Garter stitch knitting is, hands down, the easiest stitch to master.
If you can work a knit stitch, then garter stitch is well within your grasp! On two needles it involves knitting all your stitches and all your rows.
That’s it! Easy, right?
On circular needles, add in a purl row for a 2-row repeat. It’s slightly more complex than knitting flat, but a beginner could tackle it with some practice.
In this post, we’ll go into a bit more detail about garter stitch knitting – what it is, how to do it, and why it looks the way it does. Let’s get into it!
What is Garter Stitch Knitting?
Garter stitch is the first stitch you’ll learn when you’re starting out with knitting.
When knit flat it consists solely of the knit stitch.
Garter stitch lies flat and is totally reversible, meaning that both sides look the same. The resulting fabric is very stretchy both length-wise and width-wise.
Garter stitch is made up of alternating rows of knits and purls.
This might sound weird at first.
You might be wondering: isn’t garter stitch just knit stitches on flat needles? Where do the purls come in?
The Anatomy of a Knit Stitch
That brings us to the unique nature of the knit stitch.
Every stitch has a front and a back. The front of a knit stitch has a flat V-shape.
However, if you turn that knit stitch over, you’ll see that at the back, it’s.. a purl stitch!
Don’t believe me?
Try it out yourself. Cast on a dozen or so stitches. Then, knit the first row. Turn the needle over and you’ll see a row of purl stitches.
So, while the back of a knit stitch is a purl stitch, the opposite is also true: at the back of a purl stitch is a knit stitch!
The knit and the purl are two sides of the same coin! I like to think of them like the Roman god Janus.
The god of beginnings and ends, of transitions and dualities, Janus is often depicted as having two faces.
Like Janus, the knit and purl stitch are two distinct stitches, and yet they’re joined together as one.
That’s why, when knitting on flat needles, purl stitches still appear in garter stitch even though you’re not purling any stitches.
By knitting a knit stitch, you’re also creating a purl stitch (on the back). You can even say that you can’t create a knit stitch without also creating a purl stitch, and vice versa.
So, the unique two-facedness of the knit stitch is what creates the alternating knit/purl pattern of garter stitch knit flat.
Garter Stitch Knit Flat
Cast on any number of stitches
Row 1: knit all stitches
Repeat Row 1 until knitting is the length you like.
Garter Stitch in the Round
Cast on any number of stitches and join in the round, making sure not to twist stitches
Round 1: knit all stitches
Round 2: purl all stitches
Repeat Rounds 1-2 until knitting is the length you like.
Why is Garter Stitch in the Round Different?
Unlike flat knitting, knitting in the round requires you to purl.
When you knit in the round, you never turn over the knitting. You always stay on the front side (or the knit side) of the knitting.
We never get to the “back” of the knitting, which is the purl side.
If you try knitting all the rounds, like with flat knitting, you’ll end up with stockinette stitch – not garter stitch.
So, in order to knit garter stitch in the round, you need to add in your own purl round. That’s what round 2 is for.
How Do You Know When to Knit and When to Purl?
So, you might be thinking, garter stitch in the round sounds complicated! How can I keep track of round 1 and round 2?
Just remember this when knitting garter stitch in the round: knit the purl stitches and purl the knit stitches.
If you encounter a row of knit stitches, purl them. If you encounter a row of purl stitches, knit them.
This makes sense when you remember that garter stitch is just alternating rows/rounds of knits and purls.
Garter Stitch Knitting Chart
For visual knitters or those who are comfortable reading knitting charts, below is a representation of garter stitch in chart form.
Remember that when knitting flat, there is a “right” side and “wrong” side. However, when knitting in the round, there is only a “right” side and no “wrong side.”
Phyllis Fickett says
thank you. That was precise & easy to understand.
Amanda Helms says
If purling every row will essentially give a fabric with garter stitch, how did you get a swatch that is all purl on one side and all knit on the other?
Alternating a knit row and a purl row will get you stockinette stitch! This post gets into it with more detail: https://sheepandstitch.com/library/stockinette-stitch-knitting-for-beginners/
Hi, I’m a first time knitter and I noticed this.
Somehow when I was trying to make just a row of neat knit stitcges over and over I was making it look the same on both sides and I think I may have accidentally made a garter stitch!
I don’t know why but no matter how hard I try I keep ending up with garter stitches when I want just a knitted row! How????