Thursday, January 9, 2014

Knitting 101 - Knit and Purl

Perfect Stockinette in Cotton from
Knitting 101 is an educational knitting series designed to take your knitting to a new level with ease.  Just like world-class musicians still play scales every day, expert knitters practice basic skills.  January's Knitting 101 skill is mastering the knit and purl combination.  If you knit the entire skill-building series, by the end of the year you will have significantly improved your knitting skill and confidence.  We will be improving our skills by swatching.  Swatches are like so many basics we've learned in our lives; sometimes we let them fade away into the background.  In this Knitting 101 series, we're going to swatch all the skills that make knitting the wonderful art that it is. 

The knit and the purl stitches are the building blocks for all the rest of knitting.  Let's brush up to make every stitch uniform in size, tension, and texture.  Look at some of your stockinette knitting.  If your purl stitches don't look like your knit stitches, or if your stitches have one thin side and one thick side, or if your stitches have a little twist at the bottom, you know you have a problem. 
Simple Knit and Purl Swatch Exercise

If you hate knitting in silk, cotton, or other un-stretchy yarns, you may have a problem.  If you discover your stitches or rows are not all the same size, you may have a problem.  If you have no concern, do the exercise anyway!

More often than not the problem with stockinette knitting is the purl stitch method, so here's a video for a refresher.  If you knit in the American style, also known as "throwing", this is the method for you.  It's available at

If you knit in the Continental style, also known as "picking", this is the purling method for you.  It's from

The fastest way to learn to make perfectly even stitches with even tension is to work with a very unforgiving yarn.  Most cottons will work well for this purpose.  Use size 5 needles and  DK weight yarn or US weight 3.  Go with a solid color, and work with a yarn that has absolutely no give to it.  This will quickly reveal any unevenness in tension, structure, or skill.

Seed Stitch

Cast on 30 stitches, and work alternate knit and purl rows (stockinette stitch)  until you have a beautiful, smooth piece of knitting at least 4 inches long.  If that means you need to knit a total of 9 inches to get to 4 smooth inches, knit 9. 

When your swatch looks good to you, bind off.  Start a new one working a basic knit/purl pattern.  There are several available here:  Or, you can use the Vogue Knitting Basic Stitch Patterns page to make up a square.  Seed stitch is always good practice.  Make at least one full square of your pattern, whatever the chosen dimension is, and if you feel it isn't as smooth and neat as you'd like, knit another one.  (Remember, everything looks better after blocking!)

If you're a new knitter, it will take you a fair amount of practice to produce swatches you are proud of.  This is normal!  If you start with cotton, you will quickly learn to identify your mistakes, as yarns with no give and no halo (fuzz around the main strand) make every mistake really stand out.  This makes them much easier to correct!  Try it.  You'll love it!

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