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Read Knitting Patterns: Knit the Knits and Purl the Purls

Updated on December 23, 2013

Knit the knits and purl the purls: the concept

Sometimes when you read a knitting pattern, you might come upon an instruction to "knit the knits and purl the purls", or in abbreviations, "K the Ks and P the Ps".

This can be confusing to a beginning knitter - even if the pattern writer also includes the line "as they face you" or "as you are looking at the stitches".

For starters, this does not mean the same as "Knit the stitches that you Knitted on the previous row, and Purl the stitches that you Purled on the previous row". In fact, that is the complete opposite of what the instructions are saying.

To explain, here is a very simple pattern:

  • Row 1(RS): K5. P4. K3.
  • Row 2: P3. K4. P5.

Let's pretend that you have completed working Row 1. It ended with a K3. Row 2 starts with a P3. So the stitches that you Knitted on the previous row will now be Purled.

The middle chunk of the second row is a K4. Those 4 stitches correspond to the middle chunk of Row 1, where 4 stitches were Purled.

The last chunk of the second row is a P5. And those 5 stitches correspond to the first chunk of Row 1, where 5 stitches were Knitted.

But why is this called "Knit the knits and purl the purls", you might ask.

The explanation involves what happens with each type of stitch.

When you work a Knit stitch, the result is a small bump on the back of the stitch right next to the needle. And when you work a Purl stitch, the result is a small bump on the front of the stitch right next to the needle. The position of these small bumps is critical.

And on the opposite side of the bump is something that looks like a Vee.

This example might help you understand the bumps-and-vees a bit more: Stocking Stitch is a stitch pattern in which you alternate Knitting one row and Purling one row. This puts all of the bumps onto the Wrong Side, and the front looks like a whole bunch of Vees.

Now, back to the Knit the Knits and Purl the Purls. And the little pattern given above.

At the end of Row 1, you did a K3. As you were knitting those stitches, bumps appeared on the back side of your work.

When you flipped the needles around to start Row 2, you could see that the first 3 stitches had those little bumps by the needle. So they looked like Purl stitches, because you could see the bumps. And that's why the pattern started Row 2 with a P3. It was "Purling the Purls".

The next 4 stitches were Purled in Row 1, so the bumps were on the Right Side. When the needles were switched around for for Row 2, there were no bumps, just Vees - so they looked like Knit stitches. The pattern writer wanted you to "Knit the Knits". So the second chunk was a K4.

And of course, the first 5 stitches in Row 1 were Knitted, so bumps were on the back side. When the needles were flipped around, those bumps were visible, so they looked like Knit stitches.

So the sample pattern could have been written as:

  • Row 1(RS): K5. P4. K3.
  • Row 2: K the Ks and P the Ps as you face them.

If you repeat these two rows over and over again, you will end up with a fabric that from the Right Side looks like a 3-stitch wide column of Vees on the left, a 5-stitch wide column of Vees on the right, and in the middle, a 4-stitch wide column of bumps (the middle column will appear to be recessed).

And the Wrong Side of the fabric will look like a 3-stitch wide column of bumps on the right, a 5-stitch wise column of bumps on the left, and in the middle, a 4-stitch wide column of Vees.

Keep reading below for some photos that show what I'm talking about.

Knit the Knits

Example of Knit the Knit

 In the photo at right, the next stitch on the left hand needle does not have a bump next to the needle - in fact, in the column of stitches below that stitch, there are no bumps at all.

But the right hand needle does show bumps just below the two stitches next to the point of the needle.  That means that those stitches were Purled.

And, in order to Knit the Knits, you must Knit the next stitch (not Purl it).

Purl the Purls

Example of Purl the Purl

 In the photo at right, the next two stitches on the left-hand needle have bumps right next to the needle, so they look like Purl stitches.

And the two stitches closest to the point on the right-hand needle do not have bumps - they have Vees instead.  So those stitches were Knitted.

In order to Purl the Purls, the next two stitches on the left-hand needle have to be Purled.

By the way, these photos shows a specific stitch pattern, called K2P2 ribbing.  The pattern is formed by repeating "K2. P2" across, all the while Knitting the Knits and Purling the Purls.

For more information

 There is an email-based course on How to Read Knitting Patterns - at no charge to you. Check it out.

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