Recognize Knitting Stitches, is it a Knit or a Purl?

February 14, 2017

Updated: March 21, 2021. Purl and knit stitches are practically twins. When first learning how to knit it can be very confusing to recognize the difference between a knit stitch and a purl stitch. The back of a knit stitch looks just like the front of a purl stitch and the back of a purl looks just like the front of a knit stitch. That’s just a tiny bit confusing to a beginner knitter.

To give a better visual aid, it is helpful to think of the worked stitches as scarves (as in something that you wrap around your neck when cold and has two ends). Stick with me, might seem a little bonkers but it really helps. I will overemphasize this, to the point of boring you… Learning to recognize the difference between a knit and a purl stitch is absolutely necessary to master knitting!

Soooo let’s get started. Meet my friend, Little Bear Pierre in the following photos:

*Knit Stitch*

When looking at the right side of a knit stitch, up super close while spreading the stitches wide, it generally looks like a ‘V’ shape as seen below on Pierre with his bright pink scarf.

little bear sitting on a ball of yarn showing off his scarf
Knit Stitch Front – “V” Shape Scarf
Super up close view of a purl stitch
See the “V”? I have the stitches on the left needle down low so you can see the stitch well.

Do you see it? You’ll see lots of little V’s, but we are only interested in the one you just put on the knitting needle. We check our work as we go when just starting out. If you are ready to learn the knit stitch, find out all you need to know about the Knit Stitch.

**This is the TRICK….The front of a knit stitch looks like a ‘V’ But when turned around, the back of the knit stitch looks like a ‘bump’. Remember that ‘bump’.

back of a little bear sitting on a ball of yarn
The Back of a Knit Stitch – “The Bump”
Up close of the front of a purl stitch
The “Bump”
Click here to subscribe

*Purl Stitch*

When looking at the front side of a purl stitch, it looks like a ‘bump’.  Remember that bump from before? Keep it in the back of your mind.

To relate it to the scarf again, this time put the scarf around your neck like a choker necklace but with the ends over your shoulders and down your back so that they meet behind you at your waist. The part of the scarf around the front of your neck looks like a ‘bump’. 

Little bear sitting next to some yarn
The Front of the Purl Stitch – “The Bump” AGAIN!

And now the back looks like a ‘V’. PAY ATTENTION: This is one of the hardest concepts for a beginner knitter to understand.  The fact that you do two different techniques to create essentially the same stitch is very confusing. When you learn how to recognize the difference between knit and purl stitches, you will learn how to recognize and fix mistakes much easier and more quickly.

Little bear sitting backwards on a ball of yarn
The Back of the Purl Stitch = The Same “V” as the Front of the Knit Stitch!

Knowing what each stitch looks like is crucial to knitting something as simple as stockinette fabric and forget about going upward and onward to cables and lace unless you master this skill. Here is the comprehensive guide to the Purl Stitch to see more about that ‘bump’.

If you would like to see the pattern for Little Bear Pierre, here is the link. He was designed by Rachel Borello Carroll.

Want to save this information for later? Save this pin to your favorite Pinterest board!

Little knit bear sitting on a ball of yarn
Click here to subscribe

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply Michael Catuccio February 14, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    i love this explanation!

  • Leave a Reply