Thursday, June 22, 2006


Recently I picked up a copy of Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman. She is considered an icon in the knitting community. The book gives a no nonsense approach to knitting that anyone can follow. If you can cast on and off and make a knit stitch you can make a sweater.

There are two things I learned from this book. One was a cast off method so that you don't get that ugly loop at the end of the cast off row. The other was that EZ hated purling. She hated purling so much that she would knit in the round to avoid having to purl unless absolutely necessary.

The book I carry around for when I have a few minutes to read here and there is Knit Lit Too. Yesterday I got to a story where the author described the definitions of "K", "P", "YO", "SSK" and back to "K". The gist of the purl definition was that the purl stitch was nothing more than a backwards knit. The author's opinion was that purls are sloppy and leave an unattractive bump. However, the purl stitch is a necessary evil if you want to end up with stockinette or ribbing.
I was reading somewhere on the internet (maybe it was in the Knitty Coffeeshop) that someone was teaching new knitters how to knit in the round, and therefore only have to learn knit stitches. There was some debate on this topic.

Why is the purl stitch is getting such a bad rap? I love purling. I can purl much faster than I can knit. As a matter of fact it was because I could purl so fast that I altered the way I knit. I used to be a "thrower" when I knit, but naturally picked the yarn when I purled which was why I purled so fast.

As I knit more and more I wondered how I could hold the yarn so that I could knit as fast as I could purl. I worked out a system of holding the yarm between my left index and pointer fingers, held the needle with my thumb, ring finger and pinky and practiced. Now I knit as fast as I purl.

I love purling (it bears repeating). I can still purl a little faster than I knit. I think that if I didn't switch my hand movements every now and then (from knit to purl and back again) I'd have carpel tunnel or some kind of repetative stress injury. I have to limit my circular knitting to one or two days a week. My hands and shoulders hurt when I devote too much time to nothing but the knit stitch.

As I've been knitting I've been wondering, what if you only know how to knit and you are stuck with straight needles and all you can do is garter stitch? What about those "unattractive" bumps then? How do those new knitters who were taught in the round know how to make ribbing?

I see purling as the yang to knitting's yin. Two halves of a whole. You can't have one without the other. If it weren't for purling I wouldn't be the knitter I am today.


Amy said...

Ok, IMHO you don't really know how to knit (as a verb) unless you can cast-on, knit, purl, and cast-off. Since the combination of all of those can transform string into anything.

buttercup said...

Amen Amy. Amen!

Dorothy said...

I don't get the purl hate either. It's really not that hard. I don't throw my yarn though so maybe the style of knitting and not the stich itself makes the difference.

SockTan said...

It's a wee little secret about myself, actually: I learnt to purl before I learnt to knit, and I HATED the knit stitch when I started doing that.

Maybe it's a different kind of SSK for beginners?
Second. Stitch. Syndrome