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Knitting a Garter Stitch

Fingerless garter stitch mittens.

Fingerless garter stitch mittens.

The garter stitch is one of the basic techniques in knitting. Because it is so easy to do, it’s extremely popular in knitting scarves, potholders and blankets. There are two ways of knitting a garter stitch.

The garter stitch.

The garter stitch.

Turn Knitting

By far the most popular method of knitting seems to be to turn the project over every time you get to a new line. I tend to have problems doing that because it got me lost so easily, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the majority of people out there.

When you flip your work, you’ll be knitting every row. Since the simple knit stitch results in the flat, v-shaped stitch in front and the bumpier purl stitch on the back, you’ll end up with alternating rows of knit and purl stitches. Although this method may be the easier one of the two skill-wise, it can only be done when working on flat projects such as scarves, pot holders and blankets.

This is the method you'll most often find in how-to books and articles online. It works well for a lot of people, but if you have working memory or attentional problems, it can become difficult to keep track of what you're doing when you're attempting to make something more complicated than a simple scarf.

Knit and Purl

The method I prefer is to knit one row, then purl the next, and so-on until I’m done with that phase of the project. You don’t turn the work at all for this one. If you did, you’d end up with the stockinet stitch. The result looks exactly the same as flipping the project every time you get to the end of a row.

Incidentally, this is the method you’d use for knitting on the round. That’s why you can use this stitch on things like hats, socks, gauntlets and other projects you’d use round needles for.

As mentioned above, using this method makes it easier for me to keep track of my count more easily, and if I'm working off of a pattern, it helps me remember the next steps more clearly. However, keeping tension consistent can be difficult when using this method because you are subtly switching the movement of both of your hands. The other way makes it easier to keep tension even, because you are doing the exact same thing from row to row.

In the end, the only thing that counts is which method is easiest for you.

The black yarn was done with the traditional method of turning the project after every row. The purple was done with the knit-purl method. They look exactly the same.

The black yarn was done with the traditional method of turning the project after every row. The purple was done with the knit-purl method. They look exactly the same.

Dropped Stitches

Like all knitting techniques, dropped stitches happen. This tends to happen when you accidentally let a stitch fall off the needle before you’re able to work it. Usually, it’s because the tension is either too tight or too loose, though working too fast can cause it, too. You can tell when you dropped a stitch in a few different ways.

  • There are fewer stitches in the round or on the row than there was when you started.
  • There are unintended holes in the project.
  • A “ladder” of yarn is visible from where the stitch unraveled its way through the project.

These can be a major pain, especially when they happen after you’ve worked several rows, but you can fix them with either a crochet hook or a knitting needle. The crochet hook is easiest to use, though.

Once you locate the stitch, determine whether it’s in a knit or purl row. If it’s in a knit row, situate the rung of the yarn ladder behind the stitch, slip the crochet hook through the back of said stitch and draw the yarn through. The next row will be purl, so, make sure the next rung is in front of the stitch, slip the hook through the stitch from the back and pull the rung through.

Using another knitting needle can be a little trickier, because you need to lever the rung of yarn through the stitch with the tip.

How to Prevent Dropped Stitches

To avoid the need of correcting dropped stitches, the best idea is to avoid them. These suggestions may be a little difficult to do at the beginning, but I promise they get easier with practice.

Slow Down
We all get impatient with ourselves, sometimes, especially when learning a new skill. In knitting, it's best to go slow at first. If you feel yourself getting irritated, put the needles down, take a break, and try again when you feel better.

Loosen the Tension
Knitting stitches that are too tight is very easy to do, but to avoid rework, start relaxing your tension a little bit. They should be tight enough not to fall off the needle when they get near the tip, but not so tight that you can't fit the other needle in them to work.

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Tighten the Tension
This problem is a bit rarer, but it does happen. As mentioned above, you must achieve balance in your yarn tension. Stitches that are too loose can cause just as much harm as stitches which are too tight.

Keep practicing, and these issues will get easier to deal with.

Garter Stitch Without Knitting?

Did you know you don't need knitting needles to create a garter stitch? No kidding! You can also create the same or extremely similar effect with the following tools:

  • Circular loom
  • Crochet hook

The techniques may be different, but you can still get the same look!

Variations of the Garter Stitch

Once you’ve been knitting for a while, you’ll discover that you can do more than add different colors to your work. There are techniques which allow you to add textural spice to the garter stitch, such as adding ridges or knitting beads directly into the piece.

Before you add beads to your garter stitch, you need to be extremely comfortable with the basic stitch, and have large enough beads for the yarn to fit through. The general rule of thumb when using beads in any project is to never force whatever it is you’re threading them on to. This will only do two things:

1. Frustrate you beyond all reason

2. Break the beads

You may be surprised at how easily some beads will crack.

However, once you get comfortable enough working with both of these mediums, you’ll be able to create some stunning pieces.

Finishing the Project

Binding off the garter stitch is the same as binding off your basic stockinet stitch, however, there are different techniques available for weaving the tails into the fabric.

Since there’s such a defined pattern to the end project, it’s wise to take advantage of that, through weaving in the end using the raised purl stitches. The video illustrates a fantastic way of doing just that.

I sort of stumbled into learning this stitch, so my weaving is a bit more crude than what the video shows. I tend to weave the yarn down a few stitches, slip it to the next row and do the same, until as much of the tail is woven in as possible. Although that’s worked for me so far, I’ll probably try what this lady suggests in future projects.

Part of the beauty of knitting is in the flexibility of technique available. As you experiment and research, you’ll pick up more ideas and skills as you go, so don’t be afraid to explore!

For More Knitting Tips Check Out the Following Articles


Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on August 03, 2013:

No problem! I think part of the key to knitting is experimenting with what works best for you. Can you let me know what you don't understand? I might be able to clear it up for you, or go back and clarify a few things.

Dropped stitches can be tough to fix. If I don't have a crochet hook available, or got too far in the project, I end up unraveling the work and doing it again.

Michele Kelsey from Edmond, Oklahoma on August 02, 2013:

Some of this is a bit over my head. I'm quite a beginner. But I knitted about 85 scarves in straight garter for charity, so I know the plain knitting stitch well. It's when you get to dropped stitches and such that I get lost. Thanks for the pointers! Michele

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