It seems that we run from garter stitch as soon as we can. Beginning knitters want to learn to purl, not because they want to purl, but because they consider garter stitch unacceptable—they want to do real knitting. They are, of course, referring to what in hand knitting we call stockinette or stocking stitch, and in cut and sew is referred to as jersey. It is what we most often see. It is smooth and sleek on one side (the knit side) and rough on the other (the purl side) and our familiarity defines it as “real knitting” in our imaginations. That is what we seek to create.
This desire is not rooted in technique, but visual appeal. There may be some technique preference behind this, but as a beginning knitter it is more about “real knitting”.
Garter Stitch (flat)
Garter stitch is easily achieved, and what we create when we first learn to knit. Our first row of knitting, even if uneven and unruly, kind of looks like what we expect it to. Then, after struggling through our second row—it is not what we expected. It is lumpy and bumpy. As we struggle through those first rows of knitting, imagine our interior disappointment! This. Is. Not. What. We. Had. In. Mind.
Garter Stitch (in-the-round)
If handed circular knitting as our initial learning we would immediately get what we wanted. Our work might fall short of the quality of knitting we want to do, but think how happy the beginning knitter might be to see that their stacks of knit stitches become exactly what they had in mind. In-the-round garter is the opposite of flat knitting: we must purl to get those ridges and Garter stitch becomes a more complex matter than when working flat.
But most of us don’t begin by knitting in-the-round.
Garter Stitch (background)
Let us assume that knitting became established in the 16th century. It probably existed before then, but it became more widespread and was seen in caps and stockings. Both items are knit in the round on multiple needles. Caps could have been done in totality using the knit stitch. Stockings have heels, which are worked back and forth, so likely purling was used here. So purling was known, but undoubtedly knitters then, as now, had a decided preference for the knit stitch over the purl stitch. There is evidence of stitch patterning, so purling was used, but when working in the round, knitting is the predominant stitch.
When knitting frames were invented they mimicked the methods of knitting in-the-round, even when creating flat fabric, because the fabric was never turned over as it is in flat knitting. The same is true today and is why jersey, not garter-based knitted fabric. is the norm.
Garter Stitch Patterns
Many knitters do not want to do garter stitch again after their learning-to-knit days, until/if they discover lace knitting. Remember that first garter stitch scarf? How long did that take to make? Remember how it seemed to grow so slowly? That’s because unblocked Garter can be more than 25% shorter than stockinette, so you have to knit a lot more rows of stitches to get the same length, even though the width is about the same. Whatever baggage we packed up as beginners, we carry forward.
I’m currently investigating stitch patterns based in garter stitch and am really enjoying the adventure. I found I haven’t used garter stitch a lot myself, but I am loving the stitch patterns I’m finding. Here you can find the written stitch pattern, Jill Wolcott Knits Action Charts, and Appearance Charts created on Stitch Maps.com for the Garter Brocade pattern shown here. Stay tuned. Let me know in Leave a Reply below if you liked working this stitch pattern, like to work from Action Charts, or prefer to use the standard appearance charts.