Purling Continentally

First of all, there's no one right way to knit. If you've been at it for a while you're likely to feel fairly strongly that your way is the best way. Now me, I'm not entirely convinced the way that I purl is the best way but it's what I do and it's likely to remain the way I do it since my hands have developed quite a motor memory by now. If you're just starting to knit I would suggest trying different methods to see what works best for you. And if you've got another way to purl continentally I would certainly love it if you sent me a description of it to be included here!

In the following all text is referring to the picture below it.

When I first learned to purl continentally I wound up using the Combined Knitting's method of purling, because it really is the quickest and easiest method of purling. However, I wasn't sufficiently knowledgeable to realize that it twists each stitch. I almost gave up knitting altogether after getting completely frustrated attempting knit into twisted stitches without the realization that it's necessary to knit through the back loop. (See here for explanations of twisted stitches and knitting through the back loop.)

Now those who use Combined Knitting have a great advantage in terms of speed and I couldn't dream of explaining it as well as Annie does in her series on combined knitting but I took a couple of pictures anyway, just for the sake of being thorough.

With the working yarn in front, insert the right hand needle into the stitch to be worked from back to front. Bring the working yarn under the tip of the right hand needle and up...

... scoop the yarn through the stitch and pull through onto the right hand needle.

During my first attempt at a lace pattern I wound up screaming and nearly throwing the yarn and needles across the room. (Again this is when I didn't realize the stitches were twisted.) The husband, witnessing this, said in his kindest voice "You know, I think knitting is supposed to be relaxing." So I decided to do a bit more investigating. Both The Knitter’s Companion and Vogue Knitting give instructions for purling continentally like this:

Holding the yarn in front of the needles, insert the right hand needle into the next stitch from back to front...

Using your left index finger, lay the working yarn over the top of the right hand needle and push it downwards.

Then bring the stitch through to the right hand needle by leveraging away from you.
Note: This method does not seem to be the most energy efficient but it's the way I purl to this day. Be aware that the stitches have a tendency to be loose. If you notice that your purl rows have a looser gauge than the knit rows you'll need to give the working yarn a tug to tighten after each stitch. Maybe this explains why I adore garter stitch.

Okay, now we'll move on to the method known as Norwegian Purl. According to the comments made to the Feb. 25 post, it's also the most common method of purling in Denmark and Switzerland. (Thanks, Lone and Katia!) Since my picture taking skills have improved since 2002 here's an updated version of how I was taught to purl by a Norwegian:

Start with the yarn in back. This is what makes this method such a wonderful way to work ribbing, since you don't have to keep switching the working yarn from back to front all the time.

Moving the right hand needle behind the working yarn, insert it into the next stitch to be worked.

Leverage the right hand needle so that the tip comes up and to the right and catch the working yarn with the tip of the needle.

Then bring the tip of the right hand needle towards you and down, then back and through the stitch.

Voila! A purl stitch.

In my experience this also tends to give a loose gauge on purl rows, but I've not really done it enough to get good at it.

Here are some of the comments left to the original post:
(If you have something you'd like to add, you can still add a comment here.)

I also purl the way you do, what I've started doing lately on purl stitches is to hold the yarn always in front of the work with my left finger. I do the first purl stitch as you described but then just leave my finger w/ yarn wrapped around in front of the work. This allows me to purl slightly faster for some reason and also tightens up my purl stitches.

Hi Theresa, I'm from Germany and I'm doing my purls a little different. Maybe mostly because I spread my left index finger with yarn wrapped around it a little away and hold the left needle between the other fingers. I'm keeping the yarn in front of the needle, but the right needle moves the Norwegian style. If you're interested I could try to provide some pictures.
PS: I found a website with pictures on it - purling German way (linke Maschen). The text is in German but I think the pictures make it clear.

I purl the "Norwegian" way, and you are right that the purl rows have a looser gauge. What I do is that I pull the working yarn tight after each purl stitch (it very quickly becomes an automatic move) and I have no problems with the gauge then.
I recently had a new purling experience when I knitted a jacket using the Trinity stitch (purl 3 tog) and I really had problems purling "the Norwegian" way. "Leverage the right hand needle so that the tip comes up and to the right..." is very difficult when you are working three stitches together. I therefore automatically changed to the combined purling (without even knowing that's what it was) And that worked very well.

I purl really fast and have never had any trouble with it (which is good because it seems to really bother some knitters), and here's how I do it. When you stick the needle through the loop to purl, make sure the yarn from your left finger is coming across your left middle finger, and bring your middle finger down with that finger and dip it down, then pull it through the stitch. (I hope I explained that right.) This way, I have no tension problems whatsoever, no twisted stitches, and purl as fast as I knit.
Hope this helps! :D

Copyright © 2004 Theresa V. Stenersen. All rights reserved.