- On March 11, 2014
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“How do I tell the purl side from the knit side?” asked my six knitting students today. We’re at a critical point in the knitting journey – gaining competence at looking at the fabric and knowing what you’re seeing. If you’re trying to make stockinette fabric, you need to know whether to knit the row or purl it, to keep all the fronts on the front and the backs on the back.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not if you’re new. Not if you’ve just figured out how to form the stitch and are happy that you made it to the end of the row without cursing, dropping stitches, or cramping up. They had a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but alas, just when they thought they had it figured out, they’d work the wrong stitch all across the row.
I wracked my brain for a simple way to help them understand what they were seeing in their knitted piece, and how exactly to proceed. Then it hit me. P’s and K’s.
P is for Purl. Purl stitches make bumps on the side facing you as you work. When you write a P, you make a bump. Bumpy fabric facing you means it’s time to Purl.
K is for Knit. Knit stitches make V’s on the side of the fabric facing you as you work. When you write a K, you make a sideways V. Fabric made of V’s facing you means it’s time to Knit.
Problem solved. Light bulbs went on all over the room, and the issue was settled.
Why didn’t I see this before? Sometimes I amaze even myself.
But the fact of the matter is, when you’ve grown accustomed to all the conventions of the craft, when everything is as familiar as an old shoe and you can work the pattern in your sleep, you forget how alien it looks to a brand new knitter.
Another case in point: Student Sarah said, “OK, I know how to knit and purl, but what is a stockinette stitch and a garter stitch?” Dang, she’s got a point — they’re not stitches. They are fabrics made by arranging your knit and purl rows in different ways. Touché, Sarah. I’m going to change the way I talk about garter and stockinette fabric.
New knitters help me see things with new eyes, and keep me humble.