Working a Purl in the Front and Back (PFB) Stitch

An Easy Increase Stitch That Can Get a Little Tight So Watch Your Tension

Purl in the Front and Back
Working the back part of the stitch when purling in the front and back of a stitch. (c) Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Much like knitting in the front and back (KFB) of a stitch, purling in the front and back (PFB), is a way to easily increase stitches. However, purling on both sides of the loop is not quite as intuitive as knitting in the front and back, though the technique is basically the same.

If your knitting pattern uses abbreviations like PFB or P1FB, use the following tips to create two stitches from a single stitch (known as an increase).

It is most often used on the wrong (or purl) side of one-sided patterns like stockinette but can be utilized as a decorative element on the right (or knit) side as well.

How to Purl Front and Back (PFB)

Purling in the front and back of a single stitch can be a little complicated at first, but it makes perfect sense once you do it. Work through the following steps while knitting, it is much easier to understand with needles in your hand. After a few times, it will seem natural.

During the PFB stitch, you will be purling twice into the same stitch - once in the front loop closest to you and once in the back loop farthest from you. This creates a twist that tightens up the increase. If you do not move to the back loop on the second purl, you will get a hole in your knitting that is very similar to a yarn over (YO). 

  1. Begin by purling the stitch through the front loop as normal.
  2. Leave this stitch on the left-hand needle.
  1. To purl through the back loop, bring the right-hand needle around and stick it into the back loop from the left to right.
  2. Bring this loop around to the front of your work (your right needle is now in normal purl position, just one stitch away from the left needle).
  3. Loop your yarn around the right needle and purl as normal.
  1. Slide the stitch off of the left needle. You have created two stitches where once there was one.

This feels pretty awkward the first couple of times you do it. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be increasing on the purl side in no time.

A Few Tips for PFB Success

When working the PFB stitch, you are essentially cramming two stitches into a space fit for a single stitch. Things get very tight in the stitch you're working the PFB into, especially if you are a knitter who naturally knits with a tight tension. With experience you will learn how to better work this situation and here are a few tips to get you started.

  • To prepare for this stitch, knit the previous row (particularly where the PFB will be) with just a little more slack than normal. Do so without messing up your gauge, though - just a bit.
  • Watch your needles while working the PFB and have your fingers ready to grab any stitches before they fall off.
  • Often, it feels like you have to pry that second purl out of this stitch and that's okay. It simply means that you're creating the right twist with enough tension.
  • PFB is easiest with medium or worsted weight yarn. It is very tricky with small needles and thin yarn and even more of a challenge with big needles and bulky yarn.
  • If you see a lot of PFB or KFB stitches in your pattern, consider working the project with pointy needles to make these stitches easier to work. For instance, metal needles often have sharper tips than bamboo.