second nature.
When we think of “knit fabric,” we’re often thinking of a piece made with the stockinette stitch. Look at a typical sweater from your closet. The front side of the fabric looks like rows of Vs. On the reverse, the backside will have a wavy pattern instead.
To make this classic knitting stitch, you’ll knit one row and purl the next row. Alternating the rows is how you create a fabric with a different front and back side.
Try using the stockinette stitch to make a hat with thick yarn and large needles. You can add ribbing around the edge with our next stitch!
The cuffs of hats and sweaters are often made of stretchy ribbing. In order to make ribs, you’ll alternate knit and purl stitches in the same row.
RIbbing can be made in different thicknesses with more or less elasticity. A 1 x 1 ribbing is formed by alternating one knit stitch and one purl stitch across the entire row. A 2 x 2 ribbing is created by knitting two stitches and purling the next two.
When creating ribbing, it’s important to line up your knit and purl stitches with previous rows. Consistency across all the rows in your ribbing is what creates the stretchy fabric.
Reading Knitting Instructions
It takes practice to get the rhythm of knitting and purling down. Once you do, you might be ready to try larger projects, like a sweater or blanket.
Don’t be discouraged if you open up a knitting pattern and see a line like “K1 P1 to end of row.” One of the most mystifying aspects of learning to knit is decoding the instructions!
Most knit and crochet patterns use abbreviations. Since knitting patterns are repetitive, abbreviations help the pattern writers fit all the directions into a small space.
Once you get the hang of it, decoding knitting instructions is easy! Here are some of the most common abbreviations you’ll find in knitting instructions.
Abbreviations for Knitting Stitches
G ST= garter stitch
ST ST= stockinette stitch
Other Helpful Abbreviations
CO= cast on
YO= yarn over
REP = repeat
BO= bind off
Learning Basic Knitting Stitches
Even the most intricate knitting patterns are created with the basic knit and purl stitches. The easiest way for beginners to master knitting and purling is by practicing the garter stitch, stockinette stitch, and simple ribbing.
Once you know these essential knitting stitches–and some key abbreviations–you’ll be well on your way to knitting a variety of patterns! Remember, practice makes progress.
If you love yarn crafts, consider learning to crochet, too. Learn more about knitting vs crochet to decide where to start!
As a novelist, special educator, and freelance writer, Ellen enjoys unwinding with a variety of crafts. Whether it’s a quick sewing project or a long-term dollhouse remodel, Ellen loves to be creative whenever she has down time.
Ellen holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and psychology and a master’s in early childhood education. She enjoys learning new things, which is why she dabbles in many types of needlework and yarn crafts. With so many new techniques to try, Ellen rarely makes the same thing twice!
Originally from Virginia, Ellen can often be found with a glass of homemade sweet tea while she ponders her next project.
Ellen can be reached at email@example.com