Even beginning knitters know there are two basic stitches in knitting: knit stitches and purl stitches. In fact, these are really the only stitches in the knitting universe.
No matter how fancy the stitch pattern, they all use knit stitches & purl stitches. We can do strange things to these knit & purl stitches, like dropping, slipping, twisting and cabling, but at the end of the day, all stitches are either knitted or purled.
What’s even more fun is when we DON’T do strange things to our knit & purl stitches and still end up with new textures and effects. The variety of stitch patterns that have been developed using just these 2 stitches is so amazing that whole books have been written just about knit purl stitch patterns.
Here are a few useful stitch patterns to consider.
For the Newest of Beginners
Still trying to get a handle on knitting, purling & tension? Let’s keep it super simple.
Garter Stitch – Knit every row. That’s right. You don’t even need to know how to purl to do this one. It’s an extremely useful stitch that you’ll likely use for the rest of your knitting life. While you can make entire projects using just this one stitch, it’s more commonly used in the 3 to 5 edge stitches of each row because it prevents curling, especially when using the most common stitch pattern, Stockinette St
Stockinette Stitch – Commonly abbreviated as St st, the pattern is nearly as simple as Garter stitch. Knit the right, abbreviated as R or RS, (outward facing) rows, purl the wrong (inner facing) rows. Usually, you knit the odd rows & purl the even rows, but this may vary depending on the pattern. This is probably the most commonly used knitting stitch pattern. It creates a flat fabric that, depending on the yarn & needle size, can be stiff and dense or soft and flexible. The only drawback is it’s tendency to curl at the edges, which can be incorporated into a design, but is usually straightened out with other stitch patterns or hidden in seams.
Reverse Stockinette Stitch – This one is almost a magic trick. Here’s the secret. Flip your Stockinette Stitch fabric over. Ta da! Reverse stockinette stitch is the other side of Stockinette Stitch. Instead of using the knitted rows as the outward, right side of the fabric, the bumpy purl row side becomes the right side.
Your first projects should use one or both of these patterns.
A scarf is the classic beginner project because it lets you use one or both stitch patterns without worrying about shaping or even gauge. See the “Easiest, Most Adaptable, Knitted Scarf Pattern” for a beginner pattern that let’s you use the yarn & needles you already have.
Knit Purl Stitch Patterns for Beginnings & Endings
These versatile stitch patterns get used a lot. They create interesting textures and have benefits like making nice flat edges, unlike stockinette stitch which curls up like a caterpillar or an ocean wave.
Ribbing – This flexible pattern requires an even number of stitches. Ribbing creates a more elastic fabric and a stable edge that is resistant to stretching, so it’s commonly used at the end of sleeves, around necklines & on the bottom edge of sweaters. It introduces the concept of stitch multiples. A 1×1 ribbing is created by knitting 1 st, purling 1 st, & repeating all the way across the row. The next row will reverse it: purl 1 stitch, knit 1 stitch, all the way across. In effect, it creates very narrow, alternating bands of stockinette and reverse stockinette st. 2×2 ribbing produces a more elastic edge & is more commonly used than 1×1 ribbing. It’s usually written as “Right side row: *K2, p2 repeat from * to end. Wrong side row: *P2, k2 repeat from * to end.” It has a stitch multiple of 4, meaning the number of stitches on your needles must be divisible by 4. Unless you’re knitting from one side to the other, your ribbing will always be vertical.
Seed Stitch, aka (British or Irish) Moss stitch – A fairly subtle all over pattern that may be used as an edging, but is relatively inelastic. It requires a stitch multiple of 2, plus 1 additional stitch to keep the knitting from turning into ribbing. Here’s the pattern: Knit 1st, *purl 1, knit 1, repeat from * on all rows. It looks the same on both sides, so there are no right or wrong side rows with this pattern.
(American) Moss stitch – In addition to a 2 stitch repeat, this stitch has a 4 row repeat. Like the seed stitch, it requires a multiple of 2 stitches, plus 1 stitch. Row 1: K1, *p1, k1, repeat from * across. Row 2: P1, *k1, p1, repeat from * across. Row 3: P1, *k1, p1, repeat from * across. Row 4: K1, *p1, k1, repeat from * across. This results in a dense, firm, reversible fabric, nearly identical to Seed st.
Cartridge Stitch – If you want the look of horizontal ribbing, this is your stitch. It relies on row repeats rather than stitch repeats, so you can use any number of stitches. Rows 1 (right side), 3, 4 & 6: Knit. Rows 2 & 5: Purl. This will result in “ribbing” that is 2 rows wide. Basically, you’re alternating between Stockinette Stitch & Reverse Stockinette Stitch. For wider “ribs,” add 1 or more rows of each. Note: Because this is really stockinette stitch, the edges will tend to curl. The curling won’t be as pronounced because you’re alternating direction by alternating between stockinette stitch & reverse stockinette stitch, so it will look more scalloped or waver-y. Unlike ribbing stitch, Cartridge stitch tends to pull away from the body and can make your project look wide, like a bell.
When reading a pattern, be aware that designers rarely designate moss stitch as American or British/Irish. You’ll have to pay close attention to how the pattern is written out rather than the name.
While very useful for edges, any of these stitches may be used for an entire project. All over ribbing (not Cartridge stitch!) would produce a close fitting sweater or vest. Moss or seed stitches would produce a dense blanket.
This overview of some of the most commonly used knit purl stitch patterns has barely scraped the tip of the iceberg. As you continue to develop your knitting skills, you’ll run across so many more!
With just these 2 stitches, you can create textures, patterns and even images. Imagine knitting caterpillar stitch for your bug-loving child. Or hearts, stars, snowflakes, flowers, vines and so many more to tell your own story in knitting, or just for fun.
As the great knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman said, “Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.”
When it comes to knitting, you can rely on the great EZ. So get out your needles & yarn and start knitting!