Why purl?

February 8, 2013

Recently, I was knitting in the Media Center at a local High School where I was substitute teaching, and one of the staff members approached me to discuss my knitting, which I always enjoy. After talking about the sock monkey arm I was knitting at that time, she asked me a question I’ve never given much thought to, but found it a valid question: “Why Purl?” She said she knew how and mostly knit scarves, and other flat objects–my apologies, I don’t recall all of them, but she didn’t get why the purl stitch was needed.

Feeling slightly on the spot, though it wasn’t likely intended, I thought about it for a second and replied with the best I had…”It gives the project a right side and a wrong side, in case that’s important and it provides some structure. And as you can see in my ‘knitting in the round’, the purl is already formed on the inside as I knit around. It gives it structure.”

I never feel an off the cuff answer covers everything, and I am by no means an expert, but later, I pondered that pattern work couldn’t be shown off if there was no purl stitch. It just wouldn’t look the same if we left little holes in between sets of knitting as opposed to forming purl stitches that are meant to construct the pattern. I decided to seek out answers in online forums as well. I put a post up on the Knitting Paradise website asking this very question: Why Purl?

What have I gotten outside of my own thoughts so far? Some great answers that follow, that’s what. One of my favorite answers, eloquently written is: “There are only two stitches in knitting… knit and purl and there are good reasons for both. Often, cables are set off by purl stitches on each side…… Not everything is knit in the round so you must have purl stitches to create stockinette and many other stitch patterns. The better question would be ‘Why not?’” –Dreamweaver on Knitting Paradise

Hillary4 on Knitting Paradise also informed me that “I love lace and texture in my knitting, so there alone is the necessity to purl.I also make scarves, shawls and cardigans, none of which are done in the round – so that’s my next reason.Just performing the same stitch over and over would soon have me sick of knitting – reason 3!
“I know one can learn to knit backwards to avoid the necessity to purl when working backwards and forwards – but I actually don’t mind purling. Some knitters do seem to have a thing about it though.”

Also from KnittingParadise, cakes informed me: “I don’t know anything about ‘in the round OR backwards and forwards’ But I love the good old purl stitch. Garter is OK but stocking stitch gives a love smooth face.”

Garter is simply knitting to the end of the row/work, turning the project and knitting again. I agree that if it wasn’t for the purl stitch, I would’ve stopped knitting long ago. As I said in my first post, I needed some challenge in my projects, and so I chose projects that had an extra element, and each project is different from the last.

Another opinion posted, “Where would we be without PURL? We being us backward creatures who only use two knitting needles each having a knob on the end. I would not be able to create my very favourite stitch MOSS STITCH or any variations.  How can anyone ask WHY PURL.?” offered JustDrene.

As I said at the beginning, it was something I never gave thought to, but sometimes it is good to think about why we do things out of habit.  After all, how many of us have more appreciation for that purl stitch after this post? I hope you do.

An additional note–I don’t believe in backwards knitters, unless you are intentionally knitting backwards. Each of us has our own way of knitting. I knit the monkeys in the round because it engages me, and my friends, and the students I substitute teach…I have one student ask me to make them a sock monkey nearly every day I step into a classroom to sub for a teacher. It also serves as a conversation piece and shows young people that you don’t have to have blue hair to knit… though that may be another blog. I also have a beautiful yarn I received as a birthday gift which is hand-made locally and shall be made into a scarf on my simple straight knitting needles including a purl and possibly a “Tree of Life” pattern. In my humble(sometimes) opinion, this pattern is worth looking up.

“You might have asked “WHY MEN” the other half of life!” said cakes of knitting purl later in the forum, and some days, many of us has (or if you’re a guy, perhaps, you’ve said, “Why women?”  from time to time, but it is true…there is a chinese proverb that reads “Women hold up half the sky,” which could very well mean men hold up the other half…just as with knitting and purling. This response is apparently a favorite on the chosen research forum of www.knittingparadise.com.


I chose this photo to show different patterns you can do with the two stitches of knitting. While I have not begun to create pattern work into my sock monkeys, beyond shaping the curvy parts, I do enjoy the beautiful look of each of the different knitting stitches and patterns. Most of these pictured, if not all could not be created without a purl stitch. So, if you’ve ever wondered, “Why purl?” perhaps ask yourself, “Why men?” or come back to read my blog.

Also, since it has been such a generously helpful and entertaining forum…please visit the ladies and gents at www.knittingparadise.com if you wish to learn more about knitting, see knit patterns worked up beautifully and a few ready to be frogged, and some interesting ideas which usually make me want to knit even more. Until we meet again, Happy Knitting and Happy Blog Browsing, friends


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