Amazing what a girl can find on the Internet.  I’ve always wondered about the origin of the word purl.  I was curious if it came from pearl.  Apparently not, but after some deep drilling here’s what I found on a website called World Wide Words http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm:

From Margaret Sonmez: I wondered about the origins of the following term which I have never come across outside knitting patterns: purl (a type of stitch)

Purl is from an obsolete Scots word pirl, which means a “twist”. It was applied in the sixteenth century to a thread or cord made of twisted gold or silver wire that was used for embroidery. It may be that it was then transferred by analogy to the ribbed look of purl knitting, though the OED has a note saying that the derivation is far from obvious. It is sometimes spelled pearl, which may be a mistake, but may equally imply a different origin.

So I asked the good doctor Google and found it can also mean gently rippling.  This definition is in two different Scottish Dictionaries (see screen shot above).  I didn't imagine anything so poetic and I’m loving how aptly this word describes the appearance of the purl side of knitting.

A purl stitch is really just a backward knit stitch; where the knit stitch is made by inserting the needle in from front to back, a purl stitch is made by inserting the needle from back to front.  

Purling is the second stitch you learn and practice in Beginning Knitting.  Once you become comfortable "reading" your stitches you will combine the knit and purl in multiple combinations to create textures like ribbing.

Here’s a little purl rhyme I found on Bonne Marie Burns’ website Chic Knits, to help you remember the motion of the stitch. 

How to Purl

Under the fence
Catch the sheep
Back we come
Off we leap

(Melanie Falick)

We have Project Class for those who know how to knit and want to build on their skills or Beginning Knitting for those who want to learn all the basics.

Call 773-244-1646 or email info@knit1chgo if you have questions or to register for one of our ongoing classes.


btw, does anyone remember a purl rhyme?  The knitting rhyme is the one I remember.  Didn't they teach us to purl??