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A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches

Designer and teacher Heather Lodinsky joins us to share tips on reading your knitting.

For the last two decades, I have been a freelance designer writing patterns for knitters and crocheters.   For just as long, I have taught knitting at my local yarn shop three times a week here in Buffalo, New York.  These two jobs of mine have always complemented each other.   Knitters (and want-to-be knitters) walk in for instruction and help with their projects.  I always want the knitters that come to my class to be happy with their knitting and not feel the urge to throw their projects in the back of a closet to become a so-called “UFO” (Unfinished Object).   From the very start, I like to get students familiar with “reading” their knitting, so that they can identify what stitches they are working, understand what they have already done and know where they are going with their knitting.   Think of this “reading” or identifying your stitches as your own knitting “GPS”...or compass for those of us “pre-techies”.

Probably the most amazing revelation for me as a knitter was when I realized (after many years of knitting) that the knit stitch and the purl stitch are the exact same stitch—but they are done on the opposite sides of the fabric.    We are taught as knitters that if you knit every row you will get that wonderful, reversible ridge fabric named “garter” stitch—shown below.

Knit Garter | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

So, what happens when we purl every row?  Garter Stitch again!

Purl Garter | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

We usually are taught to think of knitting and purling as two different stitches.   This could be because working a knit stitch versus a purl stitch just seems so different.  In reality, the knit stitch places the “bump” (or top) of the stitch that is knit to the back of your work, and the purl stitch brings that bump to the front.   So why is it so much easier to for most of us to learn a knit stitch than a purl?  Well, my guess is that most of what we do in our daily lives is done with our hands pointing things away from us; whereas in purling, we point our needles towards us.    Once my students are familiar and comfortable with knitting, I then show them purling.  After that, we knit and purl in the same row and learn how to “read” stitches. Understanding and identifying your stitches is probably one of the most empowering skills a knitter can have to make and keep knitting enjoyable.

So let’s look at what we call the knit stitch the purl stitch.   A stitch that is knitted will have a smooth “V” at its base, whereas a stitch that is purled will have a bump at its base.  One of my knitting students told me that the way she could identify a “purl” stitch is that it looks like it is wearing a “pearl” necklace!   A different spelling, but I thought it was a great way of identifying your stitches!

Knit stitch | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook Purl stitch | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

How can identifying or “reading” your stitches help you with your knitting projects?  Recognizing your knits and purls can help you know what you need to do in your next row, or show you what you did in your last row.  Ribbing is one of those stitch patterns where we line up the knit and purl stitches - as they appear.    It can be confusing when a pattern says to “knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches”.  What this means is to work the stitches as they appear on the next row you will work – not how you worked them on the previous row.  So, when you look at the row ahead of you, you would knit the stitches that appear as knit stitches (smooth), and purl the stitches that appear as purl stitches (bumps).

Here is what we call “1x1” ribbing – where we knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches – as they appear:

K1P1Rib | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

Below is a stitch many of us have tried – the seed stitch.  Still a knit1, purl1 pattern – but this time, we knit the purl stitches and purl the knit they appear!

Seed Stitch | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

Both the ribbing and seed stitch patterns shown above create a totally reversible fabric.  Let’s look at a rib stitch that is different on the right side versus the wrong side.   So, let’s see what a “knit 1, purl 2” ribbing looks like on the right side:

K1P2-RS  | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

Now for the wrong (back) side, there are 2 knit stitches and 1 purl stitch:

K1P2-WS | A Good Read: Identifying Your Stitches | Lion Brand Notebook

This pattern is an excellent example of where “reading” your stitches will help you greatly to know what stitch to work next.   It is very easy to lose track of where you are in a pattern repeat, or to see if you did it correctly.  By going back to the beginning of row you are working and reading the sequence of stitches, you can see where you are in a pattern repeat.  Or reading from the beginning of the previous row can show you where you made a mistake that needs to be fixed.

As a pattern writer, I know the importance of the written word in communicating a design.  As a knitting teacher, I know that learning how to “free” yourself from constantly depending on a pattern for every stitch is also so important to allow a knitter to enjoy their project and look forward to the next!


Heather Lodinsky last wrote about knit and crochet cables for the Lion Brand Notebook. Learn more about her and her book, 150 Knit & Crochet Motifs, in this blog post.

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