How to Knit the Stockinette Stitch

July 28, 2020

The Stockinette Stitch is the most popular knitting stitch. It is what you picture in your mind when you think about a warm, cozy knit sweater. It is smooth and luxurious. It is what you see when looking at store bought socks, just on a much, MUCH smaller scale. The Stockinette Stitch is also sometimes called the Stocking Stitch. The Stockinette Stitch is actually a Stitch Pattern, not a singular stitch. (Stitch Pattern is a bunch of Knit, Purl or YO stitches repeated to make a fabric look a specific way vs. the Knit Stitch (or the Purl or the YO) which is a singluar stitch that is used to make up the Stitch Pattern.)

This post is for the beginner who wants to learn more stitch patterns and wants to learn how to read basic knitting patternsthat include the Stockinette Stitch. Learning the Stockinette Stitch is a really great way to grasp how knitting really works. You have to pay attention to the stitches already on the needle in order to create Stockinette Stitch successfully.

What is SO Special about the Stockinette Stitch (St St)?

Why bother learning about it? It’s popular, that’s why! I normally don’t go for popular stuff, I’m usually the last on board with new technology, I make do with what I have and I like it that way. I say bring back typewriters and rotary dial phones. I like to think of myself as pretty special nor did I want to be like everyone else. BUT… Stockinette is the basis for SOOOO MANY knit items that it is hard to ignore. Ever wear a t-shirt? Stockinette stitch is used for making knit fabrics like the drawer full of t-shirts you probably have… Wear store bought, commerically made socks? They’re made with the stockinette stitch too. We really can’t get away from it, better to embrace and master it!

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hands holding up a piece of stockinette stitch knitting

The Technical Part

Stockinette is very simple to describe – all you need to do is: knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches. It is abbreviated to St St in knitting patterns, makes it less work to write it out and takes up less space. When you are looking at a stitch, you need to know how to ‘read’ it. If you don’t remember how, see this post about knit vs purl stitches. Now this seems straight forward. Knit the knit and purl the purl. If you are a beginner knitter though, this might not seem so easy… Let’s look at some photos:

Knitting the Knit stitch

Showing how to do a knit stitch
This is stockinette stitch fabric. You are looking at the all knit stitch side.

This is what I mean by knit the knit stitch. I am looking at the front side of the stockinette fabric, I see all knit stitches so I use a knit stitch.

Purling the Purl Stitch: Take Me to the Other Side

This is stockinette stitch fabric. You are looking at the all purl stitch side.

This is what I mean by purl the purl stitch. I am looking at the back side of the stockinette fabric, I see all purl stitches so I use a purl stitch.

How to Master the Stockinette Stitch?

Learn to read your stitches. This will help you from this day forward in every knitting project you will ever touch! Learn what they are supposed to look like, but also know when something looks and feels wrong. When making a knit stitch, the needle should go into the next stitch easily, if it doesn’t… STOP. There is something wrong!

Why Master the Stockinette Stitch?

I mentioned before that the Stockinette Stitch is popular. SO POPULAR that is in at least 85% of patterns (this is my personal statistic, it’s literally everywhere)! If you can complete a technique that is in that many patterns, you are well on your way to completing other, more difficult projects!

Why do I Think this is Confusing for a Beginner?

Knitting the knit and purling the purl doesn’t seem so difficult, but throw in there the fact that reading the stitches can take some beginners a long time to figure out. Plus, when you are reading a pattern, it will not say – hey you, knit the knits and purl the purls. Rather, it will look like this:

Row 1: K to end.
Row 2: P to end.

And that’s it. Those are only two rows. If you need more (which is likely, since it is usually used as the bulk of a pattern) it will say something like this:

Row 1: K to end.
Row 2: P to end.
Repeat rows 1 & 2 until piece measures 8 inches. (or until you have knit 40 rows total or something similar)

Many times just reading a pattern without having the yarn on the needles and set up just like it needs to be – can be confusing. Think about it: Row 1 K to end. So that is all K(nit) stitches. Great, I get to do a row of knit stitches. When I get to the end, I turn my work and then I have to purl a row? I thought I just did a row of knit, don’t I do another row of knit so I can knit the knit stitches I just completed? Nope! You have to look at the stitches on your left needle to confirm that you should be purling this second row. See? Isn’t that confusing? If it isn’t to you, you’re catching on! If it is confusing, you’re not alone! I include this here because after teaching a basic class a few times, it became obvious that this procedure isn’t so obvious!!

