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Published on April 3rd, 2015 | by Amy Kaspar

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Plain old garter stitch

This week Amy Kaspar takes us back to the basics with detailed explanations of garter and stocking stitch, and discusses how to teach someone to knit.

When I am writing this blog, I do usually assume everyone knows how to knit already. But do you remember when you learned how to knit? If someone taught you, instead of learning from a book or a video, chances are good that you had a rhyme or mnemonic that helped you remember the knit stitch.

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

Breaking down garter stitch – or, the first knitting stitch people are usually taught – may help you when it comes time to teach someone else how to knit! And why would you not teach someone else? The world, in my humble opinion, can always use more knitters.

There are two main stitches in knitting, right? Garter stitch, and stocking stitch. They are so named after their garment namesake, where the garter portion of a nylon stocking is stretchy and elastic, and the stocking portion is smooth and held together by flat stitches.

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

To knit garter stitch flat, cast on using any method you choose. Then, knit knit knit. Turn your work around and bring the yarn tail to the back, under the needles. Knit knit knit. Turn your work around. And so on. You end up with a fabric that looks like rows and rows of bumpy ridges, and each ridge represents two rows.

To knit garter stitch in the round, knit one round and then purl the next one. Repeat.

Stocking stitch, or knit knit knit on the “right” side and purl purl purl on the “wrong” side, gives you a fabric that looks like a bunch of “v”s, called stocking stitch. Stocking stitches are taller than garter stitches, less stretchy, and flatter than garter stitches as well.

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

Big deal. All of us know this, because…well…we are knitters. But when it comes to breaking it down for someone else, there are some tips to remember that we, as seasoned experts, completely take for granted.

Do you still use the rhyme you learned when you started knitting? Probably not, but there are so many of them. Garter stitches are broken down into four steps:  insert needle, wrap yarn round needle, pull loop through to front, slide stitch off of needle.  But this is not the “fun” way of learning. The rhyme my friend Janie uses goes like this:

1.  In through the front door

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

2.  Around the back

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

3.  Out through the window

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

4.  And off jumps Jack

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

There are a ton of great rhymes and sayings to help you teach the four steps of the knit stitch, or garter stitch. “Under the fence, grab the sheep, back under the fence, and off we leap!” “Into the bunny hole, around the tree, out of the bunny hole, away runs he!” And my personal favorite, as taught to me by my friend Trisha:  “Stab it, choke it, pull its guts out, throw it off the cliff!”

When attaching a new color in garter stitch, make sure you attach on the same side of the work each time. The way you can tell is that the first row with the new color looks seamless, and the back of that row will have the new color along the bottom of one of those ridges, and the old color along the top of the ridge.

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

The most common mistake of newer knitters is, “My piece keeps getting bigger!” Almost always, this happens because newer knitters forget to leave their yarn hanging in the front and bringing it to the back of the needle under the tip when it is time to knit the next row. My friend Meghan calls this the ”Monkey Butt.” If you have a stitch that looks like a monkey butt, created by bringing your yarn over the top to the back when you start a new row, you will end up knitting two stitches out of that first one. If you do this on every row, your piece will keep growing and growing.

Plain old garter stitch - LoveKnitting blog

Garter stitch is also thicker than stocking stitch, because the stitches interlock in a zigzag pattern when you look at it from the side. A great first project with garter stitch is a scarf or a washcloth, or a placemat.

Have you ever wanted to try a felting project? Stocking stitch will shrink to almost half the length when felted, and garter stitch will felt to only around 80% of the length, depending on your gauge.

Garter stitch looks the same whether you are an English, Continental, or Portugese knitter. In other words, where you hold your yarn is irrelevant. Keep this in mind if you are trying to teach someone to knit, and they find they are more comfortable holding their yarn a different way than you. Insert needle, wrap yarn, pull loop, slide stitch. Repeat over and over until it is time to bind off. It doesn’t matter how the knitter gets there.

Have you ever taught someone to knit? Try it, and while you are with your new knitting friend, look back on all of the projects you have ever made. You will be amazed, even years later, how often we just go back to basic garter stitch.

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About the Author

Amy lives in Chicago and can either be found knitting, writing about knitting, designing knitted things, or watching professional hockey while knitting. There is also a necessary cup of coffee nearby at all times, Follow her on Twitter @thefiberfriend for more yarny bits.


Last updated: April 1st, 2015.

3 Responses to Plain old garter stitch

  1. Kalli says:

    My grandmoher and aunt taught me to knit and while it was wonderful to spend time with them and all, they taught me backwards, so I was very confused when patterns started saying ‘ktbl’ as that is what I do all the time!! It doesn’t even look any different in the finished work, but it is tricky when it comes to increasing and decreasing. I have trained myself out of the other bad habits they taught me (like counting ‘bumps’ and not rows) but that one is ingrained.

  2. catherine says:

    I taught my daughter last year when she was 9… We like to knit together while watching TV. She knows the garter and stocking stitches, and she even improvised some cables on a “practice” scarf…My daughter is presently knitting a baby cardigan using 2 different colours. She still needs my help, and it is not perfect, but the tension is pretty regular now and she is so proud! I had a stressful year for many reasons and knitting has been my therapy. It helped me to relax and forget about my preoccupations. I thing I taught a precious tool to my daughter!

    I believe anybody can learn, at any age, if sincerely interested and motived to knit. It just takes a bit of practice to feel comfortable holding the needles and yard (coordination), same as learning to ride a bike or to read!

  3. Kate B says:

    Good to see a way of teaching knitting – Thank you Amy. My last attempt passing on the skill was an epic fail. So glad my grandmother and aunt taught me to knit as a child. I am a left hander but was taught to knit right handed. Over the years I had a number of approaches about teaching left handers to knit. Unfortunately I am not
    able to help with this. I love knitting. 🙂

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