Is it a purl or a pearl?
I can’t say for sure why the word purl is spelled the way it is, I just know that it is the twin to the knit stitch. Sometimes I call it the ‘evil twin’ but only because it is a little more difficult to maneuver for beginners. Purl is shorter than ‘evil twin’ so that is a good thing when writing out patterns, uses up less ink… not to mention it sounds a lot kinder.
Let’s consult a dictionary
Many sites, including the Oxford Dictionary, say that it is from Middle 17th century of unknown origins and has two short definitions:
1) A knitting stitch made by putting the needle through the front of the stitch from right to left.
2) a cord of twisted gold or silver wire used for bordering or edging something.
Dictionary.com says that the word pearl is a variant of obsolete ‘pirl’ to twist (threads, etc.) into a cord. I feel like there is something connecting the two, don’t you? So much so that when teaching my students about the differences between the knit and purl stitches I use the idea of a pearl necklace to remember the direction the needle goes into the work. Plus, the purl stitch looks like bumps, just like running your finger over a strand of pearls. I call them bumps all the time. Do you have names for the parts of stitches or is that just me?
The real question is, how to purl a stitch vs. knit a stitch?
So, if you forget which way to insert the needle for the purl or knit stitch, think of it this way:
When you have your work facing you with the working yarn on the right, you need to enter the next loop to be worked and point towards yourself or towards your ‘pearls’ with the working needle (right hand). I know, pretend you are wearing a strand of pearls.
Vs the Knit Stitch:
Knit. Knit. Knit. Say it fast and hard. It is a ‘sharp’ word and sharp things need to point away from our bodies. It’s silly, I know. BUT IT WORKS!
The knit stitch means you point away from your self when entering the stitch.
For another way to know the difference between Knit and Purl stitches, see here.