from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • intransitive v. To flow or ripple with a murmuring sound.
  • n. The sound made by rippling water.
  • transitive v. To knit (yarn) with a purl stitch.
  • transitive v. To edge or finish (a handkerchief, for example) with lace or embroidery.
  • intransitive v. To do knitting with a purl stitch.
  • intransitive v. To edge or finish with lace or embroidery.
  • n. Inversion of a knit stitch; purl stitch.
  • n. A decorative edging of lace or embroidery.
  • n. Gold or silver wire used in embroidery.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A particular stitch in knitting.
  • n. the edge of lace trimmed with loops
  • v. To decorate with fringe or embroidered edge
  • v. an inverted stitch producing ribbing etc
  • n. a heavy or headlong fall, an upset
  • v. to upset, to spin, capsize, fall heavily, fall headlong
  • v. to flow with murmuring sound in swirls and eddies
  • n. formerly ale spiced with wormwood and sometimes warmed.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To decorate with fringe or embroidery.
  • n. An embroidered and puckered border; a hem or fringe, often of gold or silver twist; also, a pleat or fold, as of a band.
  • n. An inversion of stitches in knitting, which gives to the work a ribbed or waved appearance.
  • intransitive v. To run swiftly round, as a small stream flowing among stones or other obstructions; to eddy; also, to make a murmuring sound, as water does in running over or through obstructions.
  • intransitive v. To rise in circles, ripples, or undulations; to curl; to mantle.
  • n. A circle made by the notion of a fluid; an eddy; a ripple.
  • n. A gentle murmur, as that produced by the running of a liquid among obstructions.
  • n. Malt liquor, medicated or spiced; formerly, ale or beer in which wormwood or other bitter herbs had been infused, and which was regarded as tonic; at present, hot beer mixed with gin, sugar, and spices.
  • n. A tern.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To flow with a rippling or murmuring sound, as a shallow stream over or among stones or other obstructions; ripple along in eddying and bubbling swirls.
  • n. A continued murmuring sound, as of a shallow stream of water running over small stones: as, the purl of a brook.
  • n. A murmuring brook or rippling stream of water.
  • To curl or swirl; move in rippling or eddying swirls.
  • To upset; overturn; capsize. [Slang.] See the quotation under II., 2.
  • To whirl about; cause to rotate: as, the wind purls a snow-drift.
  • To upset; overturn; also, specifically, as a hunting term, to unseat or unhorse.
  • To wind, as thread, upon a reel or spindle.
  • n. A circle or curl made by the motion of water; a ripple; an eddy.
  • To ornament with a decorative border of any sort; decorate with fringe or embroidery; purfle.
  • To invert, as a stitch in knitting; turn over and knit the other way; seam.
  • n. A border of embroidery or perhaps of lace, or gold lace or galloon.
  • n. A spiral of gold or silver wire, used in lace-work.
  • n. An inversion of the stitches in knitting, which gives to parts of the work an appearance different from the general surface, such as the ribbed appearance of those parts where great elasticity is required.
  • n. A plait or fold, as in an article of dress.
  • n. In lace-making, a kind of lace in common use in the sixteenth century, and often of great value.
  • n. A drink, of which beer is the principal ingredient, defined about 1815 as hot beer mixed with gin: same as dog's-nose; in later times, a stimulating mixture of beer, gin, sugar, and ginger.
  • A Middle English form of prowl.
  • n. The common tern, or sea-swallow.
  • n. In embroidered bookbinding, a fine copper coil closely covered with colored silks.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a basic knitting stitch
  • v. knit with a purl stitch
  • v. embroider with gold or silver thread
  • v. make a murmuring sound
  • v. edge or border with gold or silver embroidery
  • v. flow in a circular current, of liquids
  • n. gold or silver wire thread


Probably of Scandinavian origin.
Origin unknown.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Etymology uncertain; apparently related to Scots and dialect pirl ("twist, ripple, whirl, spin"), and possibly to Older Scots pyrl ("thrust or poke at"). Compare Venetian pirlo an embellishment where the woven threads are twisted together. May be unrelated to purfle, though the meanings are similar. (Wiktionary)
from Middle English pirle ("whirligig"), Middle Italian pirla ("whipping top") (Wiktionary)
From Old Norse purla ("to babble") (Wiktionary)
Possibly from pearl like appearance of due to bubbles on surface of liquid. (Wiktionary)


  • Turn the work downwards (that is, the purl stitch must be turned downwards), make 4 times 2 double, 1 purl, 1 purled stitch: this is the straight row between 2 outer scallops of the lace.

    Beeton's Book of Needlework

  • Oh honey, when you knit, it's "purl" not something you'd find in a oyster.

    The real housewife

  • Maybe it wasn't a 'purl' of wisdom, but my wife and I had a good laugh - because she was feeling exactly the same way with a 'secret' dress she was knitting.

    Post removed

  • Once or twice there appeared a little "purl" on the surface, near the line of the floats, and Ossaroo fancied he had made a "take" of it; but, on wading in and examining the net, not a fin could be found, and he had to wade out again with empty hands.

    The Plant Hunters Adventures Among the Himalaya Mountains

  • After having fastened both ends together again, turn the work the right side upwards and the outer scallops upwards also, fasten the cotton over which you work on to the short purl which is under the first loop; * work 4 times 2 double, 1 purl, 2 double, fasten the cotton over which you work on the purl under the next loop, and repeat from * till the lace is completed.

    Beeton's Book of Needlework

  • A particular kind of purl makes this border look very like guipure lace.

    Beeton's Book of Needlework

  • "purl" row this way - AND stranding it at the same time.

    Intrepid Fiber Wizard

  • Maggie showed her the basics—casting on, knit and purl stitches, and how to decipher the pattern.

    A Stitch Before Dying

  • Not to knit-pick (ha), but the correct spelling of that type of knot is "purl."

    The real housewife

  • Later in the afternoon I learned to purl, and started knitting a ribbed scarf with this beautiful yarn, called “Iris” from Tara of the Blonde Chicken Boutique.

    Creative Every Day, Part 4 « Looking for Roots


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  • the sound of purl-ple (see Century Dictionary definitions): A neat Heraclitean term:
    Early purl grey perhaps with bergamot! (Earl Grey Tea)

    April 14, 2013

  • Presently, he returned, followed by the boy from the public-house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef, and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam, and was indeed choice purl, made after a particular recipe which Mr Swiveller had imparted to the landlord, at a period when he was deep in his books and desirous to conciliate his friendship.
    The Old Curiosity Shop, ch. 57

    At that period, hot beer flavoured with gin, ginger, and sugar; earlier, beer with wormwood or other bitter herbs. Etym. dub.

    September 11, 2008