Many of us come to crochet having learned to knit first. When you knit, of course, you learn the basic knit stitch and then you learn the purl stitch. When you work a row of right side knitting followed by a row of wrong side purling, you get that nice, smooth fabric known as stockinette. This is what 99% of the world thinks of when they think of knitting. Now because knitting tends to shape our world view – hence the reason that well-meaning yet annoying people constantly pester a hooker with, “Whatcha knittin’?” – a lot of artisans approach crochet, especially Tunisian crochet, from a knitter’s perspective. If you’ve never knit and only crocheted then you won’t get why the former knitters-turned-hookers are off in the corner looking perplexed.
So let’s talk a little bit about what a purl stitch is. We know that the name comes from knitting. We know that it is the opposite of the knit stitch. When you purl and make little purl bumps on the wrong side of your fabric, a nice little v is on the right side of the fabric, matching up with all the other nice little v’s put there on the knit rows. So really, there is no separate stitch known as “purl”. It’s just a backwards knit stitch.
So now enter Tunisian crochet, which is hailed as a hybrid between knitting and crochet due to similarities in appearance of the fabric and in the creation of stitches. Sometimes it looks like knitting and sometimes it looks like crochet. It’s a crochet hook but with a bunch of live stitches on it, like knitting.
The confusion about purls occurs when you realize that:
- There is more than one stitch in Tunisian crochet. Trying to apply the logic of knitting to crochet will just make your eyes cross.
- If you consult a Tunisian crochet stitch compendium you will find something called a purl stitch and some other stitches called reverse stitches.
- If you consult multiple authors and websites you will find that one calls the thing you just learned was a purl a reverse stitch and then another calls something else a purl and then you get really cross-eyed and you start overthinking your project and you get really frustrated and go into the Facebook groups and flip your cookies all over the place. Have some tea, nice artisan, and breathe with me.
Here is what some publishers are calling a Tunisian purl stitch (TPS):
They call it this because it looks like a purl stitch from knitting BUT remember, a knitted purl stitch is just a knit stitch done backwards. When you look at the other side of this particular stitch, you may then expect to see either a Tunisian simple stitch (TSS) or a Tunisian knit stitch (TKS), but that isn’t the case. You’ll just see the backside of this particular stitch. I happen to like it. It has a nice, organic texture that shows relief well.
Most Tunisian projects are worked in the Tunisian simple stitch (TSS). This is what that looks like from the front and back. I like the backside of TSS. It reminds me of chain mail:
I do a lot of Tunisian entrelac with the Tunisian knit stitch (TKS). This is what that looks like from the front and back:
None of these stitches look like the purl stitch that we expect to see. In fact, since a true purl is just a knitted stitch in reverse, It goes without saying that there are many “purls” in Tunisian crochet because there are many different stitches. It would be better to simply strike the word purl from Tunisian crochet forever and just use the word “reverse” in our stitch names. That would get the point across and eliminate a lot of the knitting baggage that gets dumped on Tunisian crochet.