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It all Started with a Comment…

Dearest Patty,

What sorcery is this purling backwards of which you wrote in a tantalizing comment on Kay’s article about Dee Hardwicke’s Cottage Throw? Loving stranding flat? Rilly? Pleasepleaseplease show and tell in your November column.

Bewitchedly yours,

Cristina, Kay, and Ann

Working backwards is for anyone.

Dear Cristina, Kay and Ann,

Okay. You caught me. I am in fact the lost sorcerer’s apprentice that took over after Mickey Mouse got drunk with power, and I will reveal the most powerful (not so) secret joy of knitting—purling backwards.

You can put any style—picking or throwing, Western or Eastern—in reverse. There are so many uses for both purling and knitting backwards. It’s great for entrelac, short rows, bobbles, and chart work. 

But I think where it REALLY shines is stranded color-work flat. There are three magical advantages we gain when purling backwards:

Colorwork advantages

1) More even tension

Many knitters struggle to have the same tension on their WS row as their RS row and often feel like they “row out.” That’s getting those little horizontal gaps across the row because your purl row is taller than your knit row. 

One of the reasons is we pull easier than we push, and a purl is a loop pushed through another loop. When we purl backwards, we are maintaining tension on the working yarn and lifting the old stitch up and over the new stitch. It is much easier to create neat stitches this way.

2) Easier to handle floats

Not only is it easier to keep a nice tension on those pesky floats, but when working longer floats it is sooo easy to trap them.

3) Easier to work with charts.

Since we never turn our work, we are always looking at the public side. This means we are knitting in the same direction we read our chart. For colorwork it also means we can look at our knitting and easily see how that pattern is stacking up.

How We Teach Ourselves

Remember, when in doubt, turn your work around and insert your needle and wrap your yarn as you always do to purl, then turn it back around with the public side facing you and take a look. 

How it looks: Purling on the reverse side (left). Purling backward from the public side (right).

Here are three helpful hints:

1) When we look at smooth knits, we think, YARN IN BACK. This holds true for making a knit stitch on a RS, or a backwards purl stitch on a WS.

2) The needle must go into the hole. For a Western mounted stitch that means the front loop (leading leg) to create a knit on the RS, and the back loop (leading leg) to create a backwards purl on a WS row.

3) The needle is a hand that reaches towards the yarn. This is a handy one to remember when you kick up your skills to learn to put the knit stitch in reverse. If your yarn is held to the back (a purl in reverse) the needle tip must be going towards the back. If your yarn is held to the front (a knit stitch in reverse), the needle tip must be going towards the front

Last but not least, we have to wrap the yarn the way we do when we purl, which means over to under for a Western knitter, under to over for an Eastern or Combination knitter. Is it the end of the world if you wrap your yarn the wrong way for your knitting method – NO! It just means on the next RS row you’ll need to (say it with me) put the needle in the hole!

Let the REAL fun begin—trapping our floats

There are many reasons you might want to trap a float in stranded knitting. You might be making something for tiny hands that could get caught in a long float, you might be working a pattern that requires a float to travel more than 1”/2.5cm.

If you are a two-handed stranded knitter, you’ll need to know how to trap for both picking (working color in left hand) and throwing (working color in right hand).

Trap the color held in LEFT hand if working color is in RIGHT hand

Step 1) Wrap/throw left hand yarn UNDER to over

Step 2) Wrap / pick right hand yarn OVER to under

Step 3) Unwrap left hand yarn, and lift the old stitch over the right hand color to complete the stitch.

Notice the carried yarn is now OVER the working yarn.

Step 4): Knit the next stitch with right hand color. The left hand color is now free of the working color.

Trap the color held in RIGHT hand if working color is in LEFT hand

Step 1) Wrap/ pick right hand yarn OVER to under

Step 2) Wrap / throw left hand yarn OVER to under

Step 3) Unwrap / unthrow right hand yarn, and lift the old stitch over the left hand color to complete the stitch.

Notice the carried yarn is now OVER the working yarn.

Step 4): Work the next stitch with left hand color. The right hand color is now free of the working color.

Here’s a wee video I made to show the joys. It’s the same one as above for those of you who cut to the chase!


If you’d like to learn more, I teach a full class that shows knitting and purling in reverse and everything you can do with it called Improve Your Knitting: Alternative Methods and Styles, and I also have a 1 hr mini class just on putting the purl stitch in reverse called Purling Backwards.

So cast on a bitty swatch and practice it! See if you love it as much as I do.

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About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Thank you for a very interesting post. I cannot wait to try purling backwards, I had never heard of it before.

  • Patty,

    As we all know, knitting is not necessarily easy; it can be as complicated as you want.

    An article about “purling backwards”? How much more can we learn??

    Your statement,

    “The needle is a hand that reaches towards the yarn”,

    Not only does it sound like a song, it pretty much exactly explains everything complicated about knitting, simply.

    I am a Chemical engineer patent agent so I am used to reading very technical things.

    I wish you could have been with me during college to explain difficult concepts simply.

    Thank you!

    • AWWW ❤️❤️❤️

  • Gotta love these descriptions!!! I actually enjoy purling backwards more than frontside since it lets left hand do bulk of work mystyle. Thank you P!

  • A teacher at a knitting convention in the 1980s taught me to purl backwards. I find it very useful for bobble knitting, and also for freaking people out in a knitting group. (But I also like to freak people out by writing mirror-image.)

