Garter stitch is the first stitch we learn–just knit, knit, knit. As a result we often can hardly wait to do something else. You may be like me in that you came back to garter stitch after a few years, and kind of got excited by it, but were a little embarrassed because it is so darn easy!
Fortunately, there is nothing that says our knitting has to be hard to be worth our time and energy. Since we begin with garter stitch, I’d like to use it to jump into a longer discussion of different types of knitting stitch patterns. Since Garter is only one stitch, there is no way to make it more complicated. Same for Stockinette in the round.
Flat Garter Stitch
Let’s first look at knitting flat, then consider knitting in the round. In garter stitch every stitch of every row is knit. That’s it. Because of how the stitches fit together, we end up with a ridged pattern. Let’s look at the structure of a knit stitch and then how those stitches interact. To facilitate illustrating this, my paper stitches are all the same shape, with the knit side purple and the back of the knit (the purl side) in green. I use orange for the cast on.
The cast on. This will hold your stitches. I have lots of thoughts on these, but will deal with them another time.
The Knit Stitch
Let’s break it down into parts, beginning by looking at the Right Side or working side of the knit stitch.
- yarn run. This is the yarn between the stitches or before or after the yarn comes out of the cast on or stitch below. Whether this is in front of or behind the stitches below is important.
- front leg. This is the yarn coming out of the cast on or stitch below. The front leg is in front of the needle. Once the stitch is off the needle, it is the right leg (unless the stitch is twisted) or leading leg, of the stitch.
- shoulder(s). This is part of the front leg of the stitch, and is more important as we examine a fully formed stitch.
- top of stitch. The part of the stitch on top of the needle, and later, above the shoulders. It is either in front of or behind the stitch above it.
- back leg. This is the yarn behind the needle going downward to complete the stitch, before the yarn run. Once the stitch is off the needle, it is the left leg (unless the stitch is twisted, or trailing leg, of the stitch.
This is the structure of every knit stitch whether it is on the needles or off.
Notice in my illustration that the stitches create the “V” of the knit stitches as they go from yarn run to the legs and of the stitches and back to the yarn run. The stitch or cast on below brings the legs into that V. The knit stitch, going across a row, when there are only knits, will sit shoulder to shoulder. This makes for a flat row of stitches. Let’s look at the next Row.
Garter Stitch, Row 2
First, we’re going to flip our stitches over, so we’re seeing the back side of the knit stitch. Because the back of a knit is a purl, it is colored green. It is flipped over, so what is the back leg on the knit stitch is the front leg on the purl side of that stitch. This is why thinking of your stitches in color really helps!
Notice that the stitches are now on the left needle, ready for another row. This is also worked as a row of knit stitches, but it is being worked into the back of the knits, or into the front of the purls.
I arranged paper stitches on my white board for further visualization. The orange represents the cast on (and needs improving). In the photo I’ve done the same thing as above (without the needle) to show what happens to the stitches, viewed from the right side (or when the stitches are on the right needle). Notice how they pop out at the top and yarn run? The stitch always leans to the purl side of the stitch. The yarn will then determine whether those ridges created by the yarn runs and tops of stitches will lean a lot or a little.
What Ply Is That?
The ply of the yarn will be a determining factor in how spongy (how close the garter ridges stay to each other) the garter fabric is. So what type of ply will create a spongy fabric? What will the result of a non-spongy garter stitch be? It can be open and almost lacy in appearance, or it can simply be meh, or unexciting. Usually we don’t want unexciting!
Here are some photos of spongy garter stitch in a variety of yarns and plies.
Pairing Yarn and Stitch Pattern
Now we know how garter stitch behaves and what sort of result we are going to want to achieve: Spongy for things that need recovery in the fabric and where density and surface texture is okay. The lace effect of smooth yarns that stretch out can be the simplest way to achieve a lacy fabric. Where the yarn has texture garter can allow the yarn to provide all the interest needed. If you get meh, I think you should try either a different yarn, or a different stitch pattern.
In The Round Is Something Else
If you are working nothing but knits in the round you will get a completely different fabric. That fabric is called Stockinette, and it is the same as the Stockinette we get when working flat and knitting one row, then purling the next row. There is no need to work wrong side rows in the round. When you begin Round 2, you are working into the front of the stitches created on the previous row. So purple stitches are stacking on top of purple stitches.
Remember how the stitches lean toward the purl side? The result is a smooth fabric, that tends to curl toward the wrong side (perfect for things that are circular).
To get garter in the round, you must purl. To get Stockinette flat, you must also purl. We’ll tackle those two fabrics and their stitches in another post!