How to Cartridge Stitch
We love Amy’s knitting lessons – and this week, a handy stitch that you can use to enhance any plain knitting project.
Rib stitch is one of the most common motifs in knitting; alternating columns of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch creates a super-stretchy fabric that can hug the most stubborn of body parts. For instance, the best way avoid your sleeve falling into the gravy at the dinner table is to put some ribbing on the cuff.
What happens when you turn ribbing on its side? Well, you get cartridge stitch. There are several names for it, actually: horizontal rib, ridge stitch, stocking ridge, to name a few. I always knew this stitch as cartridge stitch, and it is what happens when you make the characteristics of ribbing go from top to bottom instead of from left to right.
To make cartridge stitch, all you need to know is how to knit, purl, and count. If you are unable to count, reading your stitches is also a foolproof option. There are no increases or decreases, and there are no yarnovers or dropped stitches. The cartridge stitch is nice and simple, and it can add some bounce or dimension to a plain fabric. Ready? Get out your yarn and a commensurate pair of needles. I used size 4.5mm/US 7 needles and some worsted-weight yarn.
Cast on as many or few stitches as you want. If you are practicing, cast on a minimum of ten stitches so you can at least see a strip of fabric clearly. Then, knit in stocking stitch for a set number of rows, and then in reverse stocking stitch for the same number of rows. If you were to see this written in a pattern, it would go something like this:
- K all sts
- P all sts
- As row 2
- As row 1
Knitting stocking stitch means you are knitting on the right side and purling on the wrong side, every stitch in every row. To knit reverse stocking stitch, you will purl on the right side and knit on the wrong side, so the panel of bumps will be seen on the right side. Cartridge stitch is just panels, or stripes, of stocking stitch alternating with reverse stocking stitch. It is a left-to-right creation of ribbing.
Not only can you cast on as many or as few stitches as needed, but you can also do as many or as few rows needed to create a cartridge. If you want a seven-row cartridge, then rows 1-7 will be in stocking stitch, and rows 8-14 will be in reverse stocking stitch. Super-easy!
One quality of this stitch pattern which make it different than straight rib is that the purl side is the predominant side. Stocking stitch naturally curls inward from top to bottom (which is why the bottom of a stocking stitch panel curls up toward the right side), and outward from left to right (which is why the sides of a stocking stitch panel curl toward the purl side). In ribbing, you see the right side stitches, or knit stitches, because the columns curl toward each other.
In cartridge stitch, the fabric’s natural tendency is to curl from the bottom up and from the top down, toward the right side. When you look at cartridge stitch, you see mostly the purl side instead of the knit side. Each purl strip is called a cartridge.
Similar to rib stitch, cartridge stitch is at its stretchiest when there are the fewest stocking-stitch rows. In the red example, I used the written pattern above. In the yellow example, I knitted six rows of stocking stitch and six rows of reverse stocking stitch. The yellow piece is still bouncy, but it is not nearly as stretchy as the red piece.
If you ever lose your place, you can count the stitch “v”s from the first reverse stocking panel all the way up to the needle, or you can count the purl-bump rows. In stocking stitch, each purl row creates a rainbow-shaped (as opposed to a smile-shaped) arc. If you have six rainbow-shaped arcs including the one hugging the needle, then you have six rows of stocking stitch completed.
Why would you ever use this stitch, you ask? Well, it gives a different look than straight ribbing. If you want to add interest to the bottom of a sweater, for instance, you can knit the band in cartridge stitch and then pick up the stitches for the body around one edge. In other words, cartridge stitch a strip long enough to wrap around your body, where the width of the strip would be the length of regular ribbing.
It is also a great way to introduce stripes to an item without actually changing colors. Cartridge stitch is reversible, so it is a good scarf stitch and the three-dimensional quality of the stocking-stitch panels gives the illusion of stripes.
It is good in a hat pattern, because the reverse stocking stitch panels add extra volume inside a hat for thicker or curlier hair. It also breaks up the monotony of plain knitting; keep in mind, however, that with more stretch out comes more sucking in. If you use the red pattern example, you will need more rows to get your desired length than you would if you used the yellow example.
Finally, some people just do not like to swap their yarn back and forth between stitches. If you are in the camp that ribbing is too labor-intensive, you can knit stocking-stitch strips and create a cartridge stitch, and you never have to swap from a knit to a purl in the middle of a row.
Cartridge stitch is one of the easiest knitting patterns in knitting, but it can do so much to add some depth or interest in an otherwise plain piece. Try differently-sized stripes in the same panel, and if you start with a five-inch-wide strip, you can keep experimenting for five feet and just bind off to make an interesting, reversible scarf. What fun!
Last updated: February 20th, 2015.