  • Thank you – I recently decided purling backward was the way to go with stranded knitting. It worked for me – now I am going to check out your method to see ways I can improve my technique!

  • What a great article and video! Being a newer knitter, I’ve been fearful of colorwork patterns because I didn’t understand how the second color was brought in. Patty is such a great teacher!

  • What a great article and video! Being a newer knitter, I’ve been fearful of colorwork patterns because I didn’t understand how the second color was brought in. Patty is such a great teacher!

  • THANK YOU!! I’ve always had trouble with tension in stranded work–this will help.

  • Thank you, Patty. I love your presentation of how to do the purling backwards technique. I would have called it knitting backwards.

    • It’s called both. The reason I call it purling backwards is that’s literally what we are doing, creating the purl stitch backwards.

      Since you can also put the knit stitch in reverse (and I do all the time) it can be confusing to many knitters to call it knitting backwards when they then learn to put the knit in reverse.

      Also “knitting backwards” is too often confused with mirror knitting. That is entirely different than working the WS row in reverse (that can have knits and purls on it). When a left handed knitter says “I knit backwards”, they mean they have the empty needle in their left hand for both the RS and wrong side and turn their work around between each row.

      That’s why I prefer the literal name of what we are doing – purling backwards, or, when we are making a knit stitch on a WS row w/o turning our work – knitting backwards.

      In class I always say it doesn’t matter what you call it. When the ah ha moment usually happens in class is after we learn to put the purl in reverse, then the knit in reverse and then we start working rib. As a knitter when you see a smooth V on the face of the fabric, we think yarn in back, when we see a purl bump on the face of the fabric we think yarn in front. The same holds true when you work backwards.

  • Thank you for the wonderful video. Very helpful. I was wondering if you could tell me the name of the sweater you are wearing. It is gorgeous. I looked through your patterns and am unable to find it. Thanks again.

  • Had to sign in just to save this page. I don’t need it now, but I will. Thanks Patty – for great information, and keeping our brains (and knitting) young for us!

    • Same!!

  • Sorcery with TWO wands AND the magical power of providing metaphors like a needle is just a hand reaching for the yarn — you’ve done it again, Patty!

    Might a humble knitter perchance ask for a follow-up post on how to work simple increases and decrease like k2tog and ssk while purling “backwards”?

    • I teach all increases, decreases, short rows and picking up stitches in reverse in this class –

      But the real answer is, you can teach yourself to put anything in reverse by looking at it from the WS row then turning it around to look. That’s how I taught myself to do anything in reverse. I also do a lot of mini videos on my instagram acct. I did one on doing lace in reverse here:

  • Good video. I never thought of purling backwards.

  • I am going to try this for the Westknits Geogradient MKAL. It has long floats on the right side to create a slipped stitch pattern that looks very cool, and apparently many people are slipping the wrong stitches when they work the back side. (Technically the MKAL is over, but I’m not the only one who isn’t finished, lol. I’m also working on a shawl for a retirement gift, which obviously has to be done by the time she retires.) I have a feeling I’ll end up using this technique a lot. Thank you for enlightening us with your brilliance.

  • i taught myself to “purl backwards” in about year 2 of my knitting life. i learnt to knit continental (in a class where the teacher was instructing american, no less–ever a rebel am i!) but i was v. frustrated with how slow i was purling, so in an effort to speed things up, i stopped turning my work. success!

    i have heard this style of knitting called typewriting (as you briefly mentioned in video) and also catholic knitting as well as the admittedly confusing “knitting backwards”. curious to know if there are any other names for it?

    i agree whole-heartedly that it is fabulous for any stranded knitting. i did notice though that in my self-taught fashion, it seems i knit continental but i purl backwards american. the picking backwards, to me, is a lot slower than the throwing.

  • Love Miss Patty! There is nothing she can’t do! I can’t wait to try this on my cowl project.

  • So excited to try this!

  • Another pattern for which knitting & purling backwards is relevatory: entrelac!

    IMO, being able to go backwards is the only thing that makes an entrelac stole or blanket worth it.

  • Completely fabulous!! LOVE the video. LOVE the photos. LOVE the WHY behind the knitting. This makes my brain so happy!

  • I needed this six weeks ago when I did the Rowan blanket KAL! But I’ll save it for the next time I get hornswaggled into doing colorwork on the purl side!

  • When I learned to knit as a child, no one told me that you didn’t just knit back and forth. So I did. Until at some point, probably as a pre-teen or early teen, my grandmother taught me Continental and couldn’t figure out why all my stitches were twisted…until she realized I was knitting back and forth. So she retrained me. Now I’ll try going back to my childhood method!

  • Thank you Patty!! I have tried several times to ‘knit backwards’ as a knitting friend calls it, without success. With your little video, the light finally came on. I’ve been practicing Lorilee’s technique for purling stranded colorwork with some success, even getting fairly even tension, but this backwards method makes reading the pattern so much easier. My tension is waay too loose on the first try, but I’ve been wanting to learn this before trying bobbles and entrelac, and you have made it all look possible. Thank you again!

  • I have been purling backwards ever since I took your class a really long time ago when you came to Louisiana. It was a game changer. Rowing out always made me nuts before that. At this point, I have been doing it for so long that I purl backwards about as quickly as I do “regular” purling!

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