What is a Garter Stitch in Knitting?

May 28, 2020

After learning how to cast yarn onto needles and the basic knit stitch, you need to know how to create a fabric from all those knit stitches, otherwise knitting would just be yarn looped around a knitting needle with nothing but a bunch of loops. Learning how to do the Garter stitch, the most basic stitch pattern, is the next step to building a solid foundation in knitting. Garter Stitch creates a very rustic looking fabric, with more texture and thicker than the usually smooth fabric we are used to in high end, department store type sweaters. It is the most basic fabric a knitter can make. It is also the only fabric that can be made if you only know the knit stitch

pink yarn knit into fabric

Knitting vs. Knitting

Let’s also take this time to get something straight that might be confusing. The term ‘Knitting’ is used to describe the craft of knitting – all of it, all the techniques, all the types of fabric it can make, etc. We can also talk about ‘knitting across a row’ which means to make only Knit stitches across an entire row ina pattern. See how that can get confusing?

(On a side note: Crocheting means to use the craft of crocheting to make something. There are stitches in crochet that have the term ‘crochet’ in the name. So it’s not just knitting that is trying to drive you crazy.)

Stitch vs. Stitch Pattern

We have already learned about the Knit stitch, find it here if you need a quick refresher. We are now going to learn about the Garter Stitch in this post. They sound similar because they both have the word ‘stitch’ in the name. Even though they are related, they are in fact different and here is what you need to remember so you don’t go crazy trying to figure out what is what.

Some background/context:

The craft that is called ‘knitting’ has three basic stitches which are the following:

Knit Stitch
Purl Stitch

These three stitches are the foundation of knitting, of every stitch pattern, all the increases and decreases that help shape our knitting patterns and other techniques that help make yarn turn into something else entirely. Once we learn these basic stitches, we can manipulate them in different ways to do all the other, more important things.

The word ‘pattern’ is also tricky here because it can be used in the term Stitch Pattern (see below) but also to describe the set of instructions you follow to create your project – on occasion, I find myself calling them recipes. Yikes, I need a break.

The ‘Knit Stitch’ is a basic stitch that is used to create the ‘Garter Stitch ‘stitch pattern.

Upclose view of garter stitch and stockinette stitch in bright pink yarn
See where the ‘fabric’ changes at the thin black line? Don’t mind that the line is crooked, I was pulling the ‘fabric’ to show what the stitches look like. When I let go, it goes back to straight.

A Stitch Pattern is made up of different combinations of the three basic stitches to form different textures, repeated to create the ‘fabric’ of the project we want to make.

Now that we have that all cleared up, let’s actually learn about the Garter Stitch.

The Garter Stitch is the most basic stitch pattern in knitting. Why is it the most basic? It is knitting every stitch on every row of the pattern. Knitting meaning using the knit stitch for every stitch. Every STITCH. If you do not learn any other stitches, this is the only texture you can use on your projects.

Garter Stitch in bright pink yarn
Super up close shot of the garter stitch and all it’s glorious bumps.

Why the Garter Stitch is Great for Knitting:

● Fabric knit in Garter Stitch lays very, VERY flat. It is dreamy. If you’ve ever knit other stitch patterns before, you’ll find that a lot of them curl, are wavy or just wonky. BUT NOT GARTER STITCH!!

● It is also a little thicker than Stockinette Stitch (the smooth, knitted fabric of most sweaters for sale in store) which makes it feel rather cozy in the winter.

● It is very elastic in the vertical direction, looking at the side, the ridges are little hinges that stretch when pulled.

● It has a lot of resilience – it will retain its shape well after/while being worn.

● Since it is the simplest of stitch patterns, it is good to use on absolute beginner projects like dish cloths, blankets and scarves.

● Since you are knitting all the stitches and do not need to change yarn position or even think about other stitches, it goes by very fast.

● You don’t have to pay attention to what stitches you are creating, they’re all the same! When working with other stitch patterns, you need to pay attention at all times!

● Garter Stitch is also a great place to start with teaching a child how to knit.

● It is a simple stitch but paired with a very colorful yarn can make your project look amazing.

● The Garter Stitch is a reversible fabric, it looks the same on both sides.

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The Garter Stitch is a super simple, quick stitch pattern to keep in mind for projects that you want to stay flat. It is also a great way to get comfortable holding the knitting needles, if you’ve never done it before, it takes some time to get used to it. Give it a chance, you’ll probably like using it for some simple projects so you have something you can knit on while watching TV.

The Garter Stitch in Use – Knitting Pattern

In a pattern, the Garter Stitch could be written like this:

Row 1: K all sts.
Row 2: K all sts.
Repeat rows 1 & 2 until you reach your desired length.

How Do You Count Rows of Garter Stitch?

Using Garter Stitch results in the project having nice, neat ridges on both sides. Each ridge represents two rows of knitting (knit stitches). An easy way to keep track of your rows in Garter Stitch is to count the Garter Ridges. Garter Ridges are the 3D horizontal lines that appear when using the Garter Stitch.

garter stitch sample fabric in bright pink yarn
Remember you are counting ridges on both sides. This is just to show you what the ridges are.

To get an accurate count, ignore your cast on row/ridge and count the ridges on both sides of the fabric. If you have 4 ridges on the front and 5 ridges on the back, you have a total of 9 rows.

Not sure how to read a pattern in order to keep track of it? Keep an eye on this blog, we will dig deeper soon.

If Garter Stitch is So Wonderful, Why Should I Learn How to Do Any Other Stitch Patterns?

Sure, the things you can make using only the Knit Stitch/Garter Stitch are nice, cozy, useful and so on…. BUT, you cannot shape anything to fit a body or three-dimensional shape, you cannot have any other kind of texture to your fabric, and you cannot make things like button holes to make your projects more useful and beautiful, IF you do not take the leap and learn more stitches. Part of learning the Garter Stitch is to show you the limits of just knowing the one basic knit stitch.

This is an opportunity to understand why we NEED the Purl and Yarn-over stitches!

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Want to save this to read later? Pin this to your knitting board in Pinterest!

Up close image of garter stitched knit fabric

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