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Introduction to Knitting Part Two: Knit and Purl

First Row and Beyond

By: Liona Graves

If you read my first article, you'll remember that casting on was the first challenge to overcome. Now onto the next step of our mission in becoming expert knitters: learning how to successfully make the knit stitch. The knit stitch is a huge key in being able to create beautiful, cuddly, and wearable works of art. Purling, or learning the purl stitch, was considerably more tricky for me. Fear not, if I can learn it, so can you. The biggest key to learning both stitches is discovering the right method and/or teacher that works best for you.

For me, the best instruction that I could have ever received was from two of my best friends, who happened to be much more advanced in the craft of knitting than I was. I had taught myself from instruction books on how to cast on, and how to do the knit stitch. I had no idea how to turn my work or how to purl until I met these two lovely ladies. I was knitting from one needle and then knitting backwards back onto the opposite needle. Thanks to them, I now know how rare it is for someone to be able to do that.

*Important Tip!*

I learned mostly from in-person instruction, but there are other resources out there. I strongly recommend looking into YouTube and checking with local yarn stores to see if they offer classes. Additionally, instruction manuals can be found almost anywhere you can find either books and/or knitting tools; retailers such as Hobby Lobby, Michael's, Joann's, and Wal-Mart. Even discount retailers such as Ollie's, Goodwill, and second-hand thrift stores occasionally will have these on their shelves. If you enjoy bargain hunting, there's a chance you may find amazing treasure troves of yarn, tools, and instruction books/magazines at yard sales.

The pros to learning via manuals and online videos are that you can go at your own pace, and you don't have to worry about judgment. The con, though, is that when you pause, you have to go back and forth and hope that you're understanding what they are trying to communicate to you. Asking directly for help if you get stuck is not an option.

The pros of learning via in-person instruction include social interaction, being able to have the instructor show you a step again, as well as watch what you are doing to ensure that you are understanding what they are teaching you. The con primarily is that you, the student, might feel insecure and worry about how you are doing. Honestly though, don't worry about it. If they are the right teacher(s) they are not going to do anything except encourage and respect you and your progress. Your success really is helping them add to their own feeling of success.

As a teacher myself now, I can honestly say that on both ends of the spectrum, there are great emotional rewards to be had for everyone. Yet another reason I personally enjoy knitting so much.

Knit Stitch

The knit stitch is as easy as repeating the cast on, but without the step of transferring the loop back onto the original needle on the left. Essentially the knit stitch is simply carrying over the cast on loops from the left needle onto the right (for the right-handed knitter).

To create the knit stitch, you will need to use the following steps after casting on:

1. 1. Insert your right needle (empty needle) tip up and into the back of the first loop on the left needle.

2. Wrap your loose yarn around the tip.

3. Pull this yarn down and through the loop.

4. Keep this new loop on the right needle.

5. Slip the stitch that you just worked through off of the left-hand needle.

6. Repeat the above five steps all the way across the cast on loops.

By the time you reach the end of the cast on stitches, you will have successfully knitted your first row. Don't stress if this first row doesn't look pretty. It will never look like much; it is only the first row in a long line of rows which you will build upon one another to create your masterpiece. So, as I have stated, do not worry about how your initial work looks. This is all practice for the masterpieces you will make down the road.

No artist ever began with a perfect first stroke. Perfection and beauty come at the end, not the beginning.

A way to discern if you are doing your knit stitch well is in how neat and how tightly placed together your stitches look once you get more rows built up. This is easiest to see in the stockinette stitch, as one side of your work will all have knit rows, and the other will appear to have all purl stitches by the time you are finished.

What do these look like?

A finished baby blanket I made for my son.

A knit stitch looks like a flat V shape and the purl stitches look like little bumps or bubbles on the other side.

Purl Stitch

The purl stitch is essentially the reverse of the knit stitch. Like all stitches, we start at the beginning of the row once we have turned our work, so the needle with the loops on it is in the left hand and the empty needles is in the right (again, for right-handed knitters). Here is how to do it.

1. Insert the right-hand needle downwards and in front of the left-hand needle through the loop.

2. Wrap the loose yarn around the tip of the right-hand needle.

3. Pull up the yarn through the loop.

4. Slip the stitch that you just worked through off of the left needle.

5. Repeat the above four steps all the way across the row.

*Important Tip!*

If you are learning to do these two stitches and are building directly upon what was learned from the previous article, your work would be done as first a cast on row followed by a knit row and a purl row. Making your work have the appearance now of having two rows smooth with “V” stitches on one side and the other side with little bumps or bubbles. If this is a description of your work, then congratulations, you are on the right track.

If you are working your lessons separately, then each attempt will look very simple and not a lot like much of anything. Fear not though. This is not an incorrect method of learning. Keep going. You are on the right track!

Going Beyond the Basics:

Combining Effort and Skill

You have been working hard to learn and perfect your knitting skills and you are itching to be able to actually make something. Good news! You have exactly what you need to do this now. You can now put both the knit and purl stitch to work for you and your artistic genius. In addition to incorporating the color of yarn you have selected, your technique goes a long way towards creating fun designs.

For example, if you stick with working your entire project in either a knit or purl stitch you are creating what is known as a garter stitch, which alternates a smooth “V” design with a bumpy texture on both sides of your cloth.

However, if you work your pattern by knitting one row, turning your project and purling the next row and repeating this, you will create a fabric that is textured on one side and smooth on the other. This is referred to as a stockinette stitch, as it is most often used for making socks. A word of caution with this stitch design: it tends to curl as you work it.

Lovely knitted socks, showing the stockinette stitch.

A third fairly common beginner pattern stitch is named the seed stitch. This is created by alternating knit and purl stitches all across each row.

*Important Tip!*

Each of these stitches by themselves without you require a pattern book to make simple items such as baby blankets, scarves, wraps, and dish clothes. A word of caution should you make dish cloths, only use cotton yarn for this project as it will melt if you get it too close to high heat and will also absorb liquids the best.

A ballet outfit I knitted for my niece.

How super exciting! You are now ready to embark on our final steps in the next article, which will be about learning how to use a cable needle and casting off. Once completing this series of instructions, you will be able to successfully create and build upon all of the basics that you have learned throughout the articles.

How are you feeling about knitting after the first two articles? Let us know how it's going in the comments!

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