What Side is the Right Side?

When reading a knitting pattern:

You may see the terms Right Side and Wrong Side.

You may see the terms Front and Back.

You also might see the terms Outside and Inside.

You might even see the terms Public and Private.

What do these terms mean? They ALL relate to the two sides of a garment.

You have the right side/front/outside/public which is what you would wear facing outwards so that others can see.

Then you have the wrong side/back/inside/private which is what you would wear touching your skin that no one can see. (No comment from me, what you do with your garments is your business…)

Most patterns in the US use the terms Right Side (abbreviated RS) and Wrong Side (abbreviated WS).

Phew, that was a lot of information to give that you will likely not need to remember. But when you’re reading a knitting pattern and it talks about public and private… I’d want to know what on earth they were saying!

Stockinette has a Right Side and a Wrong Side.

The right side is the smooth, all knit stitches showing side:

blue yarn knit into the stockinette stitch
All the knits – v’s are showing.

The wrong side is the bumpy, all purl stitches showing side:

purl stitches on the wrong side of the stockinette stitch

Another Confusion? What is Reverse Stockinette?

Ready to be completely confused? There is also a stitch pattern called Reverse Stockinette. It is made using the same exact procedure. Knit all the knits and purl all the purls. The difference comes in when naming the right and wrong sides. In Reverse Stockinette (abbreviated Rev St St), the Purl side is the Right Side and the Knit side is the Wrong Side. That’s all folks! Isn’t it confusing?

Another Upside to Stockinette Stitch?

You only have to purl half the stitches!!! Yay!

Stockinette Stitch SOUNDS PERFECT!

Nope. It has so many endearing qualities but it is not perfect. Here is an example of it’s biggest flaw:

knit fabric curling up
curling knit fabric

IT CURLS. LIKE MAD. If you don’t mind the edges of everything you knit curling, go ahead and use only stockinette stitch. It can definitely be used to an advantage on some items where you want a nice curl. But mostly we want things to lay flat and be the length they’re supposed to be! Some simple hats use the stockinette stitch to create a natural brim, no extra steps or stitch patterns required.

The way we use stockinette and get over this curling problem is to place the stockinette inside a border of another sturdier stitch pattern that helps keep it flat. This is why you will usually see a different sititch pattern surrounding the stockinette. Think about the cuffs and bottom edge of a sweater, they are usually done in what is called ribbing. Ribbing is alternating between knit and purl stitches in a repeated pattern (K2, P2 is a popular repeat), it makes for a stretchy yet sturdy edge.

For Advanced Beginners:
Context / Frame of Reference is EVERYTHING!

How do You do Stockinette in the Round?

We have not touched upon the fact that you can knit things on circular needles (two needles connected by a cable so it is pointed on both ends but flexible in the mimddle) to form a tube of knitting. Imagine a spiral of knitting, forming a tube.

Well, if you want to do stockinette in the round, you knit ALL the stitches.

WAIT. I thought knitting every stitch makes Garter Stitch. Yes, knitting every stitch FLAT – while turning your work between rows, either on two separate knitting needles or a single circular needle – will create the Garter Stitch.

Then how do I do the Garter Stitch in the round on a circular needle? You need to knit one round (they are called rounds when knitting in the round instead of rows) and then purl the next round.

WAIT. I thought knitting one row then purling the next would give me Stockinette Stitch. Yes, knitting one row and then purling the next row while knitting FLAT – turning your work between rows, either on two separate knitting needles or a single circular needle – will create the Stockinette Stitch.

Phew… A lot of information for a simple stitch pattern. All the little details really do count!

Hoping to save this for later? Pin this to your favorite knitting board on Pinterest!

learning the stockinette stitch in knitting

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